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Hustling and bustling about this noisy world can get tiring for us introverts … very, very quickly. When a long day of office banter leaves us drained, we find ourselves wishing for the quiet of home instead of a rowdy bar with our colleagues – even colleagues we really like! No wonder we’re so commonly misunderstood.
Extroverts are both more common and more vocal in society, so it’s no surprise that most workplaces are built around their socializing habits. That makes navigating day-to-day work tough for those of us who let out sighs of relief when we find ourselves alone at our desks.
Here are some of the best tips I’ve gotten from successful introverts that help me survive and thrive as an introvert at work.
But before we get into them, you might be wondering if this article is actually for you…
Am I an introvert or extrovert?
Despite the many misconceptions about these two personality types (5 Commonly Held (and Mistaken!), extroversion and introversion lie on a spectrum. People who fall near the center can shift modes frequently, and almost everyone displays at least a couple of extroverted and introverted traits.
However, a rare few us gravitate very strongly toward one end of the spectrum or the other. Those of us who mostly live deep in the introvert zone are the rarest breed of all.
If you’re not sure where you stand, take this Introvert vs Extrovert test to find out!
Tip 1: Relationship building doesn’t always need to happen in large groups.
When I first started working, fresh out of university, I went out for beers with my colleagues night after night. I was a newbie trying to fit in, and it seemed like the polite thing to do.
I didn’t hate those nights swimming in bar noise, but I could easily think of many solitary activities that I would rather be doing. Worse, it slowly dawned on me that after all those hours with my colleagues, week after week, I still didn’t know anything substantial about them.
Finally, a day came when I went out for lunch with just one colleague and we spoke at length about her childhood. That’s when it dawned on me that I’m not aloof, nor am I apathetic toward other people’s stories. I just prefer one-on-one opportunities to bond more deeply with people, as most introverts do.
When I realized this, I started spending time with my colleagues in more personal settings. I made the rounds to their desks, quietly laying foundations for relationships in the best way I knew how. Little did I know that this strategy is the backbone of winning introverted leadership styles.
To my surprise, I suddenly found myself enjoying group outings more. And when I declined to join one, people understood. They knew me now, and knew that my habit of keeping to myself was not a reflection of my feelings toward them.
Tip 2: Schedule alone time every day.
Technology is a wonderful thing, but it does create a noisy, chaotic world. Likes, emails, calls, texts, WhatsApp notifications, Slack messages and more endlessly fire at us, day after day. It reaches a point where the mere sound of a ping raises your blood pressure, and it seems impossible to switch off.
For an introvert, it can all pile up into a buzzing, beeping, daily emotional disaster. That’s because one of the defining traits of introverts is our need to re-energize through private and often quiet time.
To stay strong at work, we have to somehow resist the pressure to respond to every invasion of noise like everyone else. If your instincts are screaming that you need to be alone, tune into that voice and obey it. Whether that means blasting music through your earphones as you work, ducking out for a coffee run or hiding in the bathroom (guilty), do whatever works for you!
Even better, don’t wait until that inner voice is wailing to plan your escape. Alone time is crucial for your success at work, so it’s worth planning in advance.
To remind myself daily that preserving my own sanity is a top priority, I like to use this collection of Microsoft schedule templates.
Tip 3: Find the activity that helps you unwind quickly.
No matter how good we might get at drawing some boundaries in a crazy world that knows none, introverts in business still face an uphill struggle. Days come along when we just don’t have the time we need to recharge and face the chattering, clattering world on our own terms. Often, we’re dealing with a schedule we can’t control (which was probably set by an extrovert).
To maximize the benefit of whatever alone time you can squeeze out, find activities that help you quickly bounce back when you’re drained. It may be meditating (I use the free version of Headspace at work). It may be taking a walk around the block, or if it’s an option, sitting on the rooftop.
Or maybe it’s just losing yourself in a little mindless daydream. Whatever it is, have your go-to recharging activity ready at all times so you can make the most of any free moment.
Tip 4: Use your natural listening abilities.
In the past, I wasted a lot of energy aspiring to be as charismatic, funny and crowd-pleasing as my extroverted counterparts. They would glide around networking sessions, laughing, champagne in hand, surrounded by people. It is just so easy for them!
For me? If I had it my way, I would just grab a chair by the food and people watch, listening in on conversations (no judgments). Once again, my instincts held the key to succeeding at the office, while being true to my introverted self.
Introverts are renowned for their keen ears, ears that don’t just hear but truly listen. We absorb and internalize the information around us at every moment. This ability can be a real gift to those around us, and successful introverts are masters of tapping into it at the right moment.
Take Beth Comstock, author of Imagine it Forward: Courage, Creativity, and the Power of Change. She believes that the tendency of introverts to thoughtfully process information is one of our main advantages, and the secret to her well-earned reputation as a keen observer and listener.
I’m still not the best at big office gatherings. But now I understand that whatever talent I lack for small talk and witty banter, I make up for with my listening skills in smaller-group settings. Which brings me to my next tip…
Tip 5: Learn how to tame that socially uncomfortable voice.
It’s a feeling every introvert knows far too well: stressing over events where we know we will be expected to have courtly chats with everyone. Our coping strategies range from planning small-talk topics in advance to calling in sick right before the event.
Our emotional demons don’t limit their visits to these special occasions, either. Self-consciousness and worry can wash over us at any time – midway through a conversation with our boss, upon seeing a group of people laughing as they approach, literally anywhere.
And the worst part? Often, we convince ourselves that everyone can sense our discomfort, triggering a downward, self-fulfilling spiral.
No wonder we think about calling in sick…
My tip? Have a few go-to buddies that understand you better, and lean on them to help you ease into intimidating situations. Our feelings of being overwhelmed are, more often than not, self-inflicted. Sometimes, we just need the right people around us, empowering us, acting as gentle reminders that we can surmount the challenge.
It gets easier with practice, I promise. And it’s okay if there are some days when you just don’t have it in you to take on that inner, self-doubting voice. Just be sure that you don’t use your battery-replenishment alibi to disguise a few passing moments of social unease. Before you go declining an invitation, be clear in your mind why you’re doing it.
Tip 6: Find a polite conversation ender.
All of us, introverts and extroverts alike, have found ourselves trapped in conversations that are slowly, hopelessly fizzling into … nothing. You can feel it, and you are convinced that everyone else feels the sagging energy right with you.
But they just keep on talking, while the expanding tension in the air makes it hard for you to breathe. With every added word, you see your escape plan going up in smoke.
As a socially awkward introvert, I have been in way too many of these situations to count. My first tip is to work on identifying when a conversation is losing steam as early on as possible. Second, to make a clean escape, you need a reliable, conversation-ending comment that you deliver with sincerity and confidence.
Here are a few of my favorites:
For work-related conversations…
– “Will it be OK if we continue this a bit later on? I want to give this some more thought, but I just have a bit too much work right now.”
In social situations…
– “I have to go chat with some other people, but it was great seeing you. Let’s chat later on. Take care.”
– “I’m going to get myself a drink, would you like anything?” (Make sure you are empty handed or your glass is empty if you want to use this one!)
The world is filled with successful introvert entrepreneurs and introverted leaders in every field. They made it to where they are by embracing their own styles of conversing and socializing, not by disguising themselves as extroverts.
In short, fight for your strengths. Search for the work environments that you can thrive in and play there. Don’t spend too much time concerning yourself with traits that flow out of others but just aren’t in you. Stop losing at their game, and learn to win at yours.
Psst… You can also pin, save, download, print out the tips here!