Introverts and extroverts. They're not like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They're more like cats and dogs. They are both great but have unique qualities that distinguish them from each other. If you've ever had a cat and dog at the same time you've likely seen a scenario where the cat just needs to be alone to do her own thing when the dog wants to be social. This scenario is not unlike introverts and extroverts working together.
The workplace can be a challenging environment for introverts if they don’t know how to handle it properly. I’m an introvert. For the longest time, I felt like I was a Martian among my extroverted peers. I didn’t know how to communicate effectively, or I found myself exhausted trying to keep up with the more social moments at work functions. It wasn’t until I adapted and learned ways to make my career experience work for both me and the extroverts alike.
What is an introvert? Simply put, introversion means you’re someone who prefers a calm and minimally stimulating environment. Social gatherings, crowds or high-energy events can be extremely draining for introverts. So, it’s no surprise that a typical work environment with a plethora of personalities can be exhausting for the non-extrovert.
It’s not that we introverts don’t like people, it’s that we exert and absorb energy differently. Socializing takes energy and that energy needs to be recharged before a successful interaction happens again. Introverts are often confused with being shy or timid. And while shyness may be a quality in some introverts, it’s not exactly that black and white.
There are different types of introverts. Whether you’re a social introvert (likes to be alone and prefers not to socialize), thinking introvert (likes to think about everything and anything), anxious introvert (typically gets anxious in social situations), or a restrained introvert (people who take a while to warm up to others), there are ways to help you adjust to any work environment.
Here are some of the best tips and tricks I've found for being a successful introvert in the workplace. Use these to effectively adapt your unique personality to any work environment:
Toot your own horn
I know, I know, you’re probably thinking “Dude, this goes against everything that I find comfortable and valuable.” That’s the point. Successfully navigating work will require you stepping out of your comfort zone. It’s okay to take pride in your work and accomplishments. And it’s okay to casually point out something you’ve achieved (in a non-arrogant way, obviously). By stepping out of your comfort zone to tell someone about your achievement, you’re taking down a barrier between you and the extroverted world.
It’s not easy, obviously, but it’ll help others see your worth and value.
Don’t be afraid of your alone time
It’s acceptable to take a lunch in your car or sit alone at a table with your headphones on. It’s okay to go for a walk alone. It’s healthy and necessary for you to embrace your needed alone time to recharge. Do your best to avoid worrying about how this may look to others. Your coworkers won’t think less of you. You need that time. It’s important for you to utilize it. So, do it!
Do your research
One of the best tools an introvert can have in their arsenal is having informed answers to questions. Do your research. Here’s the twist: conduct your research by asking your coworkers questions. Yes, verbally talk to them and find out what they do and what you can do to help make their job run smoothly. Obviously you can still look up your answers on your own, but by interacting with your teammates, they’ll see you taking an interest in them and you’ll have the answers to questions if they come up in the future.
Prepare and rehearse your 'on the spot' moments
Preparation for interpersonal settings and interactions will dramatically reduce your anxiety. Writing up an agenda or list of goals is an amazing way to control the movement of a meeting. With a set plan, you’ll feel more on task and less worried about getting derailed. Plus, by rehearsing these moments in your head, you’ll quietly build confidence in yourself. Combining the research you've already done (see previous point), you'll be ready for anything thrown your way in a meeting.
Form an alliance
Chances are you’re not the only introvert in your workplace. Find your fellow introvert and create an unofficial alliance and understanding. Believe me, when you’re feeling the need for introversion, having someone there who gets it and silently consoles without speaking to you is the BEST feeling.
Use your listening skills to your advantage
Introverts are known for their listening skills. We take in the world through observation and listening. Use this to your advantage by asking clarifying questions. By carefully listening and asking questions, when you do have something to say, others will likely take notice and pay attention.
Go to the workplace party
I’m not proud to admit this but I’ve skipped a few company parties for the simple fear of small talk and having to talk to as many people as possible. I realized that I was missing out on an incredible opportunity to spend time with my teammates. Think about how you interact with others outside of work in a small group or one-on-one setting. Take this mindset into the next work party and focus on having one or two small, meaningful conversations rather than trying to small talk everyone. Stepping out of your safe zone will open up experiences and friendships you may not have expected. And frankly, you’ll be surprised by just how much fun you’ll have.
Don’t fear the extrovert
Your extrovert coworker might feel just as confused by you as you feel about them. While we recharge and find energy in solitary and reserved locations, extroverts find energy and recharge in the presence of others (whether it’s a crowd or group of friends). That’s just who they are, and taking time to understand them will make them less terrifying.
Finally, embrace your worth in the workplace
You were hired for a reason and you have a role to play at your company. Introverts are exceptional listeners and observers. And we tend to be highly creative. We’re also great leaders who typically think before we speak and don’t mind taking on solo projects. The strengths of the introvert are unique. Take pride in your worth and don’t let it tear you down. You are a (quiet) magical unicorn in a world full of galloping horses. Own it. Others will accept you if you accept yourself first. You’re an introvert and you’re not going to apologize for it.
Now, take what you've learned here, go find a quiet space and recharge.
Get to work
The best workplaces have set core values that define a company's culture. Download this Creating Authentic Company Core Values Packet for best practices, directions and worksheets to help you create a welcoming workplace for introverts and extroverts alike.