How an Introvert can be Heard at Work

iStock_000017439589XSmallBy Hadley Catalano (Boston)

For women who identify as introverts, the workplace can seem like they are living on the outskirts of the enthusiastic, chatty, sociable town, where charisma, assertion, and out-going personalities win popularity and approval.

How can introverted women – the analytical thinkers and quiet influencers – make sure their voice is heard within the office bubble of loud group brainstorming meetings, self-promoting mentality, and social networking gatherings?

Introverted Dynamics at Work

The first step in learning how to use introverted characteristics to your advantage at work is to understand exactly what introversion is, versus the common perceptions of introverts.

According to Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D., psychotherapist and author of The Introvert Advantage (How to Thrive in an Extrovert World), temperament has a genetic basis. She describes in her book that psychologist Carl Jung (who helped popularize the terms extravert and introvert in the 1920s based on his human personality theories), “believed that diversity along the introversion and extroversion continuum had evolutionary advantages because there was balance among types of personalities.”

Introverts are, and would typically self-identify, as: quiet; reflective; content and gather strength in aloneness; richly imaginative; have a select number of close friendships/relationships; feel tired and drained after social activity (despite enjoyment) need alone time to recharge; are good listeners, think before speaking or acting; and are outwardly calm and contained.

The trouble that some introverts face at work is figuring out how to successfully incorporate their natural characteristics and personality strengths in work environments that seem to favor the more vocal extroverted individuals. This is what Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, refers to as the “extrovert ideal.”

Introverted women who are quiet are often perceived as meek, timid, and even shy. Women who do not self-promote can get lost among the crowd, and still others who are not social in large group settings are perceived as awkward or aloof.

This does not mean, however, that introverts lack confidence, in fact since introverts are extremely comfortable with deep analytical thought, many are extremely confident in their found information and analysis. Introverts might be great at giving a dynamic presentation to a big audience, but are uncomfortable at group chitchat or “thinking-out-loud” at a brainstorming meeting.

It is generally a case of misunderstanding and misjudgment, regarding introverted traits as negative against what Cain writes is the cultural phenomenon of extroversion aggrandizing.

“We revere people who are bold, entertaining, alpha and gregarious, and appreciate far less the different constellations of traits – the serious, reflective, cerebral characteristics associated with introversion,” Cain told Psychologies Magazine.

How to Capitalize on the Introvert Advantage

Many introverted women have been convincingly successful at faking extrovert behavior for the sake of their position or to mold into workplace structure, but it is physically draining and emotionally unrewarding. Instead, women should try to capitalize on their true persona, as conforming to the extrovert ideal is an act Cain believes is a “colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness.”

Embrace your intelligence, independence, and your one-on-one interactions to help establish awareness for what is also successful, professional, and normal behavior.

If you tend to fall closer to the introverted spectrum, here are some tips to help you learn how to harness your strengths and balance introversion at work:

Take Breaks – Short rests, time-outs, or “restorative niches” should be built into the workday in order to recharge quietly.

One-one-One – Conversations with co-workers or at networking events should be intimate interactions, allowing the quality and genuineness of your conversation to be understood and appreciated. Connect with co-workers individually following a meeting to discuss your ideas and thoughts.

Prep Time – Come early to meetings, prepare with a list of questions beforehand, or ask for an agenda of the meeting. Include yourself by helping set up the meeting room, or stay after to help clean up. Remember to save some down time to store energy before a big event.

Follow-Up – If you don’t brainstorm publically, write a memo to co-workers/boss after your meeting with suggestions and comments, explaining that you need to think before you explain your thoughts. Remember to thank presenters.

Social Media – Start a blog, communicate with like-minded people, engage with others is a controlled setting, or share your ideas – on your own time.

Acceptance – Capitalize on the parts of your personality that make you a successful, intelligent, and an analytical person. Embrace parts of your self that are extroverted as well, and try to strengthen those qualities – but ultimately be true to yourself.

4 Responses

  1. Great article, thank you.
    As an introvert, I have often felt overwhelmed by expectations to attend corporate functions and ‘mingle’, and even working in an open-plan office is daunting. Over the years I have developed coping mechanisms, but they are not always career-positive and I still avoid networking events as I feel very uncomfortable.
    I find that one-on-one conversations are easy, and short breaks are essential to avoid complete shut-down.

  2. Joan MIesbauer

    I’m reading a book called ‘Quiet’ which is about introverts, how their characteristics are undervalued in our society and coping mechanisms if you are an introvert. Very interesting so far.

  3. Jaishree

    Thank you for the great article, I use many of the suggestions, and it really helps…now I have more of the ideas…
    If I have to be in a large crowd, I focus on small thing or 1 thing and it does not overwhelm….

  4. Siobhan

    Thanks for calling this out. I found this article very helpful and have been busy sharing it with fellow introverts.

    It’s frustrating when the louder person gets the kudos for your idea or contribution. My son bought home from school a quote from St James which I find helpful as acknowlegement in those moments ‘Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath’.