A Myers-Briggs personality test I took, right after I did NOT get the promotion, clearly showed that I was an introvert. The majority of my colleagues were extroverts with alpha personalities. In any conversation, they were quick to interject with witty stories of fishing expeditions, of being taken for a ride in Moscow, of managing in riveting circumstances, and coming through victorious. My colleagues effortlessly held court in hallways, conference rooms, and elevators. They delivered their anecdotes with a flair that I could only produce on the page after several revisions. They filled in gaps in conversation with ease, while I watched and struggled to get a word in. On the few occasions, when I did find an opening in the conversation, I passed on the opportunity because my ideas were already discussed; even when I had the most adventurous experiences, such as the time I got stuck at Customs and Immigration in Guadalajara, Mexico, unbeknown to my colleagues during a business trip, with a Tupperware box of white powder, I did not risk sharing this story verbally. Years later, I fictionalized this experience and submitted Up the Boohai to a writing contest, which won me an honorable mention.
I preferred to disappear in group conversations. When I spoke, I tried to fast forward my speech, which caused me to trip over my sentences and skip important parts to get to the denouement; the result made me forget punchlines or miss an important plot twist making my narration nonsensical.
It was quite a different story when it came to delivering a prepared speech or presentation, such as the times I addressed a gathering of 5,000 people in college, answered questions during a press conference, won a speech debate, or presented my Six Sigma Black Belt findings to a room full of people. With behind-the-scenes hard work and practice, I could make anything sound like extempore, far from impromptu conversations and discussions when a numbness of the anesthetic variety took over my tongue.
It all started when my manager congratulated me for my hard work and dedication and offered me the position of people manager. I was elated. This was the culmination of success, to be recognized. It also meant that there would be more impromptu speaking opportunities. There was a lot to celebrate—I had come a long way from my first job, which paid a little more than the minimum wage, many steps down from my job in India. Taking that first job, got me stuck in a warp, causing me to change employers as the only means to get a raise. With this promotion, I was finally in a place where I loved my employer, the pay, and my manager.
It turned out that the celebration was premature and short-lived. There was a new HR rule that went into effect that month that both my manager and I were unaware of. First-time people managers had to pass a third-party leadership assessment, which included personality tests, role-playing, 360-degree feedback, and interviews. The short version was that I did not pass the test, I came close, but I did not pass it.
The new rule also stipulated that I could retake the test after a period of three years. My manager and the leadership made a case for addressing the new rule, and soon, the waiting period to retake the test was changed to 1.5 years.
There was a lot of work to be done in one and a half years. I was assigned to work with a coach, was flown to workshops, and provided timely feedback by mentors (including my extrovert colleagues) on areas I needed to improve. The goal was to retake the test successfully.
What my manager did not tell me, but was on the intranet for anyone to read, was there was going to be another long wait if I did not pass this second attempt.
My coach and I devised a strategy for me to address the perception of not being verbally bold and communicative. He gave me the following advice:
- Read the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.
- Join Toastmasters International.
- Don’t hesitate to interrupt an extrovert. They don’t care, and they don’t mind. They usually speak because they are uncomfortable with gaps of silence.
- If someone else states an idea before you get a chance, then articulate with an ‘I agree’, or ‘Thank you for sharing what I had in mind’, or ‘I disagree’ because…
- Make sure that you have at least spoken a few sentences in each meeting.
Fast forward eighteen months, I retook the test armed with on-the-job training and knowledge from workshops that I had put into practice and hard work.
On the day the results were expected, I found myself in a conference room on a video call with the examiner, while the results were being simultaneously shared with my manager over an email.
Whatever the result, I decided I was blessed to have come so far, to become a better person and a person capable of being a better people manager. I remembered the wonderful people along the way who supported me and encouraged me on my journey, who did not bat an eye or have second thoughts about my capabilities, especially my leadership. I remembered the fun times at Toastmasters International, the many ribbons for the contests won, and the Competent Communicator and Competent Leadership award plaques I had received. The most dear one was the Table Topics ribbons that I proudly collected. I worked with leaders who embraced leading introverts and actively created opportunities, and provided space for growth in a room full of extroverts.
To make a long story short. I won. I mean, I passed the test.
I learned that introverts must find managers who nurture them and act as fearless cheerleaders and that extroverts must help introverts occupy spaces in conversations because both deserve to be heard in the workplace, and in society.
Majella Pinto is a writer, an artist, and an introvert. She’s accepted that it takes her some time to respond to questions, while she ruminates about the rhythm of her sentences. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Antioch University and works as a Project Manager in Silicon Valley.