It’s no secret that when it comes to work environments, extroversion typically gets rewarded positively. Yet, author Susan Cain’s recent book QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking points out that introverts make up one-third to one-half of the U.S. population.
Does this sound familiar? At the end of a long day meetings can leave you feeling drained and lacking mental energy. When you pick up the phone to make a call, you hope for voicemail on the other end. Water cooler small talk feels forced and unnatural. And rather than join your coworkers at happy hour, you’d rather have alone time at home on the couch with your dog. If all of these scenarios sound like you, you may be an introvert.
And contrary to what people think, introversion doesn’t mean you’re antisocial, lazy or shy. In fact, some of the best leaders are introverts. Personality traits of introverts can be strengths both professionally and personally. In work environments that reward extroverts, it can be hard to find your voice. But it’s not impossible. Here’s how you can flourish at work as an introvert and some ways to unwind after those long days.
Are you an extrovert, introvert or ambivert?
Cain defines introverts as “men of contemplation,” who may enjoy the company of others, but are also comfortable with solitude. She says they are sensitive, contemplative, modest and calm, and spend a lot of time thinking and reflecting. They can enjoy social occasions, but crave restorative time afterwards. Introverts also do their best work alone in quiet places since they are easily overstimulated by noise, lights and action.
On the other hand, Cain defines extroverts as “men of action.” She notes they gain energy from other people, are sociable, excitable and light-hearted. Extroverts work well collaboratively and can tolerate a high level of stimulation and noise. When it comes to personality types, there is no black and white. So, if neither of these are an exact fit, you might be an ambivert, which is someone who sits somewhere in the middle of the wide spectrum defining introversion and extroversion.
Introverts in the workplace
It goes without saying, then, that extroverts crave activities and people. Introverts do their best work when they have time to reflect and recharge. Introverts also tend to be calm, good listeners, ask thoughtful questions and think before they speak. Unfortunately, a lot of workplaces fail to recognize and reward the characteristics of introverts. Managers look for team players when hiring. And often the most gregarious and charismatic employees who get promoted to leadership positions. Consider this: although introverts make up half of the population, only two percent of all leadership roles are held by introverts.
And work environments in general tend to favor more extroverted employees who enjoy social interaction and don’t need a ton of down time or quiet time. Jobs like game development, programming, design and writing thrive with introverted personality types. But when you need to be available to answer the phone, respond to email and attend meetings it can be extremely disruptive. Research shows that when you’re interrupted or distracted it can take an average of 25 minutes to return to what you were working on. Which means an open office or group setting is a nightmare for an introvert who prefers a little bit of privacy.
Get to know your co-workers and set rules for your interactions
Developing relationships with your colleagues and co-workers is important because you’ll have allies who will support your ideas and are willing to go to bat for you. Once you’re on friendly terms, let them know you prefer email rather than phone conversations. If you have the luxury, work in a conference room or a coffee shop where it’s not as easy to be interrupted. And schedule regular meetings to avoid spontaneous ones that can disrupt your flow.
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Recognize your need for rest and schedule alone time in your calendar
If you have to give a big presentation or collaborate for several days at a conference, give yourself permission to restore your energy levels. And if you must bond with peers outside of the office, make sure you focus on quality time vs. how much time you’re spending. At the same time, your calendar should have blocked off times for you to have uninterrupted focus for certain projects, or to simply take a much-needed break.
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Get outside of your comfort zone
Gasp, yes, you do need to get outside of your comfort zone from time to time, especially in the workplace. If you tend to avoid being the center of attention and shy away from public speaking, you may be doing a disservice to yourself and your career path. Resisting uncomfortable situations is the opposite of what you should be doing. Chances are if you want to progress in your career, you’ll be faced with doing these types of things that require speaking and being articulate as well as self-promotion.
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