How to thrive as an introverted PM

12 strategies to turn introversion into a strength.

Teresa de Figueiredo

Product Manager at Coda

How to thrive as an introverted PM

By Teresa de Figueiredo

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Blog > Product teams · 5 min read
When I first learned about the role of a “product manager,” I thought it seemed like a perfect fit. I had studied materials engineering and could use both sides of my brain as a PM. I could be technical or creative. I could do deep thinking, and get to change what I'm doing every day. A few months into my first PM job, I started to question if I was cut out for this role—not because of my skills or intelligence, but because I’m an introvert. Being a PM involves aligning a lot of different opinions and loud voices. Rather than arguing in meetings, though, I like to take my time and think through an issue before I speak. So when my manager told me, “Teresa, you need to be more assertive…like me,” I worried: Do I need to change who I am to do this job? Then I came to Coda. Here, I met PMs and leaders who are calm, reflective, and need time alone to recharge—just like me. They told me that I didn’t have to change to work here and that I’d find my own way of doing things. During my time at Coda, I’ve learned how to succeed as a product manager by developing a personal toolbox of strategies to build relationships, navigate conflict, manage meetings, and maintain my energy levels along the way.

Strategies to thrive as an introverted PM

Building trust

As a PM, I’m constantly asking people to do things for me—build new features, fix a bug, give feedback—so strong relationships are my number one resource. Here are a few strategies I lean on to help me build genuine trust with each of my teammates.

1. Schedule 1-on-1 meetings.

When I first joined Coda, I scheduled casual one-on-ones with everyone I would work with on a regular basis so I could get to know them as people first. Since chatting with a lot of people can feel overwhelming as an introvert, I took it slow with just a few meetings every week. I asked questions like:
  • How long have you been at Coda?
  • What do you like to do outside of work?
  • What are you most excited about working on?
  • Do you have a preference of how to work with PMs?
  • Do you have any PM pet peeves?
People usually asked questions in return, like “Oh, what are your engineering pet peeves?” which rooted our relationships in a fun, honest dialogue.

2. Listen to your teammates.

In the one-on-ones, several people told me they had never had a PM actually listen to them before. That’s when I realized the value of my introverted tendency for listening over talking. By making everyone feel heard, I demonstrated that I genuinely care about them (even in less-than-ideal situations). I’ve found that my teammates are more motivated to work with me when they feel like I’ve taken their feedback seriously, which makes me more comfortable asking for all of the various deliverables I need from them, too.

3. Include others in conversations.

Rather than demanding things from engineers, marketers, or salespeople, I always try to explain the context, ask for their opinions, and approach the request as a collaboration. For example, we recently had a customer who needed a new feature immediately. I’ve built a strong relationship with my tech team lead, Betty, by inviting her to customer feedback calls, scheduling one-on-ones, and asking for her opinion. When I asked, “Is there any chance you have time to squeeze this in? What would it take?” she was willing to build the feature in the background—even though it wasn’t on the roadmap. She trusted I wouldn’t ask unless I really needed it. Our genuine relationship allowed us to move quickly and, ultimately, make a customer happy.

4. Celebrate others.

It’s important to celebrate wins to keep our team motivated in a fast-paced environment where there’s always another project around the corner. I’m not comfortable in the spotlight, so I’m sensitive to the fact that people like to be celebrated in different ways. That’s why I take time to understand how my coworkers, customers, and other stakeholders feel most seen—I’ve given them a shout-out in the middle of a meeting, shared kudos on Slack, sent surprise cookies, or mailed a little card to thank them.

Strategies to thrive as an introverted PM

Navigating conflict

I recently came up against a disagreement at Coda that put my conflict navigation skills to the test: Our team was working on the ability to change page widths, but we were split on how to visualize the feature to users. As an introverted PM, here’s how I turn down the volume in heated conversations like this and encourage people to consider other perspectives.

5. Move it out of a group setting.

In the above situation, myself and a few others thought there should be one UI model that split page width from content alignment, so you could change page width without adjusting the alignment. But another group felt strongly about having a flat hierarchy model, which was going to take more time to build and test. As tensions rose, I decided to end our big group meeting early and meet one-on-one with people. In the one-on-ones, I chatted with the people who preferred a flat hierarchy to better understand their point of view. I asked for their honest opinions, and explored what would make them feel more comfortable with the split hierarchy model, in case we needed to move forward given our timing. Ultimately, these conversations de-escalated the conflict and we were able to come to a compromise: We kept the split hierarchy and added more visual elements to the page-width icons.

6. Reframe the problem.

PMs often find ourselves in conflicts about pretty specific decisions (like which one of two models to build). When I feel like we’re getting caught up in the details, I find it helpful to think about the most important question we need to answer—what Coda’s co-founders call the “eigenquestion.” For example, instead of asking “Should we separate content alignment from page width?” we might have asked, “What’s the simplest way for a Coda user to achieve their desired layout?” This is part of the strategy of reframing, or breaking down a problem into a different set of choices or trade-offs that allow a team to move forward.

7. Do a “sound check.”

It’s a misunderstanding that introverts don’t have strong opinions. I do have strong opinions, I just don’t shout them. My introversion has taught me that how people feel about something isn’t always demonstrated by how loudly or passionately they express it. That’s why I use other methods to determine how strongly people feel about their ideas, like a 1-5 scale. My coworker Kathy and I created a strategy called a “sound check” to optimize team conversations. As part of the sound check, we ask people to take a quick quiz to understand how strongly they communicate their ideas compared to how strongly they actually feel about them.

Strategies to thrive as an introverted PM

Managing meetings

Another misconception about introverts? That we prefer to work alone. The truth is collaborating is one of my favorite parts of my PM role. At the same time, leading large meetings and getting groups aligned can be exhausting for me, so I lean on the below strategies for support.

8. Prep with notes.

Thanks to the culture of documenting ideas and conversations at Coda, I’ve learned that writing down what I want to say before I lead a meeting helps me feel more confident going in. Even if I’m not giving a presentation, I’ll put together a comprehensive agenda to guide the conversation.

9. Start with a check-in.

Talking with strangers feels more exhausting to me than talking with people I know. I use check-ins to help teams get to know each other as people outside of work, and help me feel more at ease in big groups. One of our regular check-in strategies at Coda happens at the beginning of our kickoffs on Monday: Everyone who wants to can share a photo from their weekend and give a little life update. It makes it feel like a safe space for people, including introverts like myself, to show up authentically at work.

10. Follow-up with thoughts.

In my first job, I felt pressured to speak up immediately in meetings, even though I prefer taking time to think first. When I joined Coda, I talked to our head of HR about this and she said, “You don’t have to talk in the moment to still be heard.” Now, I feel comfortable telling my team, “Let me think about that. I’ll follow-up later today.” I’ll often follow up by writing ideas down over Slack, email, or through a Loom video instead of scheduling another meeting.

11. Schedule meetings in the morning.

While I’m friendly and outgoing, being around other people in a big meeting can drain me. So I’ve learned to schedule meetings in the morning, when I have the most energy. Coda has also started doing “low meeting days” on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I block my calendar and reserve those days to do deep work.

12. Take breaks.

As an introvert, I gain energy from spending time by myself or doing low-stimulation activities. Sometimes, restoring my energy during the day means taking a quick 15-minute walk around my block with my dog, Nunu, or doing a 10-minute yoga practice. If I have a busy schedule, I’ll try to schedule “walk and talks” for more casual calls, which helps break up the routine of sitting on Zoom. I also try to take occasional personal days, rather than using time off only for travel or vacations. I delete Slack and email from my phone when I’m off, so I can truly step away from work and restore my energy. Remember: You don’t have to change your personality to be a successful product manager. These are the professional and personal tools that have worked for me that I hope can inspire you, too. Most importantly, find leaders who see you for who you are. With the right strategies and support, you will not only survive as an introverted PM—you will thrive.

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