Why your ability to step back could be your greatest strength in business

Why your ability to step back could be your greatest strength in business

Today’s post is by Meredith Tseu

Being an introvert is trendy right now. Even my chattiest neighbors are confessing their introvert tendencies. But when I talk with clients in my career coaching practice, I still hear a lot about the limitations of being an introvert.

It’s hard not to dwell on the limitations myself, and it kills my self-confidence.

How can I be an entrepreneur and an introvert? I catch myself thinking I should be in some other line of work. For some reason I always think of 18th century tradesmen, like blacksmiths or bakers, careers that involve carefully crafting tangible objects and then handing them over somewhat belligerently. People won’t mind because my bread is so delicious.

I try to clear my head of those thoughts. After all, I was once a newspaper reporter and found it thrilling, even though it was far from that baker job.

The notebook was like a costume. I was able to take on a new persona. And sure, it was exhausting, but luckily half my job was writing, and I could go home and recharge after my shift. For that time in my life, it was the perfect career.

I started out at a small Minnesota daily, typing up birth announcements, obituaries and weather reports. They had a photographer who loved taking portraits of people and needed some copy to go with them, so I began writing lifestyle profiles of interesting people in town, and that proved to be my sweet spot.

At first my editors gave me tips, but then people in the community started volunteering their neighbors and friends. One of my earliest profiles involved a man who collected bricks. He told me about the bricks, and I was so bored. I couldn’t fathom how I was going to make it into a story. Then he asked me if I wanted to stay and watch Oprah before I headed back to the newsroom, and I had some extra time, so we sat and watched.

On the commercial breaks, he told me about the moment he saw his wife after World War II ended. She had served as a nurse, he as an infantryman. He told me how she had looked when she first heard him call her name, there on Main Street in that little town. He knew at that moment he would marry her.

The bricks were something that just started accumulating after she had to move to a nearby nursing home, he said. He would take long walks and pick up a brick here or there, each marked with the town name in which they were made, and neighbors saw and started adding to the collection to console him. He was simply accepting their consolation. He had hundreds of bricks in his garage, from all over the United States. The picture that ran with the story said it all.

Those stories appeared without me doing a thing except getting out of the way.

But that’s the thing about being an introvert. We know firsthand that not everyone gets out of the way. Some of the best stories came from people who were quiet, too, who swore up and down they were the most boring people and were shocked when neighbors volunteered them.

It was such a relief to discover that being an introvert could be a strength in that job, especially after trying, and failing, to be a decent cops reporter. I haven’t found an assessment tool yet that identifies that strength for introverts. (I’ll let you know if I do!) We have to remind ourselves.

Now I still talk to people for a living, but I try to help them find clarity about their careers. And still, the stories come out fully formed.

That’s the only tip I have for fellow introverts: Own those quiet spaces in the conversations you have. Stake them out, because they’re our territory. Stay quiet for a few beats. Let your customer or client share that extra bit of truth with you.

I love the truth more than anything. I bet you do, too. Clarity, truth, call it what you like. Those small spaces, those quiet pauses in conversation, are necessary in society. And we introverts, in whatever business we find ourselves in, can be the sources of those pauses. We can protect them, kind of like wildlife preserves of conversation.

my headshotAbout the author

Meredith Tseu is a career coach and blogger near Baltimore, Maryland. In a former work life she worked for 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor. Her web site is www.mltcareers.com.


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