Have you ever found yourself sitting quietly in meetings, afraid to speak up out of concern that you’ll ask a stupid question or say something incorrect? Has one of your workmates ever said the same thing you were going to say, and been met with ‘Good question!’, or ‘Thanks for bringing that up, what a great suggestion!’? If this scenario sounds familiar, you may identify as an introvert. Perhaps you’re starting to wonder how you can put your best foot forward at work when everyone else around you seems so much more confident and outspoken.
It can be tempting to believe that an introverted person needs to just ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ and pretend to feel more confident than they really do at work. And while this approach can be helpful in some situations, it’s important to remember that introverts have a range of unique skills that they can bring to the table, whatever their chosen profession.
How to know you’re an introvert
Psychologist and CEO of Be Psyched Alexandra Whitehead tells us that the ‘introvert vs extrovert’ classifications that we’ve heard about aren’t so clear-cut. “There is no such thing as an ‘introvert’ or an ‘extrovert’, however people can have a ‘preference’ for introversion or extroversion. It really comes down to where people like to spend their energy and where they put their attention.
Someone who identifies with having a preference for introversion may prefer to focus on their ‘inner world’ and can be very idea orientated. They also tend to like spending time and connecting deeply with just a couple of people who they’re comfortable with.”
So if you find yourself daydreaming often, or enjoy analysing and exploring different ideas in a quiet setting, you may prefer introversion.
Common issues that face introverts in the workplace
Most of us will know the feeling of having to put on a brave face for a big presentation or important meeting, but for those of us who have a tendency for introversion, it may feel necessary to put a mask on every day at work. And this can become exhausting.
Alexandra warns against this strategy, “You can force yourself to be more extroverted at work, but expect it to be extremely draining on your energy levels long-term.”
As well as this, introverts may find themselves feeling overwhelmed or like they don’t have enough time for certain tasks. “People that have a preference for introversion need more time to reflect on information. This means they need more time to prepare. For example, they need an agenda a few days prior to any meeting taking place so that they can contribute effectively. People that are more introverted will simply stay silent in a meeting if they feel unprepared,” says Alexandra.
How to succeed as an introvert at work
So simply faking it may not work. But just because you lean towards introversion doesn’t mean that you can’t excel in your career. Alexandra has 4 tips for introverts to flourish in the workplace:
- Highlight your wins. “Because 50% of the people you work with naturally feel comfortable sharing their achievements with the office (those more on the extroverted side), it makes it easier for them to gain recognition and even promotions,” Alexandra says. “You don’t want to miss out, simply because no one noticed how well you were doing!” If you’ve had great feedback from a client, or feel particularly proud of a recent project, make a note to tell your manager when it comes to review time. It’s easy to assume that supervisors and managers see all the good work you’re doing, but this may not always be the case — don’t be afraid to toot your own horn!
- Connect with your co-workers one-on-one. If you’re on the introverted side, you may be finding it difficult to connect with your co-workers and make friends. If this is the case, it might be helpful to find opportunities where you can speak with people outside of group situations like meetings or get togethers. “Take the time to speak to different people in a one-on-one situation, for example, at the water cooler or coffee machine, to help break down some of those barriers in a non-threatening way. This will allow you and others to feel more connected.”
- Find your quiet space. “Those who are more on the introverted side need quiet spaces to think clearly, meaning they will have problems in noisy, open plan offices,” Alexandra advises. “It’s important that you are able to find a quiet space (such as where people make important calls) and use it when you need to.”
- Be prepared. “Talk to your manager and let them know what you need. For example, say that you need an agenda 2 days before a meeting so that you have enough thinking and reflecting time – this will give you the best chance of being able to contribute to the team meeting. Not only that, when you’re given the time to think you will very often come up with a considered and meaningful response. A good leader will understand this. Also, let your manager know that you need to explore ideas before you commit to taking an action. A deadline will help you move from your ideas to forming actions.”
The best tip of all? Focus on what you’re good at and worry less about the differences between you and the more outgoing personalities at the office.
As Alexandra points out, “Introverts show a higher level of persistence, can analyse situations thoroughly and make their way effectively through lots of ideas.”
While we all find ourselves in situations where it’s important to step outside our comfort zones, it shouldn’t be at the cost of feeling like you can be yourself. After all, you were hired because of your unique capabilities, and you’ll do your best work when you're being true to you.