A few years ago, I was being interviewed for a Graduate fellowship at a small, regional public relations firm. In the middle of the interview, as I was answering about my background and interests, I was interrupted and basically told that I was too timid and not confident enough for the industry. To say I was completely stunned and confused would be an understatement. The truth is, what was perceived as timidity and lack of confidence on my part, was actually my being an introvert.
I have known I was an introvert for as long as I have known the term exists. Every Myers-Briggs and alternate personality test I have taken since, has pretty much confirmed my belief. And for years it really was not a big deal – just simply a facet of who I am. That is until I made the decision to pursue a career in the Public Relations field. Since then, whenever I inform someone that I am an introvert or they deduce it on their own, I get the same question, “how can you be an introvert and be in P.R.?”
It is really not surprising that many cannot reconcile an introvert personality in the public relations world. For many, public relations essentially involves communicating with the public, media, firms, etc. And so, the rationale is how can one be successful in this field, if they can’t communicate with others? However, that is one of the biggest misconceptions of introversion. That is, many believe that introversion is synonymous with shyness – and it is not. Yes, some introverts are also shy but the two personality traits are not interchangeable.
I was given a great book by a former supervisor about introverts, which perfectly sums up exactly who and what introverts are. In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain defines introversion as merely a preference for environments that are not over-stimulating. She adds that introverts prefer to devote social energies to close friends, family and dislike conflict and small talk. They often work more slowly and deliberately preferring to focus and concentrate on one thing at a time rather than jumping blindly into tasks.
And it is specifically because of some of these personality traits that many question the success of an introvert in the P.R. world. A world that is heavily dominated and focused on what Cain refers to as the “extrovert ideal.” That is, where the rules of success, or so it is believed, includes being assertive, dominant, comfortable in large company, being a risk-taker, brash, etc. All personality traits that define an extrovert. So how can someone so removed from these succeed?
And I will admit that for a moment I questioned myself and my abilities. That day in that interview, I was so taken aback, that I sat back quietly, said nothing and accepted that assumption of my talents and capabilities. Accepted that I didn’t have what it took to succeed in this industry.
However, I allowed myself only a day of feeling sorry for myself and accepting that as my reality, before I realized how wrong and stupid that assertion was. I realized I could and would succeed in this industry being exactly who I am because rather than seeing introversion as a weakness, I decided that it was one of my strengths and an asset to my success.
The fact is, no organization, no society in fact, can function successfully with only one personality type. Similarly, the public relations industry is no different than a normal society or organization, which means it needs introverts as much as extroverts. And so, over time I have discovered how to view my introversion as a strength rather than a weakness, including:
1. Introverts Listen Well – One of the most important qualities to being an effective public relations practitioner, is the ability to be a great listener. This does not mean simply not saying anything while another is speaking, but actually listening, hearing and understanding what exactly is being said. This is an invaluable skill because it allows the practitioner to hear and truly understand what it is a client needs from them, rather than what they think the client needs. Introverts are great at this because they are often more comfortable with listening than talking and because they are not in a rush to share their thoughts and to be heard over everyone else.
2. Introverts Express Themselves Through Writing – Introverts are typically more comfortable expressing themselves and communicating through writing versus verbal dialogue. This is an asset in the P.R. world because excellent writing skills is a crucial element for success. A successful public relations practitioner must have great to exceptional writing skills.
3. Introverts Are Introspective – Introverts tend to think first and then speak later. This is an asset for avoiding any “foot in the mouth” mistakes, which in the world of public relations, can be a very costly mistake. It also allows for clear and concise communication by the individual rather than a rambling mess that really does not say anything of importance.
4. Introverts Work Slowly & Deliberately – Introverts, tying to their being more introspective, tend to work at a somewhat slower and more deliberate pace. This is a good thing however, because it reduces the opportunity for errors versus individuals who just jump in blindly with an assignment and make quick, rash decisions. This more methodical way of working also allows introverts to become experts at one thing rather than trying everything at once and being amazing at none.
5. Keen Eye For Detail – It should not be a surprise that individuals who are naturally more introspective and who possess a more methodical method of working, have an excellent eye for details. And that is without question an essential and invaluable quality for success in the public relations world. The larger picture is important but it is often the very small details that if not paid careful attention to, can create issues and ruin a great campaign/project/etc.
6. Excellent Critical and Analytical Skills – Tying in with the introspection, methodical work process and attention to detail, it is not a surprise that introverts tend to possess excellent critical and analytical skills. And these are two qualities that are essential in the world of public relations. It is one thing to know and understand the basic tools of P.R. – that is, how to write a press release, memo, newsletter, media advisory, campaign proposal, crisis communication plan, etc. – and another to know how to properly apply that knowledge to each individual client, individual crisis, individual campaign and more. And that is where excellent critical and analytical skills become invaluable.
7. Introverts Can Be Excellent Public Speakers – This one is likely a huge surprise, because it does not fit the ideal many have of who an introvert is. And it is true, most introverts dislike highly stimulated environments and so crowds are typically not very appealing. And yes, many do struggle with public speaking but just as many do not. This goes back to Susan Cain’s assertion in Quiet.., that there are shy versus non-shy introverts. And many non-shy introverts have no issues speaking in front of a crowd when necessary. They just do not actively seek out the attention.
I would like to conclude by stating that I acknowledge that as human beings we are not all one thing and drawn with one broad stroke. In other words, I am well aware that not all extroverts possess the domineering, loud personality traits often associated with them and similarly, not all introverts possess all the qualities listed above. That said, I am certain many possess a few of those qualities, or they would hardly be defined as introvert in the first place, and it is important to show that contrary to popular belief, the “extrovert ideal” is not the only path to success. And in fact, there are many benefits to being an introvert in the P.R. world. It is not, as has been believed, something to overcome, but rather something to embrace and use to one’s advantage.
Finally, a little final food for thought – some of the greatest entertainers, thinkers and inventors of our time were/are introverts, including:
- J.K. Rowling
- Bill Gates
- Abraham Lincoln
- Barbara Streisand
- Albert Einstein
- Mahatma Gandhi
- Audrey Hepburn