I have always believed that in order to be successful, you had to be outgoing and forward with the way you presented yourself. If you didn’t match these personality traits, you were shunned for your inability to contribute or be of help to others around you. This is how I felt for majority of my life. Sometimes the best way I worked was by myself after the minimum amount of direction was given, and I would speak only when I was absolutely sure what I was saying was thought out and considered the other person’s opinions.
At Google, I noticed that a lot of designers in the higher ranks tend to be more outgoing than introverted, but the introverted designers I have seen lead are comfortable with their style and has given me a glimpse of how you don’t need to change your personality to cater towards the majority, but you need to be assertive.
From a class my co-workers taught about assertiveness, being assertive isn’t a personality trait. It is a way of communicating. You can be assertive while still being introverted. Assertiveness is about having effective communication and being confident with giving it as well as receiving it. It can used as a way to collaborate with teammates to get work done and to improve on own your work by effectively presenting it. Here are some tips I gathered from observing my teammates, majority of them are introverted, who prove that you don’t need to be the loudest voice in the room to take charge and lead with confidence.
Don’t wait to talk, talk when you feel like you have an opinion
My communication style is the kind that works good 1:1, but not in groups. It’s where I listen to one person speak and then I speak while they listen. In group settings, I find that the loudest speakers always have something they want to say, leaving little to no room for people who tend to wait till everyone is finished then they speak.
I gradually learned that most of the time one is going to automatically make room for you to speak up, you have to make that room yourself. This means interjecting yourself when two people talk if you feel like you have something that can benefit the conversation, an opportunity where the design perspective needs to be communication in the midst of eng or feedback in the form of astute observations that can enhance someone else’s work.
I have also learned that no one is going to ask you to say something, especially when it’s about the work you present. In design presentations, I need to be more aware to clarify what I am presenting even if I repeated it five times before, because no one is going to remember the details of my project more than me, and it’s always better to overstate than understate to prevent redundant conversations from happening. I have also been clarifying my understanding of product requirements in the form of my design rationale if something that has been previously talked about comes up.
Identify opportunities when things aren’t going anywhere and offer design insight
In my Unlocking Misalignment in Product Teams as a Designer article, I talk about how it’s okay to identify when progress isn’t being made and offering input on how to improve it moving forward. For me, this was in the context of misunderstanding due to too many meetings and how it caused me to make unnecessarily changes in the designs only to have them changed to what I had originally.
I didn’t want to settle by being too passive in letting things stay the way they were, so I communicated this to my teammates, providing suggestions on how we can improve our collaboration. Having realized the situation, they have all agreed in changing the dynamics, with me being the driver of taking accountability on making sure we address this problem and unblock progress moving forward. What I realized from this experience was doing this didn’t require me to change who I was. It required me to be observant, a trait that introverts embody, and combine that with being assertive in voicing those observations. I have observed this similar behavior with one of my teammates in a meeting where he spoke up without being asked, communicated his observations about what he was seeing, connected it with previous experiences and offered actionable advice. And what was cool about this experience is that he’s visibly an introvert, but his work and design input speaks volumes in all the right places.
Suggest helping your teammates on their work
What I really like working at Google is that everyone is super helpful. We help each other with our work, whether it’s through feedback, taking on part of the work in a way in which we can provide the most value and through conversing about our work. In the previous example of my teammate, as well as offering actionable advice, he offered my other teammate in helping her by making more iterations around her design. He totally didn’t have to do that but this is one method that reflects leadership which is taking initiative when a teammate is in need of help and takes part in driving the project towards a higher state which might not happen without a team effort.
I do my best to suggest helping my peers in areas that I consider my strengths and having conversations with other designers outside my team, especially if they are working on something similar to me. These kinds of conversations have guided my work and have strengthened my design rationale in which I can gather information from other products to make the product I am working on stronger, more unified with similar products and to ensure that I’m designing the best unique experience by taking in other aspects of other designers work, to leverage those best user experiences if they align with mine. After all, the greatest successes in life often come through helping others to succeed.
Looking back at it, the way I worked wasn’t bad per say, it was how I worked. And it yielded results. I just needed to be more transparent with others about my collaboration style and to be more confident with myself without putting pressure to completely change my personality to what the majority considers “successful”.