There are a lot of misconceptions about introverts — like that they’re antisocial, unfriendly, shy or lonely. But in many cases, being an introvert can actually be an asset.
Introverts are people who get their energy from spending time alone, according to Dr. Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength. “It’s kind of like a battery they recharge,” she says. “And then they can go out into the world and connect really beautifully with people.”
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Motor Behavior found that introverts take a longer time to process information than extroverts. Kahnweiler says this is actually because they process more thoughtfully than extroverts do — they take extra time to understand ideas before moving on to new ones.
While we’re all often flooded with messages that we need to speak up and stand out in order to be successful, introverts can actually achieve even more if they hone their natural strengths, says Beth Buelow, author of The Introvert Entrepreneur: Amplify Your Strengths and Create Success on Your Own Terms.
“It’s not about becoming a fake extrovert,” Buelow says. “It’s really about acknowledging the valuable traits that introverts bring.”
Here are some of the benefits of being an introvert:
They’re good listeners
Introverts are naturally adept when it comes to actively listening, according to Buelow, who identifies as an introvert herself. “We tend to be the friend or colleague you can call on when you’re upset or you have good news to share,” she says. “We’re going to be able to listen and be with you in that, without turning it around and making it about us.”
Extroverted people are more inclined to jump into a conversation before fully processing what the other person has said. Not because they’re selfish or don’t care, but because they process information interactively, says Dr. Laurie Helgoe, author of Introvert Power: Why Your Hidden Life is Your Hidden Strength.
Conversely, introverts process information internally, Helgoe says. That skill allows them to hear, understand and provide carefully considered insight when they do respond.
They think before they speak
Because introverts typically feel less comfortable speaking than they do listening, they choose their words wisely, according to Buelow. “We only speak when we have something to say, so there is a higher chance that we will have an impact with our words,” she says.
That being said, introverts may take a little too long to formulate their thoughts before sharing them — especially in fast-paced business settings. To combat that tendency, Buelow suggests that introverts should go into meetings prepared to speak first, before there’s time to talk themselves out of it. “Break your own ice,” she says, advising introverts to share a piece of data or an opening remark for the top of the meeting. “Establish your presence early on before the conversation gets thicker and more competitive.”
The skill of choosing your words wisely is just as beneficial online as it is in person. Introverts are more effective on social media because they’re less prone to knee-jerk reactions than extroverts, says Kahnweiler.
“Some people are just throwing thoughts everywhere, randomly posting everything — not introverts,” she says. “There’s a strategy that they take.”
In addition to their superior listening skills, introverts possess what Buelow considers a “superpower”: their observation skills. “We notice things others might not notice because they’re talking and processing out loud,” she says. Although it may look like they’re just sitting quietly during a meeting, introverts are actually soaking in the information that’s being presented and thinking critically.
The typical introvert also uses his or her observant nature to read the room. They’re more likely to notice people’s body language and facial expressions, which makes them better at interpersonal communication, according to Kahnweiler.
Introverts are especially skilled at noticing introvert qualities in others, Kahnweiler says. They can tell when a person is thinking, processing and observing, and then give them the space to do so, which makes people feel much more comfortable, according to Kahnweiler. “They allow time to really connect with people,” she says.
They make quality friends
Since introverts can feel their energy being drained by being around other people — as opposed to extroverts, who gain energy from being with others— introverts choose their friends wisely. They would rather have a few close, trusted friendships to invest their time and energy in, as opposed to a large network of acquaintances, according to Buelow.
“Introverts are pretty picky about who we bring into our lives,” Buelow says. “It requires some energy, and if you do come into our inner circle, that means a lot.”
This quality causes introverts to be loyal, attentive and committed friends, says Buelow.
They make loving romantic partners
Introverts crave personal space to reflect and refuel, and they can sense when their partners need space, too. “Because we have this need for our own privacy, we give that to others as well,” says Buelow. “We won’t be super clingy or high maintenance in relationships.”
And the same qualities that make introverts great listeners also make them great partners, according to Kahnweiler. At the end of a long day, they’re there to listen and support their partner without feeling compelled to talk about themselves.
Introverts also like to get to know someone before sharing intimate details with a prospective partner, and it can make them appear more appealing in the early stages of relationships.
“There can be something attractive about the mystery factor of introverts,” says Helgoe. “That can inspire curiosity and wanting to know the person better.”
They’re thoughtful networkers
Being in a large group where the goal is to meet, talk and make a good first impression can be overwhelming for many — especially for introverts. But Buelow says they can use their natural strengths to create meaningful connections. Extroverts may approach networking events with the goal of talking to as many people as possible, but often, those quick conversations don’t leave lasting impacts, says Buelow.
But Buelow says the strength in networking is not necessarily in numbers. Introverts, she says, should focus on learning about people they meet — even if they only connect with a handful of people.
“I try to make meaningful connections with a couple of people that I can follow up with in some way,” says Buelow. After an event, she’ll send links to articles or speeches that made her think of the person she spoke to. This type of active listening and follow-up can be a lot more beneficial than simply handing out 50 business cards, she says.
They’re compassionate leaders
Helgoe says introverts can make the best leaders — when they channel their natural strengths. For starters, they don’t feel the need to step into the spotlight and take all of the credit for group successes; rather, they are likely to highlight the strengths of their teams, according to Helgoe.
“An extroverted leader may be noticeable, but you may see the leader before you see the team,” Helgoe says. And employees who feel recognized tend to be more motivated, she says.
And since introverts process information more slowly and thoughtfully than their extroverted counterparts, introverted leaders tend to learn more about their subordinates, according to Kahnweiler. They have focused conversations with their team members in order to learn their skills, passions and strengths, according to Kahnweiler. Once they gather all of this information, they can use what they’ve learned to help each team member be more efficient and happier at work.
“People will talk about their favorite managers and they’ll say, ‘They were with me,’” Kahnweiler says. “‘Even if there were more pressing things, I felt like I had their attention. I had their ear.’”