The introvert’s ultimate guide to building influence at work

CAREER ADVICE   |   2 minutes  |   May 23, 2017

You’ve had the conversation countless times in your head. You want to lead people, you want to influence the direction of your team and organisation, but you’re an introvert. And introverts don’t lead.

You think about influencers and leaders you interact with regularly. They’re confident, enthusiastic and animated. They fill the room with their high energy levels, and people listen.

Can an introvert get people to listen to them?

It’s a common belief that, in order to hold sway people, you need to command attention with a strong personality. In short, you need to be an extrovert to influence people and situations.

But James Abruzzo, Director of the Institute for Ethical Leadership at Rutgers Business School, disagrees: “You do not need to be extroverted to lead people, and you do not need to be extroverted for people to follow you.”1

As an introvert, you probably don’t talk very much. And when you do, it’s carefully considered. Certified Speaking Professional, Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D., calls introverts “Quiet Influencers”, and argues that people who think more and talk less often have the best ideas.2

Both Abruzzo and Kahnweiler agree the best way for an introvert to build influence is to not try to be someone they aren’t. Abruzzo suggests you focus on being more methodical, visionary, and communicating clearly in writing. Kahnweiler believes, “There is more than one way to have some sway. We can make a great impact by using the six strengths of Quiet Influence: Quiet Time, Preparation, Engaged Listening, Focused Conversations, Writing and Thoughtful Use of Social Media.”

introvert 1

What does an introvert need to do to get people to listen without speaking?

Author and body language coach, Vanessa Van Edwards, argues that at least 60% of human communication is nonverbal.3 As an introvert, you will probably find it easier to talk with your body than with your mouth, and here’s what Van Edwards believes you should focus on:

  • Exude confidence. Keep your shoulders back and down, as far away from your ears as possible, and don’t cross your arms. This reduces tension and doesn’t outwardly display any anxiety you may be feeling.
  • Point your feet. When people feel like you’re listening to them, they’ll be more inclined to listen to you. To show people you’re listening to them, angle your feet in their direction. This shows them you’re focused on them.
  • Tilt your head. When someone else is talking, angle your head ever so slightly while still looking at them. This is a natural human tendency to allow your ear to pick up more sound, again showing people you are truly listening to them.
  • Lean in. This can be used for emphasis while talking. When you lean into a conversation, people are more likely to pay attention to you and agree with you.
  • Be genuine. In the world of leadership, there is no such thing as faking it until you make it. The best way to build influence is to be authentic in your dealings with other people. And never wear a fake smile.

introvert 2

How can an introvert overcome self-doubt?

As an introvert, you likely suffer from low self-confidence, which is holding you back from building your influence network. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that traits like talent, intelligence and personality are natural and cannot be changed.

This is known by Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, as the fixed mindset, and it’s not a constructive way to think.4 But humans are notoriously bad at self-assessment and reflection,5 so your lack of belief in your abilities is most likely misplaced.

introvert 3

According to Dweck, the mindset that results in the most personal and intellectual development is known as the growth mindset. This mindset is characterised by the adaptation to a situation, malleability in the face of challenge, and learning from setbacks.

The key to overcoming self-doubt as an introvert is to adopt the growth mindset. This means focusing on who you can be tomorrow, rather than who you’re not today. A large part of confidence is having the knowledge to share and action off. Consider taking an online short course to increase your practical and theoretical knowledge base.

How can an introvert become an authentic leader and influencer?

Leaders are not loud, charismatic, confident people. Leaders are people who influence other people, it’s that simple. As an introvert, you don’t need to pretend to be an extrovert in order to become an influencer. James Abruzzo tells us, “As an introverted individual, you can become very depressed and self-defeating if you believe that you need to be extroverted to be a leader.”6

Instead, focus on your strengths such as preparation, careful thought, engaged listening and effective written communication.

But influencers do need to be seen to lead. Because you’re an introvert, you’re going to have great ideas and insight into a situation, but you may feel reluctant to share them. Here are two things should practice when engaged in group problem solving:

introvert 4

  • Share your idea in three seconds. A popular tactic used by nervous speed daters, sharing an idea in a maximum of three seconds allows you to say your piece without having to worry about what to say next.

introvert 5

  • Tell people you’re thinking. Introverts are known for being thinkers before speakers, which may come across as being passive or non-constructive. Explaining to others that you would like to take the time to think about something lets them know that you are working on the problem, just in your own way.



Build your influence by becoming more confident in your skills and knowledge.

Browse more than 60 online short courses from the world’s leading universities


Psychology Today
Vanessa Van Edwards
David Dunning
James Abruzzo