Contrary to popular belief, introverts have no problem talking. They just have no interest in inconsequential small talk or speaking with those who are clearly not listening.
Coaching, on the other hand, deals with the introverts’ most consequential matters (life/work) and offers a deeply attentive participant (the coach), making this a match made in heaven.
Winning an Introvert’s Trust in Coaching
As with any client, establishing a high standard of trust and rapport is the ticket to ‘passing go’. This is irrefutably important to an introvert, who can be deeply introspective and guarded.
As introverts are often more risk-averse and cautious, working with an introvert can require patience, visibly committed listening, and thoughtful inquiry. When the door opens and you’re ‘in’, introverts will readily share the many reflective thoughts they have been toiling with.
I coach early to mid-career professionals who prefer introversion and are ready to take steps to realize a more satisfying and enriching career. In a nutshell, this means:
- Embracing and fully leveraging their natural strengths
- Identifying core values and making values-based decisions
- Understanding situational context and selectively stretching their comfort zone
While I coach in a business context, job satisfaction has a large impact beyond work, and many of the general principles below are relevant to any coaching circumstance.
What Introverted Coaching Clients Need
Most often, new clients have yet to fully appreciate the power of their unique skills and temperament and how, where, and when to best apply them. As introverts have spent much of their life seeing extroverted behavior by others being recognized and rewarded, introverts can be blinded by what they believe they are missing instead of what they uniquely offer.
Introverts represent the single largest diversity group in the United States, between a third and one half of the population—or roughly 140 million people. Yet less than 5% of senior business leaders are introverted. This skewed ratio means leadership is often unaware of the needs of introverted employees and colleagues.
While transforming workplace culture is beyond the scope of most coaches’ work, attending to the individual is within the coach’s power. As you seek to coach your introverted clients, I’d like to offer some insight. Here are some of the things that I’ve seen in my experience:
Why do introverted clients seek coaching in the first place?
To name a few reasons –
- Low Job/Career Satisfaction: 10 years into their career, they find themselves wondering what is missing. Is it them, the job, or the industry?
- Stuck on the B team: They’re valued in their jobs but see others getting ahead and are not sure why they seem to be stuck in neutral.
- Promotion Blues: Good news, they got promoted. The bad news, they feel like they’ve been thrown overboard without a lifejacket and won’t ask for help.
As coaches, how can we best support these clients?
- Embrace Self: Before endeavoring to develop new approaches, an introvert needs to embrace themselves and nurture their true nature. They can complement their natural traits, but they can never replace them.
- Depth & Range of Introversion: Extroversion is a continuum. Each introvert is beginning from a different spot. Invest time to understand how deeply their supporting and limiting beliefs are held and where on the continuum they sit.
- Understand Their Drivers: Push for clarity on the motives and drivers behind their choices and decisions. Are they rational, emotional, deeply personal, security, purpose-driven or fear-based?
What type of questions get introverts to open up?
After trust and rapport have been built, try engaging introverted clients in these topics:
- What are you most proud of about yourself (achievements/traits/values)?
- What are the most challenging obstacles that you’ve been able to overcome?
- How do/can you uniquely contribute to a team in a way that is often missing or in need?
- What positive feedback do you most commonly receive?
- Describe someone who you enjoy spending time with. What is it about them that attracts you?
- Tell me about a time over the past year when you took a risk. What happened?
While I am uncomfortable with generalizations, research appears to be conclusive that a higher percentage of extroverts are happier than introverts. There is also evidence that there is a higher incidence of depression among introverts.
This is not to say, by any stretch, that the individual you are coaching is unhappy or depressed. It does mean, though, that you need to take care to stay in your lane and be attuned to what support you are equipped to provide as a coach.
Extroversion as a Continuum: Empathizing with the Other Side
As mentioned, introverts are around us everywhere, in every situation. Every human being utilizes both extroverted and introverted behaviors many times each day. Extroverts and introverts each just spend more time on their own preferred side of the continuum.
As coaches, we are, and have coached, introverts. As an introvert, I’ll never understand what it feels like to be an extrovert, nor will an extrovert understand what it’s like to be an introvert.
When I began specializing in this group, I learned that my personal experience only exposed the tip of the iceberg. Fortunately, there is boundless information available for you to better understand this vital and fascinating personality type.
Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, dig in and get to work. It will enlighten you, strengthen your practice and help you lead introverts to a more comfortable and relatable place in your coaching practice and in society at large.
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Tom Rose has 64 years of experience being an introvert and underdog. He spent two decades working in senior leadership roles at Global Fortune 500 companies, across six continents, before discovering the source of his greatest professional satisfaction at a leadership retreat in 2007. His passion is helping others achieve their potential, beyond what they previously imagined possible. Tom has a Master's Degree in Executive Coaching & Professional Development and three ICF accredited certifications in Professional Coaching, Leadership Coaching and Executive Coaching.