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 Todayblog, 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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#6 on your list, stepping outside your comfort zone, is so important. I definitely used to be and introvert, and it wasn’t until I started making myself do things that where uncomfortable that I really started to see my career grow. Capitalizing on the opportunity of #6 will be difficult, it will be scary, but it will pay off big every time you do it.
Introversion and Extra/oversion is on a range; we all go up and down it every day. It’s just that people tend to identify with one extreme more than another. You can’t “used to be” an introvert. Right now, you may be mostly displaying as an extrovert whereas in other circumstances you may still be more introverted.
Great article! “Brainwriting” is a great way to incorporate everyone’s ideas. Being an introvert and extrovert is not something that is always thought about, but when you think of the people in your office/agency, you recognize the people who are “not impulsive with [their] contributions to the world.” You know they have some great ideas to add and they are always thinking.
TY for your highly informative article, Jennifer. I am no Psychologist Guru, however, I think I have ALWAYS been an extrovert until I had an accident where my Frontal Lobe was damaged. I believe this has evolved my brain into a more introverted stance. I am good at “selling myself like an extrovert” but don’t want to “sell myself” as this idea is against my personal integrity. I am an artist and a man, I do not “need” to sell myself to be “accepted” or literally “financially compensated.” So, to me, there is no right/wrong way to be (either introvert/extrovert) you just adapt to your heart. And FEAR leads to unproductivity.
Thanks again Jennifer
Thanks for this. I been working hard since the beginning of the year to identify areas of weakness in myself and workflow to better both! I can really relate to this article and will definitely use some of your tips, and I now know what to Google for to find similar topics. First time on this website to can’t wait to read what other awesome things lay around here.
Thanks so much for the comments!
@Zack: I’m glad you’ve had good experiences with tip #6. That’s the one I constantly work on, but I agree, it’s well worth it in the end.
@Chris: “And FEAR leads to unproductivity” – so true. I like your positive attitude.
@Johnny: That’s great that you found some ideas to add to your plan. Sounds like it’s going well – congrats on sticking to it!
As an extrovert, I’m happy to see that the “brainwriting” approach as an alternative to brainstorming. All ideas are valuable in those types of sessions, and being able to include those that are introverted in the process.
Thanks to everyone for the comments — and keep working awesome!
What a great article and topic that so many of us can relate to in different ways. I think the suggestions are very useful, but more importantly, the information helps us understand a little bit better the differences and strengths we all have and can contribute, both in the work place and in social situations. Thanks Jen!
Thank you for the excellent article. I am a definite extrovert, but my daughter is an introvert. Raising her has been hard at times because I just don’t get her way of thinking and need to recharge sometimes. But, as she has gotten older, I started to worry about how she would do in the “real world”. Your article lets me know she is not alone and there are ways to adapt. Luckily, she is an artist, like her mom, so there is a chance she will not need to typical office space workplace. Let’s hope I can find more articles like this for her on how to get new clients as an introvert!
Great Article Jen
I’m an introvert and would stay at home all the time if I could. It’s a constant effort for me to deal with and I ended up taking a teaching job (been here for 2 years now) to help me learn how to deal in an extroverted environment without freaking out. Any sort of public speaking helps – as much as it’s painful to think about the first few times!
Christina, you may or may not be an introvert. What you describe sounds like shyness or some sort of personality (dare I say it) or neurological disorder. It’s okay. I have Asperger’s (neurocognitive) and I am mostly introverted and I don’t like being around noisy people either mostly because of my sensory integration disorder (I have ‘misophonia-so clicking and popping drive me crazy) that is a comorbid of my condition. I also don’t like fake people because I can’t read them correctly. It is really hard to be at work a lot of the time. If you really have these issues and are distressed by them, there is help. Go see a psychologist or an employee assistance program counselor and then write up a plan and take it to your manager with some information about your condition and your needs and see if they will help you instead of forcing you to be in a space that makes you miserable. Good luck!
I am a full on introvert that has panic attacks once I enter the office for fear that I am going to get 25 different issues that need 25 different answers right away. I have tought myself html5/css3 in the last 1 1/2 years and am with a staffing company to find me gigs. I just got my first and had to ask a ton of questions to my cranky web designer and it was the first time ever in an office environment. Every second of the day I wanted to run out of the office and keep running for fear of messing something up cuz I didn’t have time to think. He would tell me 5 directions on what to do and I would just blankly stare at him. Us I was in my head. Long story short how do introverts get jobs and survive? I feel helpless and useless ugh! Sorry for the whining. And a great enlightening article!
I loved this article. I work very closely (the three of us sharing the same office) with
two extroverts. They love the quantity and quality of my work, but think there is something ‘strange’ or ‘abnormal’ about me. Until I read this article, I didn’t even understand myself, why I am different.
Your article helped me to see that I am not ‘strange’, I am just different, and not shy or anti-social. I am an introvert and have much to offer.
I have decided to share this article with my two coworkers, in hopes that they will have a better understanding of what I am about, appreciate my strengths and hopefully see my possibilities, in order to encourage my growth.
Thank you for your article!
Good on you for embracing who you are in front of your friends Rhonda! Let us know how you go.
Thank you Jennifer!
Thank you for sharing this great article, Jen. I’ve been struggling as an introvert in the workplace & I always feel pressured starting a conversation with an extroverted seatmate who don’t have the same interest as I am. But I’m still trying my best to talk to him/her if there’s something to talk about that we’re both can relate. #6 has always been a challenge for me but I’m slowly adapting. I’m tiref of being called the quiet one to strangers in the office. I only hang out with a small group of friends at work that I’m comfortable with. Still, it gets tiring to prove that you’re not a shy type. This article is really helpful. I’ll try to practice it. 🙂