how to thrive at work when you’re an introvert

Experts have found it difficult to pin down a ratio of introverts to extroverts, however one of the most publicized studies suggests people who lean introverted make up approximately 25-33% of the population, while those who lean extroverted make up the remaining 67-75%. If the wide ranges didn’t already make it clear, there’s really no consensus. Some researchers even argue the opposite is true and introverts are actually the majority. There’s also the fact that introverted and extroverted personalities are measured on a spectrum, with ambiverts falling somewhere in the middle, so it’s not always an either/or situation. However, there’s no denying that introverts are the less visible and vocal personality type. As a result, they’re sometimes misunderstood and social practices are not built around their preferences. That includes in the workplace.

thriving at work as an introvert

how do introverts, extroverts and ambiverts differ?

The main difference is in how they recharge their emotional batteries. Introverts derive energy from alone time. They feel refreshed and alert after spending time in non-social settings where they can focus on themselves and organize their thoughts. Extroverts, on the other hand, feel energized by spending time with other people. They feel most in their element when they’re surrounded by people and tend to feel drained after spending too much time on their own. Introverts tend to lean toward traits such as introspectiveness, measured decision-making, fierce independence and being adverse to change. On the opposite side of the coin, extroverts are known for being social butterflies who speak their mind, jump head-first into decision making, and for being highly charismatic and likeable. Ambiverts, or those close to the middle of the spectrum, borrow traits from both. It really depends on their mood and the situation.

being an introvert at work

Being an introvert in a workplace setting can sometimes be overwhelming. Many workplaces are built around socialization, collaboration, and the idea that bold, assertive, charismatic personalities are needed to get things done and drive innovation. Many workplaces aren’t built for people who thrive on independence, quietness and a measured thought process. For instance, a study found that introverts are significantly less likely to be considered management material. Introverts make up just 12% of supervisors. And the numbers only get smaller further up the corporate hierarchy. Introverts make up 7% of front-line managers, 5% of mid-level managers, 3% executives, and just 2% of C-suite executives. Yet, interestingly, companies with introverted CEOs tend to perform better financially. High-profile research has supported this finding, including a study by the Harvard Business Review. Though we tend to think of good leaders as charismatic, confident people who excel at public speaking, the role is actually a lot deeper than giving presentations and socializing. There’s creativity, a deep understanding of people, exemplary listening skills, and steadfast preparation. Introverts bring a lot of these valuable skills to the table.

We just need to think a little differently about how to carve out space for introverts so they feel welcome and able to take advantage of their strengths in the workplace. If you consider yourself an introvert, here are some tips for not just surviving, but thriving in your workplace.

carve out independent working time

Introverts work best when they have a slice of time they can dedicate to independent work. Meetings and collaboration are a necessary part of modern workplaces, but when they take up an introvert’s entire schedule, they’ll walk away from each day drained and burnt out. That’s not ideal for long-term happiness and productivity. Make it a goal to dedicate a chunk of your schedule to independent work. Having a solid block of time each day where you can pop on your headphones, zero in on your work priorities, and complete solo activities like responding to emails or assessing your priorities for the day can be a lifesaver. If you can, plan for an hour block at the start or end of each day. Having this time can help you gather your thoughts and start (or finish) the day on a strong note. Don’t be afraid to book this time in your calendar so your coworkers know that this time is spoken for.

seek out a compatible culture

Not all companies are built for all personality types. Don’t feel like you need to squeeze yourself into a role that isn’t quite right for your needs. Some company cultures prioritize a collaborative way of working, and solo work is kept to a minimum. Others focus on independent task-driven work. Some companies seek out outgoing, fast-talking extroverted personalities who excel in sales situations. Others hire more introverted employees who carefully consider all the data and make measured decisions. When you’re looking for a job, it’s important to evaluate the company’s culture and determine if it’s a good fit your preferred work style. No matter how great the job seems on paper, if the culture isn’t a fit, it can derail your career and make you miserable.

know your strengths

No one is good at everything. Know where your strengths lie and play to them. If you know that meeting new people is not your forte, it’s okay to avoid client-facing projects where you’ll be meeting people daily. Maybe you know that you’re great at putting together detailed reports that your boss raves about. Volunteer to head up projects that will make use of those skills. While there’s value in pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and trying new things that’ll encourage you to learn and expand your horizons once in a while, know that it’s okay to have days where you just want to stick with your comfort zone and do what you’re best at.

find your tribe at work

Contrary to depictions in popular media, introverts are not anti-social loners who want nothing to do with those around them and have absolutely no social skills to speak of. Introverts frequently enjoy being around others, however they tend to socialize in different ways. They may prefer to work in smaller groups, or take breaks between collaborative work to recharge their emotional batteries. For introverts, finding their ‘tribe’ or a group of coworkers who they can rely on, helps them feel more comfortable in work situations. This can include your boss, desk mate, departmental coworkers, or anyone else you have a bond with at work. These are the people who you can count on when you need someone to bounce ideas off of, support you in a meeting, or otherwise have your back in work situations.

communicate your needs

Introverts have a bad habit of clamming up and not telling anyone when they run into problems. They tend to keep roadblocks and problems to themselves to deal with on their own, because they feel most comfortable when relying on themselves. In a work setting, this habit can cause problems. Resist the urge to keep things to yourself. Your colleagues won’t be able to help if they don’t recognize there is a problem. At first, it can be intimidating to open yourself up and admit that you need help or aren’t happy. Clearing the air is the first step to finding real solutions.

have a schedule in place

Introverts tend to thrive when they have a regimented schedule they can follow. Most people are creatures of habit, but introverts especially. Having a clear schedule or plan to follow each day brings a little bit of certainty into your work life. Sure, things will pop up that need to be dealt with immediately and being open to change is a necessary part of work life, but having a solid plan ready will help you find your footing and centre yourself when you feel overwhelmed.

allow yourself recovery time

Work situations where introverts are required to be ‘on’ all the time lead to burnout. If introverts expend all their social energy at work, they’re going to rely on their non-working hours to recharge their batteries. That doesn’t promote a healthy work-life balance and can be isolating if there’s no energy left to indulge in social activities outside of work. Introverts tend to work best when they have a mix of social activities (such as meetings and collaborative projects) and independent working time on their calendar. For instance, instead of cramming as many back-to-back meetings as you can into a single day, try to spread them out over the week. Find what works for you.

create a work sanctuary

Have a safe space at work where you can retreat when you need to recharge. Decorate your space to match your personality and be your little home away from home. Maybe that means propping up some family photos and having a few plants. Maybe it means having a closed-door office space available when you need a quiet space with no distractions. Maybe it means splurging on an expensive pair of noise-cancelling headphones to block out the world around you. Whatever your safe zone happens to be, create a place where you can retreat for your independent working time.

kick your self-doubt to the curb

Introverts tend to overthink. This often leads to self-doubt and replaying decisions, no matter how small or insignificant they might seem to an outsider. That doubt can lead to introverts keeping quiet in meetings or otherwise holding back their ideas and opinions for fear of sounding silly or messing up. The truth is you’re your own worst critic. No one is analyzing your ideas and demeanour as harshly as you are! If introverts can take just one thing away from this list, it should be this one. (Of course, that’s easier said than done.) Kick your fears to the curb and embrace speaking up. Even if your ideas aren’t groundbreaking, they’re valuable and add to the conversation.

 

Being an introvert at work can sometimes present challenges, as workplaces are often built around the habits and strengths of extroverts. But that doesn’t mean introverts can’t thrive too, with the right approach!   

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