An Introvert’s Guide to Thriving in an Extroverted Workplace
Anyone who’s ever taken the famous Myers Briggs test will be familiar with the concept of introversion and extroversion, but not everyone understands how they work.
It’s not as simple as either being shy or outgoing; there are complex differences in the way introverts and extroverts function and recharge.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the traits of introverts and extroverts.
- Get energy from spending time alone rather than in a large crowd.
- Prefer socialising in small groups, with closer more intimate friends.
- Listen more than they speak, as they spend a lot of time reflecting.
- Maintain focus for a long time, due to their experience with solidarity it’s easier for them to control their actions when alone.
- Think more before making decisions, hence acting far less impulsively when making small decisions.
- Are not interested in attention, thus they don’t go out of there way to seek praise or get noticed by the outside world.
- Get energy by socialising in large groups of people, as they feel rewarded by having so many people listen to them.
- Speak more than they listen because it’s easier for them to carry a conversation (or at least a one-sided conversation).
- Are easily distracted, thus making it incredibly difficult for them to maintain focus for a long period of time.
- Make decisions based on impulse – the effect of not taking time to contemplate about the situation at hand.
- Tend to enjoy being the centre of attention in parties and events.
Introverts are often made to feel as though the way they are is wrong.
They’re told that they’re ‘shy‘, ‘too quiet‘, ‘not outgoing enough‘ or sometimes even ‘boring‘.
This is because work and social environments often value extroverted qualities.
Teachers and parents attempt to coach introverted children into coming out of their shells, managers overlook introverted employees, and introverts are seen as stand-offish or antisocial by their extroverted peers.
However, by catering only to extroverts and shunning our extroverted friends and colleagues, we’re missing out on everything they have to offer.
Introverts are more visible than ever before (whether they want to be or not).
Susan Cain may have started it all with her best-selling book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.
If you haven’t read it, see her TED Talk, titled ‘The Power of Introverts‘, for a great introduction to the book.
Since it was published in 2012, introverts have been getting more and more exposure.
Social media has seen a rise in introvert-related material in recent times. Buzzfeed have published countless articles for introverts, including ‘21 Pictures You’ll Only Understand if you’re Introverted‘ and ‘What Kind of Introvert are You?‘
The online community of introverts are standing up to be counted, but the same can’t be said for the workplace.
Many introverts find themselves feeling uncomfortable at work, under pressure to conform to the extroverted ideals of their jobs.
It doesn’t need to be that way. Here are some of of the best tips for introverts at work.
Find a Role that Suits You
Ideal careers for introverts usually involve a lot of independent work, so you’ll find lots of introverts in writing, art and science, but that doesn’t mean that introverts are doomed to the confines of these industries only.
They can thrive in various positions, as long as they suit their needs.
An introvert’s strengths often lie in researching and planning, so they’re most likely to be comfortable in roles that involve a lot of these tasks.
Introverts usually enjoy autonomous work, where they have complete control.
This means working on an individual basis or a small group rather than in a big team, and absolutely not being micro-managed.
They prefer to be left alone to work on one task for a period of time rather than juggling several at once.
An Introvert’s Work Environment
Despite the presence and awareness of introverts, working environments are generally suited to extroverts, encouraging group work in an open setting.
Quiet time is crucial to an introvert, but this doesn’t mean they want to spend all of their time alone, shutting themselves away from the world.
It does mean that they need certain environmental factors to promote their best performance and comfort levels.
Open-plan offices are an introvert’s nightmare, as they treasure their own space where they can work without any disturbances or distractions.
If you’re an introvert working in a big group setting and can’t adjust your workspace, make allowances in your day to fit in your own ‘me time‘.
It could be going out for lunch or coffee breaks by yourself, or reading a book on your daily commute.
Whatever recharges your batteries.
Become a Pseudo-Extrovert
While introverts can seek out the best roles and environments for them, they can’t tailor everything about them to suit their individual needs (unless they’re the boss).
At some stage, they may need to adjust themselves to fit their work.
Introverts function best in some of the career options mentioned earlier in this post, but they can thrive in more extroverted jobs by learning to be a pseudo-extrovert (or an aspiring ambivert).
A pseudo-extrovert is an introvert who exhibits extroverted behaviour in some situations.
An introverted teacher may suddenly become an extrovert when in front of their classroom, and an introverted salesperson may become extroverted when they meet their clients.
It takes time and practice, but eventually produces an ability to switch gears between introvert and extrovert to suit different environments.
Introverts looking to develop this skill can start by pushing themselves out of their comfort zones in small ways, perhaps by speaking up in a meeting when they usually wouldn’t, or even making a presentation.
Good managers know how to get the best out of their staff, and doing so requires an understanding of the differences in how individual people work.
Introverted staff function differently to extroverted staff; they may have different strengths and weaknesses and feel comfortable in different environments, and a manager has to adapt to these variations.
Taking centre stage, leading meetings and giving presentations are activities more suited to extroverts, and while pushing introverts to do them may be beneficial for them, it could also make them very uncomfortable or stressed.
They might prefer to work alone or in small groups on projects which give them time to get stuck into it, although an extrovert is likely to feel bored or confined with such tasks.
Arrange one-on-one meetings with your staff.
Introverts function much better in social settings with fewer people, and in often find themselves overwhelmed in bigger groups, which can prompt them to retreat and become quiet.
With less people around, they’re more likely to feel comfortable and open up.
If one of your employees seems quiet or unresponsive in meetings, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have anything of value to add, it may just mean that they’re an introvert.
As Susan Cain mentioned in her book, “there’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas”. Introverts do their best thinking when they’re alone, and don’t always respond well to pressure, conflict or public speaking.
Often, they require time to think and reflect before coming back to you, but when they do, it’s with something that’s taken a lot of consideration.
Provide ways for employees to pitch ideas or give feedback outside of big meetings, perhaps in writing, via email.
Some introverted employees may need to be prompted before sharing their ideas of opinions, unlike extroverts, who speak up more freely.
Let them know that your door is open if they need to speak to you, they’ll appreciate it.
We often associate great leaders with extroverted characteristics such as charisma, confidence and talkativeness.
That’s not always the case, introverts can be managers, too.
You’ll even find introverts right at the top of the ladder in some companies, as CEO.
Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are just some of the most famous introverted CEOs.
According to Forbes, introverts make better managers than extroverts because they have a better work/life balance, and are better at understanding their employees needs.
Introverts also tend to give their employees more room to be creative.
There are negatives to each end of the introvert/extrovert spectrum.
If you’re an introvert in a management position, there are some things you might want to work on.
You might find yourself inadvertently putting a barrier between you and your staff if you tend to shut them out while you work on your own tasks.
This may make them feel alienated or unappreciated.
To avoid this, set some time in your schedule to communicate with them.
Even if it’s something as small as sending an email or swinging by someone’s desk for a chat and a coffee.
Understand the Power of Introversion
Being introverted isn’t a negative thing. On the contrary; the power of introverts which Susan Cain speaks of is real and very valuable in the workplace.
Introverts are focused, committed, thoughtful, and not easily bored.
Given the right environment and amount of stimulus, they’ll thrive, producing excellent results.
Like any power, introversion is to be used wisely.
“We know from myths and fairy tales that there are many different kinds of powers in this world. One child is given a light saber, another a wizard’s education. The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of power, but to use well the kind you’ve been granted.”
– Susan Cain