I was in a terrible hurry, running late for a business meeting in Philadelphia. I'd spent more than $100 for my train ticket from a vending machine at New York's Penn Station—but in my haste had grabbed only the receipt, which I now presented to the conductor.
"You need the ticket," he said.
I apologized and explained that the receipt was all I had.
"The rules are the rules," said the conductor. "Either you pay the fare or you leave the train."
I'm constitutionally opposed to following rules for their own sake; plus, this man was treating me rudely. But I'm not confrontational, so I wasn't going to let my annoyance show. Instead, in my most neutral voice, I asked a question (like many introverts, I'm forever asking questions): "Is there any way you could bend the rules just this once?"
"Why would I do that?" the conductor snapped. "How do I know you're not cheating me? You could have picked that receipt up off the floor!"
That's when I realized it wasn't the rules he was worried about; he feared I was making a fool of him. Suddenly I saw the man not as belligerent and officious but as human and vulnerable, and my focus shifted to How can I reassure him that I'm not trying to take advantage?
I pointed out my credit card number on the receipt and showed him my card so he could see that the digits matched. Instantly his posture softened. He mumbled an apology and proceeded down the aisle. And I made it to my meeting on time.
Encounters like this one happen to me a lot. When I graduated from Harvard Law School almost 20 years ago, I believed that success belonged to the table pounders of the world, and that my soft-spokenness was a liability. But over the course of my career—first as a Wall Street lawyer, later a negotiations consultant—I have learned that introverts, thanks to their tendency to speak quietly and reasonably, to ask questions, and to listen to the answers, can make unusually strong negotiators. My introverted talents have helped in a range of tricky situations, from navigating mergers for corporate clients to convincing my kids to eat their broccoli.
And striking deals isn't the only thing introverts do well. Some of our most transformative leaders have been shy or introverted: Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks. All of them were more focused on their causes than on their egos. In fact, many of the most spectacularly creative people across a broad variety of fields have been quiet types who enjoyed solitude, from Frédéric Chopin to Charles Darwin.
Instead of worrying that I'm too introverted, I now worry that our culture is not introverted enough. In today's overscheduled, hyperactive society, we celebrate the alpha approach (consider the rise of reality TV stars, for example) and dramatically undervalue the quieter aspects of our natures—which, by the way, even the most gregarious of us possess. If you're ready to empower your inner introvert, read on. Based on research in personality psychology and dozens of interviews, I've identified six strategies for nourishing the unique strengths that come from your quieter reaches.
Next: The benefits of silence and solitude