You have amazing strengths as an introvert. According to research, introverts have natural skills that make them better leaders. Plus, this Harvard Business Review study found that the teams of introverted leaders were 28% more productive! You don’t have to become an extrovert to ignite your people skills, but it may take practice and flexibility. Use these 7 strategic tips.
How Introverts Can Improve Their Interpersonal Skills
Introverts can improve interpersonal skills by leaning into strengths while identifying and improving weaknesses.
Make Reflective Listening Your Superpower
According to a survey by Forbes, 74% of employees do better work when they feel heard. If you are an introvert, this is your superpower. Now it’s time to hone it. The key is making it your mission to make others feel heard. You can supercharge your listening skills with reflective listening.
Reflective listening is listening and then reflecting on what you’ve heard. When someone hears their own words reflected, they are more likely to feel heard and understood. You can do this verbally and nonverbally.
- Use phrases like, “it sounds like you are saying…” and “I’m hearing you say….”
- If they use emotion words, repeat them back. Like, “I hear you are frustrated. I totally get it.” Or ask about these emotions, “What do you think is causing your frustration?”
- Ask reflective listening questions like, “Can you tell me more?” or “I want to understand truly. What else do I need to know?”
- If they nod, you nod. If they lean in, you lean in. If they are upbeat and positive, reflect that tone back to them.
Another simple way to do this is to reflect on what the person has said by changing it into a question.
Your tone here is essential. Use a neutral, inquiring, or positive tone when implementing reflective listening. Imagine the above sentence said with a neutral or impatient tone. This communicates disapproval and shuts down communication. On the other hand, asking questions with an inquiring tone opens communication.
Here’s an example—your coworker says, “I’m having a hard time with this project.”
You reply with, “You’re having a hard time?”
Again, pay attention to your tone, and use the upward inflection at the end of your question.
Pro Tip: Worried that your responses will appear staged or disingenuous? Bruce Lambert, a researcher, and professor of communication, encourages only using reflective listening with a genuine desire to hear the other person. Improving your interpersonal skills isn’t so you can gain power, but make authentic connections with other people. People will feel your motives intuitively.
Action Step: Use these 5 phrases from Bruce Lambert in your daily interactions, and watch the video for the full breakdown.
1. You are… (insert reflective emotion)
2. It sounds like …. (Insert observation)
3. It seems like …. ( insert behavioral observation)
4. What I’m hearing is… (insert client’s narrative/observation)
5. You seem to be saying … (insert observation)
Use Your Intuition to Be More Sociable
As an introvert, you may possess social psychological skills that make you more intuitive about what others think and be less prone to self-deception. But, you may also rely so heavily on introspection that it ultimately sabotages your people skills.
There is a fine line between social overthinking and social intuition.
Endless rumination and prediction might make you miss out on social cues. Or maybe you see all of the cues but don’t know what to do. Plus, your need to think (sometimes to the point of obsessively crafting the perfect response) can cause you never to speak up. At least, not out loud.
This is an opportunity to strengthen your understanding of social cues and how to respond to those cues.
- Try focusing only on finding what you have in common when talking to someone. This uses the Similarity Attraction Effect, which states that people naturally gravitate towards things and people that are like them. This hones your social goal not to overthink everything.
- Don’t hide your weaknesses. This makes you appear more relatable and trustworthy. Share small things like feeling nervous or worrying that you wouldn’t know anyone at the event.
- Be curious. Others may perceive you as closed off when you’re just unsure what you want to say. So instead, ask follow-up questions to keep the other person talking.
- Use confident body language. Respond to the cues other people give you by using confident body language. Hold your head up, keep your shoulders back, and maintain a relaxed posture.
If you want to dive deep, read our article on how to be more social.
Master Your People Skills
- Create a Memorable Presence
- Communicate with Confidence
- Achieve Your Goals
Have a question about the presentation or People School? Email Science of People support.
Expand Your Comfort Zone… Within Your Comfort Zone
As an introvert living in an extroverted world, you normally live outside your comfort zone. Instead of navigating the world as an extrovert, push your comfort zone by anchoring your strengths.
What are you good at? Who are you good with? Where are you your best self? Focus on finding the right setting with the right people.
- If you connect easily one-on-one, use your natural ability to connect to make you more memorable. Avoid the desire to melt into the background; expand your comfort zone to believe others enjoy your presence.
- If you are naturally empathetic, use this skill to build more confidence. Empathy is a gift, and it’s something that makes you more charismatic than you may realize. Press into that knowledge when you feel your confidence slipping.
- If you value deep conversation but hate small talk, use your skills of reflection and deep thinking as a springboard for small talk. Small talk isn’t your enemy; check out our list of articles to guide you through the art of conversation.
- If you quickly pick up on nonverbal cues, use this superpower to strengthen your negotiation skills. Using your body effectively and decoding nonverbals are foundational to learning how to negotiate. If you pick up on positive cues, keep going. But if you see negative cues, it’s a sign you’re taking the wrong approach. Change your tactic.
- If you’re a diplomat, use this skill early in your interactions to avoid appearing aloof. Others often perceive introverts as withdrawn or aloof when it takes time for an introvert to open up. Instead of forcing yourself to be gregarious and more open than you find comfortable, use diplomacy to prioritize kindness and a desire to see things from the other person’s perspective.
- If you easily connect to what others feel, use this strength to expand into conflict resolution. You may prefer avoiding conflict, but when you’re attuned to the feelings of others, this gives you an excellent foundation to resolve conflict as it arises.
Give Yourself a Break
You’ve been working hard to build your interpersonal skills, but don’t push too hard. Overstimulation can harm you, so give yourself time and space to withdraw when needed.
You’re not an extrovert and don’t have to pretend to be one.
Pro Tip: Take breaks before becoming drained of energy. If you push yourself past your comfort zone too much, you may give up or withdraw completely.
- Make a list of what you need to feel energized. One of the most important ways to do this is to ensure your environment isn’t draining you. Do you need to add a plant to your desk? Decrease clutter? Bring in a diffuser (check with HR first).
- Look for ways throughout the day to decompress and recharge. This could include taking a coffee/tea break, stretching after calls, writing a couple of sentences on a post-it note about how an interaction made you feel or switching your phone to do-not-disturb when you need concentrated working time.
- Prioritize the most important social interactions and give yourself the freedom to withdraw if you become overwhelmed.
- Prepare for events and interactions you know will be draining. Examples could be finishing work early on days you have an event and blocking out time on your calendar after a big meeting, so you don’t regularly have back-to-back meetings.
- Avoid scheduling activities you feel forced to go to but won’t enjoy.
Overcome Fear of Rejection
Fear of rejection is the enemy of charismatic communication.
When thinking about people skills, what do you find challenging? Whether you struggle with being assertive, communicating your thoughts, or people don’t remember you, a lack of inner confidence impacts all these things. Boil it down, and it stems from a fear of rejection.
Fear of rejection is a human experience that all of us face.
But while we all experience it, if it’s a persistent and looming fear, it’s morphed from a natural human experience to something that dominates you. If this is true, you probably have to limit beliefs and past experiences that hold you into a pattern of fearing and absorbing rejection.
It’s possible to change that.
In this video, Elaine Dundon, philosopher, and author, shares how to become more resilient when facing rejection.
Our favorite takeaway from this TEDx talk is a tool we’ve personally used: REJECT REJECTION.
It sounds simplistic and even a bit silly, but it works.
2-Second Action Step: Each time you are in a situation where you worry about what others think of you, or you feel rejected, say, “I reject rejection.” If people are around, you can say this quietly under your breath or go to the bathroom to take a minute to regroup.
This helps retrain your brain, so you don’t continue to experience the world through the lens of self-defeat and rejection.
Communicate Your Needs
Many introverts don’t communicate their needs. Plus, in an attempt to navigate a world that can feel like it’s geared toward extroverts, there is pressure to respond immediately and give answers you may not be ready to give.
This can hamper your people skills. Extroverts may even experience your reserved communication as active hostility or arrogance.
We know just because you don’t want to express your thoughts immediately does not make you arrogant! Still, you need to understand how others experience your introverted communication style.
Pro Tip: Instead of going silent or struggling to give a response, communicate what you’re thinking.
Here are some sample responses you can use when you feel put on the spot to give a reply.
- That’s an excellent question, and I’d like some time to process this idea. Let me get back to you with my response.
- I need a moment to think about this. Can someone else give their input first?
- Let me get back to you on that.
- I appreciate having time to process and think before meetings. Can you send a meeting agenda in advance so I can be prepared?
- I know you prefer to brainstorm ideas in person, but I get my best ideas by brainstorming alone. Let’s meet halfway on this. If you send the concept to me in advance, I’ll be prepared to brainstorm as a team.
Remember, communicating your needs isn’t inconveniencing others.
Learn the Difference Between Social Anxiety and Introversion
Being an introvert doesn’t automatically mean you have social anxiety. Many introverts are confident in their social skills and can even find social interactions stimulating. Even extroverts struggle with social anxiety.
Now here’s the thing: many people automatically expect introverts to be socially anxious. That expectation might be distorting your self-perception. On the flip side, if you are experiencing social anxiety disorder and mistaking it for introversion, you may find it challenging to develop the necessary coping skills.
It may seem strange, but stop and think about it. What do you feel in social situations?
The Mayo Clinic says, “Feelings of shyness or discomfort in certain situations aren’t necessarily signs of social anxiety disorder… In contrast to everyday nervousness, social anxiety disorder includes fear, anxiety, and avoidance that interfere with relationships, daily routines, work, school, or other activities.”
If you have social anxiety, coping skills will help you navigate social experiences instead of avoiding them. If you don’t have social anxiety, shedding the preconceptions you’ve absorbed over the years may help you become a stronger communicator.
Regardless, accepting yourself for who you are is the beginning of growth.
- If you suspect social anxiety, reach out for extra help to build coping skills and get to the heart of what could be causing it.
- Take 5 minutes to write down how others seem to perceive you. Then, ask yourself whether these perceptions are accurate or if they are misperceptions.
Books on Social Skills for Introverts
- Captivate: The Science of Succeeding With People by Vanessa Van Edwards
Succeed with People
Master the laws of human behavior and get along with anyone. Increase your influence, impact, and success.
Register below to get your FREE chapter of Captivate.
- Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength by Laurie A. Helgoe
- Introvert Doodles: An Illustrated Look at Introvert Life in an Extrovert World by Maureen Marzi Wilson
- How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
People Skills for Introverts FAQ
Introverts can improve their interpersonal skills by leaning into their strengths and improving skills that aren’t as strong. Introverts learn well by observing others, so having a mentor or looking for leaders is a great tactic. Ultimately, improving a skill requires exposure and practice.
Jobs in medicine, communication, and mental health are excellent jobs for introverts who want to improve their social skills. Each of these fields requires empathy and an understanding of what others are thinking and feeling. These are skills that introverts may already have. Choosing a job that capitalizes on existing skills provides an easier transition into growing better social skills. Think about your skills, and then look for jobs requiring those skills. From there, you can continue expanding and growing your skillset.
Introverts often have many people skills that come naturally to them. They may be good listeners, empathetic, able to read nonverbal cues, and make deep connections. It is a myth that all introverts are socially unaware and lack people skills. They communicate differently from extroverts but are still more than capable of interacting socially.
Take a deep dive into what it means to be an introvert and learn how to navigate the workplace with 8 Ways to Make Introversion Your Superpower.