Keep Calm, Introvert at Work
Have you ever been called an introvert, or introverted? Maybe not directly, but has it been hinted at you? Do you think you are one?
The “You’re so Quiet” comments
It was the last day of my internship at a local online magazine. I was in my early twenties. As expected, my supervisor asked me in to her office for a final feedback session. Slightly nervous, but quiet, I sat down opposite her. “You should speak louder,” was the last thing she said, “so that people won’t ignore you.”
“Child,” said another supervisor during my next internship (by this time I was a few months shy of graduating with my second degree) as I carefully sorted the press releases I was about to distribute, “be bolder!”
Two years later, dizzy with excitement after successfully finishing the trial phase of my first job, I sat down to yet another feedback discussion with my new boss. “You shouldn’t be the shy girl next door,” he said kindly and somewhat to my surprise, “you should be able to show the juniors who’s boss.” Did that mean morphing into Meryl Streeps’s character from The Devil Wears Prada? Actually, she wasn’t too extroverted herself, if my memory serves me correctly.
Sound familiar? And on it went throughout the years – these regular references to my being reserved or quiet, and with them, the read-between-the-lines question about whether I cared about the job at hand as much as the other boisterous employees.
While being open to constructive criticism and growing professionally, I have always taken those comments about my character with a grain of salt. And so should you.
Not everyone has to be an extrovert
Introverts are getting increasingly more press these days. And that’s exciting! While still often being treated as an exotic species that needs a special approach, it seems that going “intro” is becoming more mainstream. Journalists, scientists, researchers, writers and bloggers are showing a heightened interest in the way introverts interact in society and the workplace. They may be quiet, but they are there, and there might be more of them than you think.
“Join the Quiet Revolution” is the inviting slogan on Susan Cain’s website. Cain authored the bestselling nonfiction book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” – definitely a leading publication on the subject. She has been quoted as saying that introverts should not be confused with shy people and that they are just “differently social.” This makes them all the more intriguing.
Be yourself without being invisible
Being an introvert is by no means something that you have to bully yourself into changing. Instead of trying to uproot the core of your personality, build on it. Adjustments are fine, but trying to be something you ultimately aren’t won’t lead you anywhere good in the long run.
“Your average American workplace is not always kind to introverts,” writes Stephanie Petersen for the Daily Muse. The same can be said for many workplaces around the world. Still, the importance of companies being receptive to different types of personalities and backgrounds is recognized more and more. Last year 42% of U.S. employees stated it was important for the workplace to be diverse and inclusive.
So introverts should take heart. Petersen recommends the simple measure of taking the time to single out your strengths and figure out how to draw attention to them. She adds, “Perhaps more importantly, don’t let extroverted ideals cloud your vision.” People should know of your skills, after all, even if you prefer to keep them mostly to yourself. But while doing it on your own terms, you do want to be recognized and appreciated, right? Being able to work on your own for hours at a time on research or writing, for example, may lead to a productive, polished result that will impress your bosses. It’s also a good way to stress that you are able to work independently – something that will be appreciated when your superiors are pressed for time.
Listen to yourself
Another good tip from Petersen is zoning in on your personal reactions to conversations or projects. Often these are things that you keep to yourself, like a witty quote that pops in to your head and that you know is exactly the right response at the moment. Or remembering that your supervisor talked about an exciting school trip for her children and asking how things went. Keep working on those listening and memory skills, and use them to communicate. Successful communication at work isn’t about talking all the time with everyone – it’s about communicating things naturally with a balanced amount of personal touch.
No need to shout – just be clear
If you do get regular comments at work about speaking louder, there’s also a way to get around that without using a megaphone. Rather than talking louder (who wants to strain themselves, after all), make sure to be articulate and speak clearly. It will quickly become a habit.
I speak from experience. The most important lesson I’ve learned so far is really to be accepting of your own character, but don’t use it as an excuse not to do something you truly want to. To be successful, a workplace needs to be rounded off by different skills, and there’s definitely more than enough room for introverts. Striking the balance between expanding on what makes introverts special and not holding back is key.
Stephanie Kopf is a blogger, she writes about whatever catches her fancy. She’s lived in the U.S., Russia and Europe. Check out her scribbles on Trenditionist.