Can introverts be successful as product managers? No matter what you may have heard, we believe the answer to this question is a resounding “yes!” If you’re an introvert, or simply have several introverted tendencies (who needs labels anyway?), this one’s for you.
In this article, I’ll discuss a few misconceptions about introversion that may discourage introverts from pursuing product. Then, I’ll highlight a few hidden product management superpowers that come with having introverted personality traits.
Why we wrote this
Regardless of your personality type, truly knowing who you are as a person can help you leverage your natural strengths to your advantage. Product management is a unique career path in that it involves a broad set of skills and competencies. We believe that all types of personalities can thrive in product management roles if they elect to invest time into finding their strengths.
In our recent webinar on essential product management skills, there was a bit of discussion about how specific personality types fare in product management roles. We posed the question “can introverts succeed in product management?”
The discussion that followed was less than optimistic. It focused largely on the challenges that introverted people may face in product management roles. But what it didn’t highlight is the various unique ways in which introverts can leverage aspects of their personality to thrive as product management professionals.
At ProductPlan, we’re all about solving problems and empowering product people to succeed. Introverts make up approximately ⅓ of the world’s population. And if we extend that estimate into product management, there are thousands of introverted product managers out there. So we felt it was important to bring this side of the discussion to the table.
But before we discuss these hidden product management superpowers, let’s diffuse a few misconceptions about what it really means to be an introvert.
What is an introvert, really?
Introversion was first described in the 1960’s by psychologist Carl Jung. His definition of introverts versus extraverts painted the two personality types as opposites. He suggested you could tell the difference between the two based on how they get their energy. Introverts, according to Jung, need alone time to get their energy and typically prefer calm environments. On the flip side, Jung said extraverts thrive in groups and get their energy from being around other people and being in stimulating environments.
Jung’s theory laid the foundation for decades of continued research into personality types. And today it is largely criticized for several reasons. One of the major objections today is that Jung’s theory did not depict this aspect of our personality as a spectrum, but rather as a binary measure. Based on his definition, you are either an introvert or an extravert.
But, today, there’s a broader understanding and acceptance that a spectrum exists between introversion and extraversion. As The Myers & Briggs Foundation explains, regardless of where we fall on the introversion-extraversion spectrum, everyone spends some time introverting and some time extraverting.
Despite continued research on this aspect of personality, a few common misconceptions about introverts prevail. And it’s these widely-held misconceptions that may make some introverts reluctant to pursue product management.
MYTH: All introverts are shy and passive
Assertiveness is without a doubt an important trait for any product management professional. Saying “no,” is a critical part of the job, so if you’re not great at speaking up you will definitely struggle as a product manager. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Effective product managers need to be fearless in their pursuit of more insight. They need to constantly talk to stakeholders and interview customers to better understand how to fulfill objectives and desires. They are also tasked with rallying the troops so to speak by confidently communicating product strategy—and all the why’s behind it.
If you’re shy, none of this will be easy (but not impossible!). And it’s commonly believed that people who are more introverted than extraverted are shy and reserved. The truth is, while there are plenty of shy introverts, shyness and introversion are not one in the same.
Behavioral psychologists researching the difference between the two explain it’s a matter of motivation and anxiety levels that distinguish shyness and introversion.
“Introverts can choose to be social and interact with others; they often just don’t want to. Shy people–depending on the level of shyness–can’t make that same choice without a high cost. For them, a party isn’t just a drain (as it can be for an introvert); it’s a struggle,” Melanie Curtin explains, summarizing findings from Dr. Jonathan Cheek, professor of psychology at Wellesley College.
It’s also worth pointing out that there are plenty of shy extraverts out there as well. For example, “Barbra Streisand has an outgoing, larger than life personality, and also battles with a paralyzing case of stage fright: she’s a shy extrovert,” author Susan Cain mentions.
MYTH: Introverts are bad communicators
Another misconception working against introverts in product management is the belief that introverts are bad at communicating. And communication is the most important product management skill (according to a poll of attendees at our recent webinar).
But, in reality, your personality type has very little to do with your ability to communicate. “Great communicators aren’t born — they work at it,” says Caren Merrick, founder and CEO of Pocket Mentor in An Introvert’s Guide to Communicating with Results. At the end of the day, communication is a skill, not a facet of your personality. And introverts and extraverts alike can benefit from working on bringing their communication skills to the next level.
MYTH: Introverts don’t make good leaders
Try telling this one to the likes of introverted business leaders like Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos, Steve Wozniak, Larry Page, and Bill Gates.
We often think of leaders as people with “outgoing” and “dominant” personalities. But, research on the actual effectiveness of introverted leaders versus extraverted leaders suggests both personality types can thrive in leadership roles.
“While it’s often true that extroverts make the best bosses and proactive employees make the best workers, combining the two can be a recipe for failure. Soft spoken leaders may get the most out of proactive employees—so save the outgoing, talkative managers for teams that function best when they’re told what to do,” researchers behind The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses conclude.
This type of personality may be well-suited for working closely with engineering teams. After all, product owners and product managers are advised to direct engineers on what needs to be done and not necessarily how. According to conclusions from the aforementioned study, introverts may actually have the perfect personality for the job.
Introvert Personality Traits That are Product Management Superpowers
Now that we’ve tackled a few of the misconceptions that at face value may discourage introverts from pursuing product management, let’s talk about their hidden product management superpowers. Here’s a few ways introverts, or people with many introverted tendencies, can tap into and leverage their natural personality traits as product management superpowers.
Making Unbiased Observations
When you’re in the business of identifying and solving problems, a keen eye for detail and strong observational skills come in handy. Introverts are great at observing the world around them through an unbiased lens and finding meaning in what they see. Without letting their “gut feeling” get in the way.
A recent social psychology study by researchers at Yale found, that with their heightened self-awareness, introverts are less prone to cognitive and motivational biases than their extraverted counterparts. As a result, introverts are exceptionally skilled at observing the world around them as it is and identifying and interpreting changes in our society. The researchers concluded that introverts would make ‘excellent amateur social psychologists.’
This ability to make unbiased observations and pick up on subtle trends is a big asset for product managers. Use it to your benefit when scoping out new opportunities, analyzing user behaviors, and working on market validation. Furthermore, awareness of where cognitive biases lurk is another asset to leverage. After all, product decisions are no place for gut feel or emotional decisions.
Being an Excellent Listener
It’s rare to see an introvert dominating a discussion. Rather than driving a conversation with their own opinions and ideas, introverts tend to sit back and let others drive the conversation. They listen intently, occasionally speaking up to ask meaningful questions or to share thoughtful insight. While people on the introverted side of the spectrum may catch flack for this trait, it’s actually a good thing sometimes. In fact, studies show that introverts are significantly more likely to be open to hearing and considering the ideas of others than their extraverted counterparts.
In a product management context, this type of behavior helps introverts not only understand the people around them incredibly well, but also remain open to new ideas and new ways of solving problems. Introverts can be incredibly effective interviewers due to this trait and will find it easy to get people to open up to them.
And because they’re such great listeners, introverts make the people around them feel that their thoughts and opinions have been heard and are truly valued. This is a big bonus when it comes time to get buy in on your product strategy because everyone feels that they’ve contributed and truly had a say.
Introverts are Analytical Decision-Makers
This is not to say that extroverted people are not deep thinkers or analytical, but their approach to problem-solving may be a bit different.
Introverts take their time to process information carefully before making decisions. Impulse decisions are not their forte. While extraverts tend to make decisions by talking them through with others, introverts take a different approach. Usually, they spend time gathering information from the outside world before quietly reflecting on the implications of their decisions on various levels.
Neither approach is better or worse than the other. They’re just different. Introverts can leverage their natural tendency to seek and process information analytically to make smart product decisions. Research on personality types and problem-solving suggests introverts are highly-consistent with the decisions they make as they often follow logical frameworks for reaching them.
This type of strategic, analytical thinking is a prerequisite for success in any product management role. So embrace your need for context and structure when making decisions and continue asking “why?” until you have the insight you need to move forward.
Introverts Pay Keen Attention to Detail
Introverts are often very focused and meticulous. They can grab onto a piece of work and focus intently until it’s done. And introverts are known for their careful attention to detail and thoughtfulness, which can make all the difference with the finished product. This precious focused time is of the utmost importance for productivity and strategic thinking. Introverts tend to value and protect it.
For introverted product managers, this attention to detail and focus on meaningful results can help in many ways. First, as we prioritize initiatives in our product roadmap, we don’t let any important consideration slip by. Every single initiative we consider putting on the product roadmap is carefully and thoroughly considered before it gets there. The result of this focused labor is an extremely detailed, well thought-out product roadmap…And a strategy the whole team can trust and rally around.
Introverts Tend to Be Highly Empathetic
People with more introverted personalities tend to be sensitive to other people and therefore are highly-empathetic. For those introverts who are highly-sensitive, reading and understanding people at a deeper level is a huge benefit.
We’ve mentioned before how important empathy is in product management so I won’t go into this too deep. But, part of being successful as a product manager is a deep understanding of others. Empathy can help you understand things like:
- What are your customers’ biggest daily frustrations? Where are the most irritating problems in their day to day?
- What are the things that internal teams need the most from the product and why?
- In a software organization you can also better understand how the delivery team is feeling. And make sure the way you’re collaborating is rewarding for all.
Everyone you interact with in your role as a product manager has different challenges and objectives. When you can easily sense, understand, and put yourself into their shoes, you’re situated to solve problems empathetically.
A final word about personality, identity, and professional life. As I listened to the discussion in our webinar and later wrote this article, a few additional thoughts came to mind about the personality aspect.
Personality is only part of the equation.
First, personality tests do not define who we are as people. They rarely tell the full story about who we are because humans are inherently complicated beings. So, if we take a personality test and one of the outcomes is that you’re an introvert, remember that it’s just a tiny part of who we are. Many personality tests don’t account well for how dynamic our multifaceted personalities are. They only give us a slight glimmer of insight to work off of. And that “box” does not define who we are completely.
Second, I’d argue that being successful in product management is about 90% skill and 10% personality. And that 10% personality I mentioned? That’s about knowing who you are and how to use your own personality traits to the best of your advantage. It’s not about having a certain type of personality. Rather than using your personality traits as “excuses” for your shortcomings, identify the hidden superpowers within your personality.
No matter what personality type you are, you’ll find certain aspects of the job that are more difficult than others. And that’s part of life. After all, would we really want to work in a role that didn’t occasionally challenge us? When navigating the more challenging parts of being an introverted product manager, Jackie Bavaro, Head Product Manager at Asana shared some tips for introverted product managers you may find useful.
Finally, a tip that works for everyone: learn about other personality types and how you can best interface with them. This small piece of information about a person can help you more effectively communicate and collaborate with them.
What aspects of your personality are your hidden product management superpowers?