How Introverts Can Thrive in the Workplace
Do you feel drained by your work, even though you enjoy it?
For some of the population, thinking about the idea of being at work is exhausting, but not because you don’t like your job (although there are lots of resources to help you if that’s true for you!). Instead, you might be part of the 26-50% of the population that researchers identify as introverts, a specific personality type that prefers solitude to the social energy of a bustling workspace.
What does it mean to be an introvert?
While many dictionaries oversimplify the concept of being an introvert down to being shy, Vocabulary.com gives a helpful, more nuanced explanation:
“An introvert generally prefers solitary activities to interacting with large groups of people. If you would rather work through your feelings in your diary than have a conversation, then you are an introvert. Introvert comes from Latin intro-, “inward,” and vertere, “turning.” It describes a person who tends to turn inward mentally. Introverts sometimes avoid large groups of people, feeling more energized by time alone. The opposite of an introvert is an extrovert, who finds energy in interactions with others.”
If you get more energy from being alone than with people, you like to have some time to process your thoughts, and being in quiet, calm spaces tends to feel really good for you, you’re probably an introvert.
When you’re one of the 50-74% of people who identify as an extravert, you may not realize the kinds of challenges that today’s office environments tend to pose to those of us who are wired as introverts. Whether it’s feeling like we can’t concentrate in open office environments or feeling our brains freeze when put on the spot in a big meeting, most workspaces feel like they’re built for extraverts to thrive in and for introverts to struggle to keep up.
However, you can learn to use your unique capabilities as an introvert as a superpower rather than feel like it’s a curse. Here’s how.
Meetings are the place where introverts often feel the most exposed, because we like to do a lot of internal processing. It can feel vulnerable to be asked to provide opinions, analysis, or recommendations on the fly while the group is verbally hashing out a plan.
In order to thrive in these environments, take steps to take care of yourself and prepare in advance. Blocking out time prior to the meeting to prepare your opinions and pull up information on the topics that will be covered will help you avoid feeling insecure about not having the data that you want. If you “pre-think” about what your future self will need, you’ll have less processing to do on the fly and will set your future self up for success.
Other important things to “pre-think” about are: Who will be in the room and what will they be interested in? Is this a large group of people or small? How many senior leaders will be here? Is my role to lead, to organize, to take down marching orders, or to provide strategic advice?
One last way to make meetings feel manageable is to give yourself permission to follow-up afterwards. If you are able to grab individuals for 1-on-1 recap conversations or allow yourself a day to process, look up additional information, and provide it to a smaller group afterwards, you’ll still be noticed for adding value without trying to pressure yourself to magically act and think on the spot like some of your extravert peers might.
With your boss…
When creating a relationship with your supervisor, it can be tough to feel like your accomplishments are recognized and rewarded if you tend to be quieter. However, there are lots of ways you can thrive at work that won’t feel slimy or out of character for you.
Building a strong relationship with your boss requires you to be self-aware and identify the factors that allow you to thrive, so your boss knows how they can support you in doing your highest quality work. Notice how you operate best at work: Does having a work from home day help you be more efficient (and happier)? Does having flexible work hours allow you to come into the office early and crank things out while it’s quiet before other folks get there? Highlight the ways in which you can creating extra impact, and start to build a case for why it’s in your boss’s best interest to create that extra flexibility for you.
As we teach bosses what we need, we also need to teach them how to treat us on a day-to-day basis so that we can both be happy and productive. If you feel most comfortable and empowered when you have scheduled check-ins instead of spontaneous ones, tell her that! If you prefer to create agendas for conversations and send them in advance, start doing it! If you don’t teach your boss what you need — and then show them your productivity and results when they allow you to have it — they’ll often treat you like the “default,” which is either the way that they are innately wired themselves, or the way that they see most other people operating at the office.
With your peers and direct reports…
Working with peers and direct reports is where your biggest introvert superpower lies: treating people with respect and sensitivity to their needs and abilities at the level you wish was always being extended to you.
Lean into your strengths — thoughtfulness, intuition, and letting others speak — and lead by example in those behaviors. Choose your behaviors through consideration of the question: How can I best set my team up for wild success? And, just like you might be hoping your boss would do with you, go ahead and proactively ask them what they need to do their best work.
Your thoughtfulness can create awesome improvements for how your direct reports feel at work. Offering up flexibility like, “If this open office feels tough for candid conversations, we can go offsite or book a conference room to have our discussions,” will lead to huge increases in trust and vulnerability in your relationships.
While workspaces can challenge even the most extraverted introvert into wondering if you’ll ever feel like you can thrive, you can absolutely lead the change you wish to see in your office culture.
As Ghandi said: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.”
Now it’s your turn
What is the one action you’ll take to make the workplace feel more comfortable for yourself or your introverted peers?
Know an introvert who’s struggling to find her power at work? Find this article helpful? Share this post with a friend to help lift as you climb!
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If there’s a job out there, Lisa Lewis has probably done it. Lisa is a career change coach and the founder of Lisa Lewis Careers, a company helping multipassionate and ambitious individuals create the careers they’ve been dreaming about. Her path evolved into coaching after working in digital marketing for nearly a decade at companies like 2U, Edelman, the American Cancer Society, Teen Vogue, Seventeen, Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and CBS College Sports.
Lisa received her coaching certification as one of only 7 coaches in the world trained in the Pivot Method. Clients praise her ability to see through their excuses, champion their possibilities, and give resume reviews that are like “purifying hellfire.” If you’re looking for someone who believes in your career happiness as strongly as you do — and who will equip you with the strategy and skills to get it — you can learn more about Lisa’s work at LisaLewisCareers.com or on LinkedIn.