Updated: Sep 30, 2022
Being an introvert in a world that equates success with loud personalities is challenging. From office politics, and lunch break banter, to an “always-on” culture, it’s easy for a well-meaning introvert to be interpreted as distant or uncollaborative.
However, introverts actually possess many traits that contribute to success in the workplace. In fact, some of the most successful people were actually introverts, such as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak to the greatest physicist of all time, Albert Einstein. Their sense of responsibility, attention to detail, and independence make them a valuable asset to any organization.
So introverts, it’s time to embrace your quiet courage. In this article, we’ll break down the psychology of introversion and some ways to help you thrive in the workplace.
The Psychology of Introversion
Despite the popular stereotype, introversion isn’t about being shy, quiet, or anti-social. Introverts can be just as articulate, creative, and energetic as extroverts (think three-time Academy Award winner Meryl Streep and renowned talk show host Oprah).
A better way to describe introverts is that they’re more easily stimulated by people and situations than their extroverted friends. In the classic ‘lemon juice test’, researchers found that introverts salivate more than extroverts when lemon juice is placed on their tongues (1). Psychologist Hans Eysenck theorized that introverts produce more saliva than extroverts due to a state of higher cortical arousal. This higher sensitivity to external stimulation may be why introverts prefer low-arousal activities such as reading as opposed to partying.
When we apply the science to workplace settings, it is no wonder frantic office environments and tight schedules zap an introvert’s energy so quickly. But fret not fellow introverts, your sensitive nature is very much a strength when embraced thoughtfully. Your quiet and empathetic temperament makes you creative thinkers and intuitive observers. So, let’s dive into how we can navigate extroverted work situations so that you can better exude your gifts.
Thriving at Work as an Introvert
If you’re an introvert struggling in a bustling workplace, the answer isn’t in forcing yourself to become the extrovert you’re not. Rather it’s in nurturing breathing space so that you can capitalize on your strengths. Below are a few strategies to help all you introverts find fulfillment at work, build authentic relationships, and set yourself up for success.
1) Rethink your workflow
Go through your work schedule and see how it has been working for you. Has sitting through hours of meetings been too draining? Have your work demands been eating at your personal time at night and on weekends?
While these scenarios can be hard to avoid at times, we can do our best to optimize our workflow in ways that include moments of recuperation. For example, try time-chunking where you have a tighter schedule for two days, followed by a quiet day with less face-to-face time. Or you may prefer having your meetings distributed across the week.
Regardless of your approach, approach your manager in a positive manner to ask for some flexibility and explain why you need it.
2) Find your quiet corner
Not everyone thrives in an open environment. Some will get distracted, some will be distractors, while others will flourish.
A 2015 study confirmed that people who scored highly for introversion and neuroticism were more affected by noise than those who scored low on either variable (2). This clearly shows that finding a working environment that works for you is key.
And because introverts need quiet spaces to reflect, process, and do great work, finding a spot where you have more privacy will help tremendously. You may even go for walks, head to a quiet coffee shop, or take a bathroom break to catch your breath.
If it’s hard to find that physical space, you may use noise-canceling headphones, or even snooze your notifications for extended periods.
3) Make meetings work for you
If there’s one thing we can’t avoid in any workplace, it’s meetings. And introverts often sink into the background when discussions are dominated by a few Loud Larrys.
Fortunately, there are a few meeting hacks that can help make these sessions more engaging.
Plan in advance: Understand the agenda and do some research before the meeting. This helps you be more confident as you can offer your ideas in a succinct and pointed way.
Arrive early: Hop in a few minutes early to ease yourself into the environment and find a prominent seat. You may even find a seat closer to the meeting lead so that they’re more likely to catch your words.
Speak early: Speaking early helps establish your presence early on. Even by offering a fairly banal statement, it takes the pressure off throughout the meeting since you’ve already contributed at the start.
Follow up: Introverts often need more time to process before giving an opinion. Don’t be afraid to say “I need to think that over. Can I get back to you on Slack?” Then share your thoughts clearly through text later.
4) Communicate with your boss regularly
Regular 1-1 conversations with your boss help both parties better understand each other’s work styles and expectations. Help them better understand your quieter working style and how that can fit into organizational success.
This is also a chance for you to ask for a working setup that better fits your needs such as a hybrid arrangement. Doing so shows that you’re still eager to hit your performance goals, just at a more manageable pace and style.
5) Socialize intentionally
Quality trumps quantity any day - the same goes for your workplace relationships. Even introverts need good working relationships to thrive. But instead of throwing yourself into social events, you dread to attend, you may instead schedule small coffee chats with your colleagues.
Doing so even once a week can help you build quality social alliances while staying on the pulse of what is happening around you.
And if you do attend your office socials, feel free to take regular ‘breathers’ to re-energize. Don’t be afraid to head outside for some fresh air or take a solo trip to the bathroom.
Remember, it’s okay to own your boundaries, leave the party early, and busk in moments of quietness. Instead of pretending to be somebody you’re not, learn to nourish your strengths. With a little bit of work, your strengths as an introvert can be perfectly aligned with performing at the highest levels in all aspects of your career.
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