It’s the same story everywhere you work: You can’t think on the fly during meetings or jump in during call-it-out brainstorming sessions. You feel drained after office events that involve being around a lot of people, no matter how nice they are. And you’re always pegged as the quiet one.
But you have ideas. Good ones. You just need to find a way to contribute.
If this sounds familiar, you may be an introvert. Depending on the website, book or study, introverts make up 25 percent to slightly more than 50 percent of the population. My own extensive research – in the form of an anonymous survey distributed on Facebook, Twitter, and my blog – had 60 percent of the 68 respondents identify themselves as introverts. If we were a political party, we’d win by a landslide.
Yet the odds are still stacked against us at work, where meetings and brainstorming sessions often rule the culture. “A lot of workplace things are organized in extroverted ways,” says Wendy Gelberg, author of The Successful Introvert: How to Enhance Your Job Search and Advance Your Career and owner of Gentle Job Search & Career Services.
But introverts can find their workplace niche, which will enable them to feel more comfortable – and excel – on the job.
1. Understand What Introversion Is
The words “extrovert” and “introvert”, used on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a popular personality test, relate to where we access our energy. At an office holiday party, extroverts may talk in big groups, drawing energy from the people around them as if they were chugging can after can of Red Bull.
Introverts, on the other hand, become more energized by focusing inward. We aren’t necessarily shy, which is a completely different personality trait. But after spending time with ten people around a conference table, we may have to close our office door for some alone time. This helps us recharge and put out our best work for the rest of the day.
Of course, most people fall somewhere along the long line between extroversion and introversion. But it’s our introvert side that is often harder to embrace.
2. Understand Where Introversion Comes From
Extroverts show increased blood flow in areas that respond to external stimuli which helps them excel in social situations, according to a 1999 study in The American Journal of Psychiatry. Introverts, on the other hand, have increased blood flow in the front lobes and anterior thalamus of the brain. This means we are better at thinking activities.
“I tend to think slowly and my responses are not lightning quick,” says Sophia Dembling, author of the Psychology Today blog, The Introvert’s Corner. But, she continues, “Introversion is not synonymous with cold and unfriendly. It’s just a different way to be. Once we understand who we are, we can begin to understand our boundaries even better.”
3. Relish the Positives
Introverts bring many finer points to the table. Because of the way our brains are wired, we are good at remembering stories from the past, planning, and solving problems. Gelberg adds that introverts are also well-prepared because we like to understand what’s going on around us. “We’re not impulsive with our contributions to the world,” she says. And we have a tremendous ability to form deep relationships. These qualities would be an asset in any workplace.
4. Rethink Corporate Language
Extroverted language is common in office culture, says Gelberg. But phrases like “sell yourself” and words like “networking” can make introverts cringe. We’re not always comfortable with this language because we feel like we’re engaging in a business transaction.
But rethinking these terms changes everything. Since introverts are good at forming relationships with people, think of “networking” and “selling yourself” – both sales terms – as having a conversation with someone else. Get to know the person and let them get to know you. Try to talk one-on-one or in small groups if you can. These tactics can make introverts feel much more at ease.
5. Try “Brainwriting”
Brainstorming sessions can be one of the most difficult workplace activities for introverts. “[We] are going to get completely steamrolled,” says Dembling. But if your bosses are game, try brainwriting instead.
Developed by Southern Methodist University business professor Peter Heslin, this technique gives introverts a voice. Everyone sits around a conference table with introvert-friendly pens and paper, and has time to write down an idea before passing the paper on to the next person. Once a slip contains four or five ideas, the group discusses them. Then introverts have much-needed time to think of what they want to say.
6. Push Yourself Outside of Your Comfort Zone Every Now and Then
Even full-on, 100 percent introverts still need human contact. So don’t completely eschew extrovert activities because they are out of your comfort zone. Try to offer a thought or two to the string of ideas on the table during meetings or brainstorming sessions. Attend an office party or an afterhours get-together for an hour. Chit-chat about last night’s episode of Top Chef by the water cooler. Your co-workers will appreciate that you’re making an effort.
Introverts, do you have any ideas to add the list? Extroverts, what challenges do you face and how do you deal with them? Let us know in the comments.
(Image courtesy of NuageDeNuit under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 generic license.)
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