The Introverted Product Manager: Challenges
"What have been the key challenges facing you, as an introverted product manager?" Asked readers.
I'll be sure to write more about what's unique for an introverted product manager like myself, for many of you subscribers who also identified with similar background/personality! In this post, I'll start from the unique challenges. (if you haven't read about my original "Introvert in Product" post, I'd encourage you check it out!)
Am I Introvert?
Some of you might wonder, am I an introvert, does this post apply to me?
First, if you have not done the Myer-Briggs test, you can do it for free. You'd know better your personality types and inclinations at a high level. Second, introvert/extrovert, like other personality classifications, is really a spectrum. The question is where on the spectrum do you land, and it might shift a bit over time with new life experiences. Most people I know, have a mix of both introverted and extroverted sides.
So don't get too caught up by how you are labelled. If you have had similar challenges, chances are you'd find values in this post! (At least so I hope).
Lets dive into looking at some of the unique challenges facing me as an introverted product manager:
Build Rapport: Myself couldn't stress enough how important it is to connect with and work well with people, all kinds of them, to succeed as a product manager. To tirelessly reiterate, a PM is very much a people centric role because one builds great team to build great product. Unfortunately for me, this doesn't come naturally. My shyness sometimes held me back, and my occasional social awkwardness costed me chances to get deeper in connections sooner, especially when I just met someone new. I was especially quiet relative to others particularly in a large group setting (like a big conference).
Influence People: As we all know, a leader (such as a product manager) influences people without authority. Especially when I was new to PM, I constantly compared myself to other PMs who had the gregarious personality and the ability the own the room the moment they stepped in, with a passionate delivery of a speech. I felt I wasn't nearly effective in influencing people the way I wanted.
Visibility: It's true that by doing great work, visibility (in front of leadership and stakeholders) will follow. However, often time in a practical and competitive corporate world, you still need to fight for being seen. This again doesn't come naturally for me. As an introvert, I listen and think first before and more than I talk. In a big forum fully of extroverted PM peers, I was nearly invisible.
I'm not going to repeat what I've suggested in my Introvert In Product talk. Focusing on the challenges above, here's some specific tactics I did:
Pick Your Weapon: choose your preferred way to communicate and connect with people! For me, I enjoy one-on-one's more than a group meeting. I find it a much more intimate way of connecting with people, and it does not give me the stress of thinking whose turn to speak. (Well its either you, or me, simple). So it's my style to have a lot of them on my calendar. Yes it might mean I'd spend more time compared to having one meeting with everybody included. 10 highly effective meetings is always infinitely better than 1 terribly ineffective meeting. You can manage it as long as you prioritize who to meet with.
Prepare: An introvert has to expend a lot of energy in receiving and reacting to what's happening in the room already, which means that we may not have much brain power left coming up with things on the fly. My strategy is to always be preparing as much as I can before the meeting. What do I want to get out of it, who are in that meeting, what questions or debate do I anticipate, how might I respond, what are my key points, etc.
Influence by Speaking Less: similar to pick-your-weapon, understand that you don't need to speak a lot or enthusiastically to influence effectively. Write in documents and share before the discussion if you prefer. In addition, it's actually very powerful when you listen incredibly well and chime in occasionally and timely with crisp and concise comments and questions. The most effective influence is when your audience feel you understand them, and then say something that resonates with them.
I do want to remind us an earlier point I made in Introvert In Product:
You can be successful in your own way, regardless of your personality and background.
Bottomline is, remember your introversion is NOT a disadvantage in product management. You just have to understand yourself better and find your own optimal way of doing things.
I'd love to hear your own stories, challenges, and strategies. So leave a comment below!
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