An introvert's guide to schmoozing

Just because you are lunching- and networking-averse doesn't mean your career options are limited

Man in an office being interrogated under a bunch of desk lamps

(Henrik Sorensen/Getty)

It was during her years on Wall Street that Nancy Ancowitz figured out she was an introvert. She did the famous Myers-Briggs personality assessment, which confirmed that she is the type to feel drained after too much socializing, and relishes alone time. For Ancowitz, then a marketing executive, the results explained so much? — why she needed to collect herself in a quiet room before a big meeting, or had to walk the block in the middle of the day, or dreaded the aimless chitchat of work functions.

Being an introvert, however, didn’t hamper her career: Ancowitz went on to become marketing VP at JP Morgan, Chase and Co. Once she realized she was an introvert, she started paying attention to her social preferences and figured out ways to manage her energy for the day-to-day demands of her job. She figured it out so well that she quit her job to write a book on the subject. Self-Promotion for Introverts is a kind of how-to guide for introverts navigating careers amid the clamour of an extroverts’ world — and it dispels the myth that introverts should stick to being librarians or basement-dwelling techies.

“The misconception is that we’re loners, losers and anti-social,” says Ancowitz. According to her research, about half of us are introverts, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it by looking around the room. “No one would ever call me an introvert,” she says. “I’m outgoing. I love people.” By Ancowitz’s definition, an introvert is simply someone who recharges by spending time alone doing quiet activities

According to a University of Iowa study on brain activity led by physiological psychologist Debra L. Johnson, introvert brains show more activity in areas dealing with learning and planning, while extrovert brains are more active in regions that control sensory processes, like watching and listening. This might explain why an extrovert is stimulated more by external forces, namely other people, and introverts are happy in their own head. It’s not that they’re shy, depressed or socially fearful; in fact, they can be quite good at socializing, but they’ll seek out substantive exchanges over pleasantries. “If I go to an event, I’ll have one or two, maybe three, deep conversations with a few people and then I’m ready to go home,” Ancowitz says. “An extrovert will go to the after party.”

The blanket confidence of extroverts generally casts them as warm and approachable, while introverts seem to get lumped in with social misfits, and are thought to be closed and detached. But Ancowitz argues even in corporate communications or sales, where there are strong social expectations—managing clients, working in teams, networking, lunching—introverts can thrive. Her advice: stay true to your nature and use those “quiet ways” to get ahead.

As the new senior director for client services at Loyalty One, a Toronto marketing firm specializing in rewards programs, 37-year-old Marshall Warkentin is the company’s point of contact with clients. Warkentin, a self-described introvert, has been in marketing for over a decade, but this new position is a step up on the schmoozing scale. “There’s a big personal element to the job — lots of meetings, conferences, charity events, golf games,” he says. Despite the intense social demands, Warkentin figures he’s well-suited to the role. “It’s not about interacting with 50 people. It’s making connections with primary individuals, and introverts are better at that.”

Introverts, according to Ancowitz, are generally quieter and not prone to barking opinions and ideas, which can also be a huge plus in a room full of bulldogs. “It can be tough sometimes to get a word in edgewise,” says Warkentin. “But there are some benefits to being the one who considers their thoughts, frames things in a refreshing way and perhaps brings a different perspective.” Also, he says, “introverts are generally patient, good listeners — and the key to client services is you have to listen.”

Along with playing up quiet strengths, namely writing, preparedness and listening skills, Ancowitz calls on her fellow introverts to use their one-on-one interactions to be a “connector.” “Introverts are good at building lasting relationships over time,” she says. “When you position yourself as a connector, you’re seen as a good person to know.”

There is, however, one particularly terrifying skill Ancowitz does ask of introverts: learn how to speak in public. “It’s doable and it’s good for introverts,” she says. Five years ago, Erin Lau, a writer and former event-planner, couldn’t speak in public without a red face and trembling hands. Toastmasters saved her, she says, and opened up her career options. “I’m still an introvert,” she says. “I still respect my time with myself a great deal. But it’s never something that will inhibit me.”