One thing that is crucial to success in Product Management is the ability to communicate. A common perception is that you must be an extrovert to be a good communicator. Yet, as a solid introvert, who hates crowds, and large gatherings, I have been quite successful in Product Management.
I will admit that it isn’t an easy lift to get there. When I would rather sit in the back of the room, and watch, I know that I must interact, mingle, make small talk, and to engage with people who are crucial to success.
In my long history, I have learned some coping tricks to help me be successful.
- Humor – at an early age, I developed humor to help break the ice, and to keep a conversation going. It helps me greatly, especially when I need to present to a large group of people, to begin with a short, topically relevant joke. Yet this is merely an ice breaker to both reduce my natural anxiety, and to lighten the mood in the room. However, it does work. The challenge is to not go too far. Don’t make it politically incorrect. Gage the audience reaction.
Conversation Starters – whilst humor can help in group settings, it is much less useful in small groups, or in individual conversation. For these situations, I have some simple conversation starters. There are the usual ones, weather, a current event, or some common interest (bicycling is ironically one that frequently works). Whatever works for you, the challenge is to not be forceful, and to work it into the conversation.
Grin and bear it – for large, ad hoc groups, such as networking events, or all hands meetings, where you aren’t likely to have many or any common interests, this is the introvert’s nightmare. All your instincts are screaming at you to curl into a ball and hibernate until next spring, you know you must start somewhere. I usually find a small-ish group and just hang out at the edge. Waiting for an opportunity to comment. Or, sometimes to just listen. I will not lie, as a full-blown introvert, this is the most difficult social scenario to deal with, and sometimes I come away feeling totally drained.
Script it – as a product manager, one of our key responsibilities is to solicit and compile feedback from the market and our customers. In this case, following the wisdom that Edward McQuarrie lays out in his seminal work, “Customer Visits” takes much of the fear factor. Having a discussion guide in hand, and a rigid time-frame to work with, I find that the stress of interaction is greatly reduced. As a plus to this, you come across as a professional, raising your stature in the eyes of your interviewee.
Regardless of the coping mechanisms, product management as an introvert is a tough row to hoe. However, it is definitely not a disqualifying attribute. In fact some degree of introversion lends itself to a key attribute of success, that of focused listening. Instead of trying to fill blanks in the conversation with mindless banter, the quiet, active listening is one of the strengths that a good product manager needs.
However, it does come at a price for us introverts. After a large event, I am totally wiped out. A hotel room, a cocktail, and a book to unwind are essential medicine to recover from the stress of a day of networking.