Both introverts and extroverts have comfort zones, they’re just different. When introverts are asked to leave their comfort zone, it is to do something that comes more naturally to extroverts; for example attending large, crowded, noisy networking events. Similarly yet conversely, extroverts probably find it difficult to sit still and concentrate in detailed meetings for a long time. When running organisations, sometimes this kind of meeting is necessary. Extroverts must learn how leave their comfort zone and do this.
For me this is different from playing to your strengths – doing what you’re good at. I’m a big fan of understanding yourself, your unique abilities and what value you can add through them. I don’t suggest anyone suddenly pivots to a totally different direction requiring a whole other set of skills in the name of getting out of your comfort zone. As a surveyor, I specialised in lease advisory – this is grounded in technicalities, interpreting legal documents and analysing evidence. Another area of surveying is selling investments. This relies on constantly knocking on doors and talking to a broad spectrum of contacts (and of course selling). I would have been horrible at that and would not have enjoyed it. It would have been a jump so far from my comfort zone as to be utterly unproductive.
Everyone does need to get out of their comfort zone in an acceptable way in order to learn and grow. I would not have progressed in my career without being willing to do things outside my comfort zone; attending large events with lots of people I don’t know, running meetings and making presentations. The most important thing enabling me to do this was finding a safe space to do so.
I first did this in voluntary organisations. I took on leadership roles that I never would have had the confidence to do elsewhere, including president (overall leader) of the organisation. There was a group of people around me encouraging me. Even so taking on these roles was not easy. At times I was so overwhelmed with the challenge that I was in tears. But I cared deeply about what I was doing and learning and there was that team around me helping me through it.
Ultimately what I learnt was invaluable and my comfort zone altered. It meant that taking on these kind of roles and all the associated activities became easier. I’ve realised that the first time of doing something for me is hard. Once I’ve done it once, it becomes easier. Once I’ve done it many times, it can become routine. That’s the point at which I need a new challenge to push the boundaries of my comfort zone again.
The other important point is that you don’t have to be out of your comfort zone all the time. As an introvert I undertook some activities that were uncomfortable for me, but the main part of my job was within my comfort zone. Recently having started my own business (something which would have previously been way too far out of my comfort zone), I’ve interacted more with others in the same position. Those who are more extroverted seem to struggle with things that come naturally to me like administration activities (and the dreaded spreadsheet). They do however need to spend some time doing these “introverted” activities out of their comfort zone to run a successful business.
Whether introverted or extroverted, if you want to develop your skills, or encourage others in your team to develop theirs, that involves leaving your comfort zone. The best way to facilitate this is to find a way that feels safe to do it. Create that environment where there is support and encouragement, where mistakes are allowed and successes are celebrated.