“I was 23 years old when I first discovered I was an introvert. I’d been working late every night, and one evening a co-worker came over to chat—and began discussing introverts and extroverts.
She had clocked something—I was staying late because of my introversion; after the office had emptied out, I was able to do my best work. I’d had no idea.
I’m not alone in this: a third to half of the population are thought to be introverts, yet society tends to favour extroverts. They are more likely to be chosen for leadership roles (even though there is no evidence they are better leaders), are better at self-promotion (leading to more recognition at work), and tend to have wider social circles (which leads to more opportunities and ideas). But this doesn’t mean introverts are inferior. We are often self-starters and independent thinkers who are great at listening, observing, and can concentrate on one task for hours at a time. We also tend to have big ideas and offer unique perspectives, which come from working alone.
Nonetheless, noisy, new-age, open-plan offices with constant interruptions and no quiet space can make being at work a nightmare for us. But you can thrive at work as an introvert—here’s what I’ve learned...
Improve Your Self-Promotion Skills
It’s tough, I get it, but reframe self-promotion as simply stating the facts, rather than bragging. Instead of opinion statements like, ‘I’m an innovative designer’, explain what you did and highlight the results with concrete numbers and facts. For example, ‘I was selected for X award, increased revenue by X amount, and here are a few examples of client feedback.’ That’s not boasting—it’s the truth. Remember: if you don’t promote yourself, no-one else will.
Make It Clear When You are In the Zone
Wearing noise-cancelling headphones blocks out the chatter in a loud office, but also signals to others that you are concentrating on something important, therefore limiting the likelihood of interruptions. You can also gently let people know when you are busy and don’t want to be interrupted. A simple ‘I’d love to hear more—could we discuss it at 3pm?’ conveys that you can be a team player and are more than happy to catch up—without sacrificing your productivity.
Try to Work from Home One Day a Week
If you work in a more flexible, progressive office, having just one day to work from home could really make a difference to your mental health. Imagine: a day without having to be ‘on’ all the time; without small talk, a crowded commute or constant interruptions. You’ll also get so much more done.
Improve Your Networking Skills
Yes, it’s time to get your game face on for the sake of your career (and the rest of your life, TBH). A few basic pointers: networking gets easier the more you do it; don’t expect every encounter to go perfectly; and, when in doubt, use your introvert superpower: listening. Ask genuine questions and really pay attention to the answers—this will also take the focus off you. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you find out and the connections you make—and you’ll know a lot more about the person you’ve met than the average extrovert would. Also, it’s easier if you arrive at events early, before the crowd feels impenetrable. And don’t leave after 15 minutes—it takes a while for most people to warm up so, if you can, stay for at least an hour.
Advocate for Creative Alone
Time A recent study by scientists from the University at Buffalo in the US has shown that solitude can promote creativity, and this is especially true for introverts, who might find they freeze up in group brainstorming sessions, or don’t want to publicly share their ideas. Introverts often excel at concentrating intensely for several hours at a time, so employers lose out on potentially amazing ideas by insisting on group work. In fact, research has consistently found that group brainstorming sessions yield fewer ideas than that of the same number of people who worked separately and then combined their ideas. Ahead of big meetings, ask if you can submit your ideas directly to the meeting leader and then go into the brainstorm.
Prepare and Rehearse Before Big Presentations
Here’s an inescapable fact of life: most of us will have to speak publicly or give a presentation at work at some point in our careers. It’s a great way to show off who we are, what we’ve been working on, and our strengths. But, ugh, the anxiety. The fear of being in the spotlight may never go away, but there are steps that you can take to ease your nerves. If you have ample time to prepare, find an opportunity to rehearse in front of someone else (or better yet, a few people). This will allow you to experience many of your insecurities before the big presentation, which can help enormously on the day (even though the rehearsal will probably also be painful). By giving your talk a few times in front of others (ask a trusted friend), your confidence will grow. If you don’t have someone whom you feel comfortable sharing your presentation with, it may be worth investing in a session with a speech coach.
Figure out what makes you thrive. If you find that meeting new people, making cold calls and interacting with lots of faces all day stresses you out, then it’s probably best that you don’t pursue a line of work that involves these tasks. While nearly every job will require some compromises, finding one that doesn’t drain you or cause you to be in a frequent state of anxiety will transform your life. That might mean becoming a freelancer, changing vocations, or merely switching to a smaller company, but whatever you decide, figure out what the ideal work environment and culture is for you. And also know that you can change the way things are.
If you love your job, but find yourself frustrated by all the group work sessions or chatter, talk to your boss about allowing more time to work alone. If you speak up, you might be able to change the office for the better—for yourself and your fellow introverts.”n Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want To Come: An Introvert’s Year Of Living Dangerously by Jessica Pan is available on amazon.in for `590
ARE YOU AN INTROVERT?
If you answer Yes to the majority of these questions, it’s likely you lean more towards introversion than extroversion...
Do you prefer one-on-one conversations to talking in group settings?
After a few hours of socialising, do you feel drained and crave time alone to recharge?
Do you prefer to listen first and talk later at work meetings?
Are you a good listener and expect the same from others?
Do you prefer a few close friendships as opposed to many casual ones?
Do you feel energised after spending time alone?
Do you express yourself better in writing than speaking off the cuff?