Finding a pathway to success in the workplace as an introvert can be challenging, especially in environments that tend to favor and reward those who are outgoing and outspoken. As an introvert, your quiet, reflective tendency can sometimes cause you to be overlooked and can be misinterpreted to mean that you are disengaged, shy, timid, or lacking in ideas or knowledge. The desire to work alone and the choice to go home to unwind on the couch after work instead of going out for happy hour can lead to you being viewed as “antisocial” or “not a team player”. Because of this, you may sometimes feel pressured to be more outgoing and outspoken in order to fit in, be heard, meet expectations, and get recognition. You may even be good at changing your behavior in this way, but the bottom line is that it doesn't come naturally and it can be stressful, exhausting, and if you're not managing the stress well, it can lead to burnout. Or you might find yourself avoiding certain tasks or opportunities because you don't think you're cut out for it or you won't live up to expectations, which can ultimately result in missed opportunities for advancement and growth. Fortunately, there are ways to overcome these challenges and find success and satisfaction at work as an introvert.
Here are 8 tips to help you succeed at work as an introvert:
1. Know your warning signs of stress, overwhelm, and depletion. Introverts tend to feel depleted after periods of prolonged social interaction and can feel overwhelmed when there are a lot of distractions and stimulus in their surroundings. This can lead to a build-up of stress that can show up in a number of ways including: muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, unclear thinking, difficulty putting thoughts into speech, fatigue, urges to hide or leave, being short or snippy with people, getting easily irritated, etc. What are your signs of stress? The earlier you notice the signs the sooner you can take steps to manage your stress. Keep reading for some suggestions on how to manage your stress better.
2. Have a plan for how best to manage a situation that is outside of your comfort zone before, during, and after it occurs.
Before: Take the time to prepare yourself before that meeting, presentation, conference call, or whatever it is that is outside your comfort zone: prepare notes with key ideas or talking points, anticipate potential stressors and have a plan for how to respond to them when they arise, find some alone time to collect your thoughts and prepare yourself, talk to one or two colleagues to warm yourself up to talking in a group, listen to some soothing or inspiring music, podcast, etc.
During: Take breaks when you can, breathe, take notes to reference later, follow your plan for responding to stressors.
After: Allow yourself a break afterwards, reward yourself, allow time for reflection and or debrief, follow up with any reflections or additional thoughts you have and share them in an email or in person with another colleague.
3. Set up an optimal work environment. If possible, find a private work space. Introverts tend to work best alone in environments that are quiet and free from distractions or interruptions. If you are fortunate enough to have a private office, don’t hesitate to shut the door when you need uninterrupted time. If you are in an open office setting (which seems to be more and more popular these days) see if you can find a place where you can be alone and uninterrupted, even if it is just for brief periods of time. If there is no such space in your workplace, make sure to take time for breaks and get some alone time to recharge, whether that means stepping outside for a minute or putting in ear buds. If possible, ask if you can work remotely from time to time. This will help increase your productivity and decrease build-up of stress.
4. Manage your energy: Know your limits, watch over-committing, and pace yourself. When possible take the time to plan your day or how you approach a project and come up with some reasonable limits for yourself beforehand and stick to them – how many meetings will you agree to, how long you will work before a break, how many phone calls will you make, how much time will you spend on email, etc. Try not to schedule too many back-to-back meetings and schedule in breaks to recharge, even if the break is only a few minutes just to get away, be alone and quiet, or get a change of scenery.
5. Check your beliefs about yourself and your abilities. It’s easy to compare yourself to your more extroverted co-workers and feel “less than”, especially when you see them advancing and getting recognition for their achievements more readily. In doing so, you start to develop negative beliefs about yourself and your abilities that are not necessarily true. In fact, you may be holding some beliefs about yourself that are getting in the way of your success and contributing to your stress:
“I’m not good at ________”
“I’m not leadership material”
“I’m not good enough, outgoing enough, smart enough…”
“I’m not cut out for this...”
“There’s something wrong with me”
Try to catch yourself when these beliefs come up and challenge them - is the belief really true? Is there another way you can look at it? Coach yourself through it. Practice shifting your thinking to find a more compassionate and supportive way to view yourself. For example, “I’m not leadership material" can shift to "I've got a lot of qualities that would make me a good leader" or "I'm learning to be a good leader." (P.S. The introvert qualities of attentive listening, keen observation, deep thinking, and a deliberate approach are great leadership qualities).
6. Know your strengths and lean into them. Perhaps you recognize that you are really good at the behind the scenes work: organizing, coordinating, research, trouble-shooting, planning, etc. Or perhaps you are great at relationship building, communicating one-on-one, writing, finding creative solutions, detail-work, putting together proposals, or providing perspective on a project. Review your job description or responsibilities and notice where you excel and where you are limited, and then see if you can adjust your role to be a better fit for your skill set. Ask if you can re-delegate tasks that are not in line with your strengths and offer to do more of the things you are good at in exchange.
7. Share your knowledge. Introverts are often overlooked and also undervalued because of a failure to readily share ideas and knowledge. Even if you don’t find the opportunity to share knowledge in a meeting or brainstorming session, find other ways to share your insights with colleagues so they can see your value. Schedule a meeting with the appropriate person to create a space where you can focus on what you have to say rather than competing for space in a larger meeting. Send a follow up email sharing your ideas after a meeting once you’ve had time to consolidate your thoughts. Talk to your colleagues one-on-one to bounce ideas off them or share what you know.
8. Track your accomplishments so you can better advocate for yourself. Introverts often don’t like being in the spotlight and can easily dismiss their accomplishments or allow others to take credit for their ideas in order to avoid the attention. This may feel ok in the moment, but when it comes time for your performance review or you are pursuing a new position or promotion, it can really backfire. Humility is a strength but those who can advocate for themselves are the ones who are more likely to advance. Write down your accomplishments or find some way of tracking them so that you can be prepared to present them when it counts.
You may find that you are already doing some of the things mentioned here, some may not be applicable to your situation, and there may be a few things that you’re planning to try. Whatever the case may be, hopefully you can feel inspired and motivated to continue to pay attention to your needs, strengths, and limits and come up with new strategies to overcome the various challenges you encounter in the workplace and create your own pathway to success.
Sometimes it can be hard to make a change on your own and it can be helpful to have some support, guidance, and accountability to help you along. If you are interested in receiving more support, feel free to contact me and we can set up an appointment. I’m happy to help.
Call Melanie Lopes, MFT at 415-295-2940 or send me an email.