Helping Introverts in the Workplace
We speak with Jenny Toh – the founder and director of River Life Coaching Pte. Ltd. in Singapore. Jenny holds the Professional Certified Coach (PCC) credential issued by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) which attests to her commitment to a high standard of coaching competencies and adherence to a strict code of ethics. Her passion is to empower introverts to embrace their introversion as a strength and not a sign of weakness and to define success on their own terms. Jenny provides one-to-one coaching in a customised program format as well as group coaching. She’s also a certified mentor coach who supports other ICF credentialed coaches master their coaching competencies for the purposes of applying or renewing their credentials. Prior to coaching, Jenny was a practising lawyer with experience in corporate litigation, intellectual property and financial derivatives work.
What brought you to coaching?
I was first bitten by the coaching bug when I was working in a financial institution and had taken a short coaching course to be a better team lead and supervisor. It was only several years later in 2019 that I decided to train as a coach. What made me take this leap of faith? As I am a Christian, I believe that this is what God is calling me into as my purpose in this season of my life. It wasn’t an easy decision for me to make as training and then starting my coaching business in 2020, at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic was a big step outside my comfort zone. It was definitely one which took a lot of courage and yes, a big leap of faith into the unknown. However, since I made this transition, I am pleased to say that it has been fulfilling on all fronts and I know that through my 800+ hours of coaching with over 200+ clients, I know I am making an impact to people in my own way.
Why is coaching important?
I like this quote by Tom Landry, an American football coach where he said, “A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you have always known you could be.” A coach is not your friend or a mentor and a coach will not provide you with all the answers. However, a coach will partner with you to find out who you truly are – your potential to be the person you can be – and support you in setting goals, developing the right mindset and belief in yourself that you already have all the answers within you to live a fulfilling, purposeful life. There may be difficult moments in a coaching conversation where you discover a particular way of thinking that you have been adopting has been holding you back. Facing these difficult moments with your coach will help you grow and achieve what you truly want from your life. I believe we all have the potential to create and leave a positive impact in the community and society we live in and working with your coach will help you discover what that means for you.
What benefits can clients expect?
A fully engaged and committed client to their professional and personal growth will see positive changes in the way they think and behave. They will gain awareness of their own limiting beliefs and inner critics in their minds that have been holding them back from achieving their goals in life. They will better understand their emotions and develop strategies to manage them better. A coach will first work with the client to clearly articulate their primary goal for the coaching engagement. It could be to secure the promotion, be a better people manager, manage a career transition or manage stress and difficult relationships. Depending on the chosen goal, the coach will work with the client to progress towards the primary goal by taking small action steps in that direction. I often invite my clients to envision what it would look like to them when they have achieved their goals and how they feel about it. It’s to see the reality of their goals as clearly as their current situation. Once they have seen it, they will then be more motivated to work towards it. You don’t need to have all the answers now, just the motivation and desire to take that first step.
How do you help them to see their introversion as a strength, and not a weakness?
People often mistake introverted traits as shyness or a sense of aloofness. Introverts are not always shy and yes, it is common to know a shy introvert. Introverts tend to find their energy from within, thinking about things, contemplating all aspects of a particular situation, sitting with an idea and considering all angles before going forward with it. Introverts may also be more sensitive to the people around them and have a tendency to be more empathetic. They are naturally geared towards building strong one-to-one relationships and enjoy deep meaningful conversations. If you think of all these traits, these are definitely not signs of weakness. These traits are definitely needed in positions of leadership and authority. In reality, we are all human beings and cannot be fitted in a neat, nice wrapped package. Some introverts may appear more extroverted and even the most introverted of people can have moments of extroversion, especially when they are speaking about things that they are passionate about.
Diversity is inviting all types of individuals to the party and equity is ensuring that there are no barriers or obstacles for these individuals to attend the party. Inclusion is making it possible for the attendees to take part in the activities of the party.
How do you help introverts with their visibility in the workplace?
A lot of the work that I do with introverted professionals is to help them develop strategies to be more visible in the workplace. It could be that the individual has been advised by his/her manager that in order to step up into a leadership role, the senior management needs to know him/her. It could be that the nature of the role requires this person to engage with a lot more stakeholders. The starting point is to understand the reason for the person to want to be more visible and to get really clear on this reason. This will be the anchor that the subsequent coaching conversations will be based on. A common example is that an employee has been asked to network more as her job requires her to interact with other people from various departments in the organisation. When she hears the word “networking”, it puts her off and she ends up feeling that it is a chore. At times, when she is pressured to go to a networking event, she either feels resentful or anxious and ends up having a miserable time. If we worked together in a coaching engagement, I will explore with her why she feels so negatively about networking. It may come up that she feels that networking is very transactional and demeans the relationships formed i.e. “What can I get out from the other person?”. We will then explore how she cannot view networking as that and move towards something that she can find purpose and meaning in. She may come up with a different word for it e.g., creating meaningful conversations. Once she is clear on her intention of creating meaningful conversations in these events, I’ll ask her to set a small achievable goal, e.g. speak to 3 people in the event and walk away knowing one to two meaningful things about them. More often than not, once the goal is met, the person is motivated to widen the scope of the goal and may even start to enjoy this process.
I believe it always starts with an intention. For example, if an introvert is struggling to speak up in meetings where there are usually more outspoken individuals, the tendency is to sit back and say nothing. However, if the introvert goes into that meeting with an intention to speak for at least 2 minutes on a topic that he is passionate about, he will work out a way to share his point. It may entail speaking to the meeting organiser before the meeting and asking for airtime. It may entail getting his manager or a peer who will also be at the meeting to create an opportunity for him to speak. It also comes out to the person’s mindset. Ask yourself, “If I don’t share this, how will this impact the outcome of the meeting?”. “Who am I depriving this information from if I don’t speak up?” or “What benefit am I holding back if I keep silent?”
So, start with an intention on how you want to approach the particular situation, plan beforehand what you need to do and approach it with the mindset that will help you carry out your intention. It will definitely get easier with practice!
What are the most common diversity and inclusion areas that you help clients with?
I’m also passionate about creating awareness of diversity and inclusion topics both in the individual professional and in their workplace. Some of the common diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) topics that I have coached my clients on managing diverse teams from different cultures and backgrounds located in various countries, understanding their own unconscious biases which show up in their interactions with others and dealing with challenges that arise from being different and not really fitting in. I came across an interesting analogy of what DEIB (B stands for belonging) from the many DEI literature that I’ve read is that of holding a party. Diversity is inviting all types of individuals to the party and equity is ensuring that there are no barriers or obstacles for these individuals to attend the party. Inclusion is making it possible for the attendees to take part in the activities of the party. Finally, belonging means everyone is able to feel relaxed and really enjoy the party as who they are without feeling uncomfortable or out of place. I believe that tackling this – how to make sure your employees feel like they belong to your organisation – is much more difficult than coming up with a DEI policy in your company. It will take a lot of open and honest communication with the people in your organisation to understand what belonging means to them and meet them there where possible.
What are your thoughts on the future of coaching?
I don’t think we can run away from the fact that technological advances will make significant changes to the way we coach. Just like how we have smart contracts for legal work, there are increasingly more apps that leverage artificial intelligence to provide general tips and advice on improving your mental wellness and creating emotional resilience. I also believe that AI will not take the place of the human element in coaching. That is also one of the reasons why I trained and am certified as a mentor coach because I believe in supporting my fellow coaches to continue to grow and enhance their coaching skills and competencies to remain relevant and impactful to the people they coach and support. I can see myself coaching for as long as I can create a positive impact on my coachees. That is my legacy – to leave positive ripple effects in the people I coach so that they can in turn make an impact in the lives of people around them and the communities they live in.
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