Working with introverts can be frustrating for people who are naturally outgoing. For them, being around people is energizing. For introverts, it’s draining – especially in the workplace.
It’s also challenging for us introverts to encounter so many different personalities at work, many of whom are extroverted. I often find myself thinking, “How do these people think so fast?” or, “How did they know exactly what to say on the spot?”
I am a true introvert. I prefer listening to talking. I become overwhelmed by large crowds. I have few friends, but they are close ones. I don’t mind being alone, even at movies or restaurants. I’m happiest curled up at home on a couch with a book, a cat (or three), possibly with my boyfriend.
I’ve learned to adapt because I’ve had to. What many people with a more social personality don’t realize, though, is that it’s in their best interest to adapt as well.
Your introvert colleagues were hired for a reason: they’ve got expertise and ideas to contribute. The catch is that they express their contributions differently than, say, your typical MBA.Click to tweet
While I can’t speak for all the world’s introverts, I can share some small changes that have helped me contribute more fully at work. (They might even help other introverts, too. I’d ask around, but… y’know. That whole talking thing.)
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“People who prefer quieter, more minimally stimulating environments.” That is how Susan Cain, author of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, defines introverts.
I am unable to think or speak clearly on the spot, especially in stimulating environments like the workplace. When pressured to do so, I become extremely anxious. Like many introverts, I need a little time to think things through before responding or sharing ideas.
Vague, agenda-less meeting invitations strike terror in my heart. And really, they should scare anyone. How’s a person supposed to know if the meeting will be valuable, or just 30 minutes of your time you’ll never get back? Introverts and extroverts alike are fully justified in asking for more information before they accept, or declining altogether. Both of which I find very uncomfortable.
If there’s background reading for the meeting, I greatly appreciate when it’s shared in advance so I have time to digest it. The Amazon method of providing a few minutes at the beginning of the meeting for some pre-discussion reading and note-taking is a good alternative. Without time to absorb the context, introverts tend to feel ambushed. Like, “Why am I here? What’s going on? Is it bad? Good? Eeep!”
In meeting invites, include a note saying what decisions will be made in the meeting and/or what will be discussed. And share any docs in advance. Everyone will walk in better prepared – especially the introverts.
I find it unsettling to have to interrupt the more talkative people at work, so I usually don’t. (This may be due as much to my destructively polite Southern upbringing as it is to my introversion.) Instead, I will send written feedback following the meeting, or perhaps schedule a follow-up meeting with a smaller group so my questions and input can be heard.
Not every introvert will do this. And it’s certainly less time-efficient. So I encourage reserving time during and at the end of the meeting for questions and thoughts from those who haven’t been heard yet. You don’t need to call on the quieter people – that puts them on the spot. Just hold space for them and trust they’ll speak up if they have something to add.
Socializing with introverts at work
Social events are taxing. My modus operandi tends to be “The Girl at the Party Who Spends Her Whole Time With the Pets” or “She Who Takes the Thanksgiving Feast and Runs Away With It to the Kitchen.” I don’t want to not participate. No way will I let my introverted personality outweigh my desire for turkey. But I need to decompress for a few minutes here and there.
At work, I love it when the focus of social events is something other than “just being social.” That feels scary and forced. My mind has nothing to focus on other than, “What amazingly witty piece of conversation am I supposed to change people’s lives with next?”
Instead, creating workplace social events around a class, movie, video game (yes please!), bowling… anything of that nature puts introverts at ease. That way, the conversation can flow naturally. If there needs to be any conversation at all, that is.
Plan an activity as the central focus of office social events. It’s probably best to give everyone something to do besides just drink, anyway.
Celebrating the introverts in your workplace
I’ll never forget a moment during our sorority’s rush planning (introvert in a sorority – that’s a whole different story). The consultant working with us said, “I always look to Season. If she’s on board, then I know we’re good to go.” To be regarded as thoughtful – as someone who wouldn’t gloss over concerns for the sake of just getting on with it – was really cool.
It’s easy to feel like you’re a lesser human being for not having the right words at the right time. Or for needing a few minutes to think. Or for feeling like the world is moving past you at a breakneck speed while you’re still trying to figure out how to plug two monitors into one laptop.
Instead, I encourage my fellow introverts to celebrate being able to slow down and think in a fast-paced world. Celebrate truly listening to people so they can be heard. Celebrate understanding the intricacies of problems, and coming up with a meticulously thought-out solution. Celebrate being over-prepared, thinking too much, being excited and anxious. Celebrate being who people look to for understanding, the way our sorority consultant looked to me.
Introverts can be frustrating beings. Perceived as slow, anti-social, asking too many questions, needing too much time to think. These tendencies are also what make introverts valuable, in society and at work. When you’re tackling a problem as a group, it helps to have different personalities and ways of thinking brought to bear on it because you’ll understand the problem more fully and end up with better solutions.
And I think most extroverts get that. They understand the value in our quieter, methodical personality. So let’s take time to work with each other in a way that makes us all more effective. Then (quietly, with not too many people, preferably with some pets) celebrate.