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16. Misconceptions around introverted women with Carol Stewart

behaviour confidence emotional intelligence influence introversion meetings talent management thinking styles Feb 04, 2022


This week I'm joined by Carol Stewart, executive career coach working with introverted senior leaders, author of the book Quietly Visible and in her 4th year running as a Linkedin Top Voice UK. 
In the session we talked about: 
  • The top misconceptions about introversion that every leader should know 
  • Strategies for introverted professionals gain influence in their careers 
  • How to have stronger influence as an introvert 
  • How to be inclusive at work for all thinking types  

Carol is the host of the quietly visible podcast,  an executive career and leadership coach specialising in coaching introverted women who are senior leaders to overcome the barriers to their leadership success, to overcome things like imposter syndrome, self-doubt, and to raise that visibility and profile so that they lead with confidence, influence and impact.


Why is introversion important to you? 

I remember back in my leadership days prior to starting my coaching business, I always felt as if there was something wrong. You need to promote yourself more in meetings, that sort of thing, which didn't come naturally to me because I've just thought, well, I'll say it when I have something to say, not just for the sake of it. Back then, I didn't really understand a lot about introversion.

We did the Myers-Briggs test at work, and when I got my results, it came out as an IST J (Logistician (ISTJ) is someone with the Introverted, Observant, Thinking, and Judging personality traits.) and I had underlying negative connotations so I resisted the association with introversion. 

I didn't really want to own that. 

After I left employment 10 years ago and I did a master's in coaching psychology whilst I started my coaching business and I looked more into the work of Carl Jung on introversion/extroversion and got a better understanding of what introversion really means.

It helped me to understand myself better. It was a few years later that I was reflecting on the clients I worked with and I noticed that the majority of them have introverted traits.

I started writing about the challenges that introverted women leaders experience and I started getting bombarded with messages, comments and people sending me emails about the challenges that they had experienced as introverted women and their leadership journey.

My eyes opened to the extent of how much bias against introversion is in the world. 


What are the top challenges of introverts? 

One of the biggest challenges in the workplace is speaking up in meetings. Most introverts typically like to think, to process their thoughts, reflect and then speak.

Whereas extroverts typically like to be able to speak and they'll be processing their thoughts as they're speaking. 

Most meetings are run by putting people on the spot, asking them to give a response straight away. 

Someone who is extroverted can start speaking. They may appear more engaged, more confident, whereas someone who is introverted the experience can feel quite awkward for them as they don’t necessarily have that time to process what they want to say and then say it.

Knowing that they haven't had time to think about what they want to say results is stumbling words, or, they may let the moment pass and not speak up. 

A good chair or facilitator of the meeting will recognise that different people have different thinkings styles.

Unfortunately, a lot of meetings and a lot of chairs and facilitators don't necessarily think that way, but there are a lot of things that people who are introverted can do to put themselves in the best position when they go into meetings. 

Likewise, people who are holding meetings can make them more conducive to people who are interested in helping people be at their best.


What are your Top Tips for introverts and being inclusive at work?

  1. Sending out the agendas in advance is a really useful technique. Being able to go through an agenda in advance and think about items on the agenda give time for introverts to establish what their thoughts are. It is easy for them to then speak upon the spot. 
  2. When holding the meeting, recognising that some people need time to think. Allow for that. There are some organisations who are becoming very aware of this and changing the way that they conduct meetings. Someone will prepare a briefing, but everybody has to read it through at the beginning of the meeting, giving everybody gets the time to read it and involve all in the discussion about it.
  3. Ask for time to think when asked a question. However, this can be a challenge. People don't necessarily have that confidence to ask for the time and space in meetings, it then kind of puts them on the spot, it makes it, makes them then become the focus of attention. They might not necessarily want that.

Ultimately it's a case of being aware. Aware of how you or others think differently. Misconceptions that exist around introversion are really centred around misunderstanding a person's way of processing information.

What are the common misconceptions about introversion? 

This was what led to that in my book; I was out networking one day. I spoke to a woman. I told her I was introverted and she said to me “oh you don't look like an introvert”. I thought to myself, well, what does an introvert look like?

Because I had a bright orange top on, then she's thinking, oh, that's a big bit loud for someone who's introverted. So I put the question out on social media.

I asked

“when you think of the word introvert, what comes to mind?”

I got responses such as: shy, lacks, confidence social misfit, aloof. 

That just highlighted to me the extent of the misconceptions around introversion. A lot of people think that because someone's introverted they are shy, they're not confident, that they don't like public speaking, or that they are a social misfit, but this could apply to people who are extroverted as well.

Often these misconceptions can shape the way that someone who is introverted sees themselves. Clients who experienced self-doubt and imposter syndrome has been a result of those early experiences, where they were made to feel that they were not cutting it because they were introverted.

It could be that their parents or their caregivers were telling them, you need to go out there more, you need to speak up more. 

Those messages have been reinforced, and so now as adults, it has led to self doubt. We live in what Susan Kay, who's the author of quiet, the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking speaks of the extrovert ideal. 

A widely held belief that the ideal self is often gregarious and comfortable being in the spotlight, all the attributes of extroversion. 

Historically, I think that particularly here in the U.K. and in the U.S. many parts of the west, that's been held up as well.

Leadership strengths of introversion 

Listening is a key part of great leadership communication. Empathy, being able to think and reflect are all good qualities, which often underlooked 

Thinking and reflecting on something produces thoughts that can be quite profound. Quick decisions aren't always the best decision. Sometimes we do need to have that thought and reflection put into decision-making.

Introversion is not something that you have to get over. It's something that you need to understand. 

It's a preference as to how we interact and engage with the world. Introversion and extroversion exist along the continuum. We all have a preference as to where we fit along in different environments and different situations. 

Change how you think, and what you think and believe about yourself. If you can do that, it will help you to change how you feel as well. 

Connect with Carol
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About your guide,  Alexandra 

A committed optimist, pragmatist and champion of emotional intelligence, Alexandra Bond Burnett is an accredited and certified coach working to increase the personal impact and effectiveness of high achievers in data-driven roles.

Speaking on emotional intelligence and presence, Alexandra will guide you towards effective interactions in your career.  

Using her psychology training, a background in finance and accounting, alongside her qualifications and work in professional theatre Alexandra combines body, mind and skill to help leaders achieve their full potential.

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