At work, long meetings can leave me feeling drained of mental energy. I can’t stand making phone calls and watercooler talk often feels forced. At the end of a long day, I’m more likely to hang out on the couch in PJs with my dog than go to happy hour.
Sound familiar? If so, you’re probably an introvert, too.
We’re not shy, antisocial or lazy. Quite the contrary; introverts make some of the best leaders. But in work environments that reward extroverted behavior, finding our voice can be a challenge. Fortunately, it’s one we can overcome.
Introverts in the workplace
When it comes to personality types, there’s no black and white. We all exhibit a wide range of traits and behaviors depending on the environment, our mood and other factors. But most of us tend to lean toward either introversion or extroversion, which are defined by how we gain energy and where we direct our attention.
While activities and people energize extroverts, introverts need time to themselves to reflect and recharge. They tend to be calm, good listeners and prefer to think before they speak.
Unfortunately, many workplaces fail to recognize and reward those characteristics. Rather, it’s often the most gregarious and charismatic employees who are promoted to leadership positions. In fact, though introverts make up about half the general population, they only account for two percent of senior executives.
But don’t worry: Just because you’re an introvert doesn’t mean you’re doomed to be overlooked or undervalued at work. Rather than trying to fix what some people might consider your weaknesses, work on leveraging your strengths. We spoke with Monster’s resident career expert Vicki Salemi about how to do that.
1. Choose the right role
When it comes down to it, there’s no specific industry or job that’s best for introverts. Some might enjoy an analytical industry like accounting, while others might excel in a creative field like writing. It’s more important to make sure your specific role at work takes advantage of your top skills.
“Let’s say you’re in sales, and you don’t like cold calling, but you’re awesome at relationship building,” Salemi explained. “You love to build independent relationships ― and that’s still technically sales.”
Salemi said it’s important to identify your own strengths and weaknesses, then compare them with your job description and responsibilities and make sure they align. If not, it might be time to talk to your manager about adjusting your role to be a better fit.
2. Play to your strengths in meetings
A lot of introverts are more comfortable with communicating in writing than verbally. Composing an email allows you time to think through what you want to say and deliver all of your points in detail. But if you’re in a conference room full of extroverts who are all “thinking out loud,” getting your ideas across can be a challenge.
“You may feel like you’re at a disadvantage, but you’re not,” said Salemi. “You can play up your strengths, and one of them is listening.”
Salemi said that there are plenty of people who simply like to hear themselves speak, but they’re not necessary contributing anything of value to the conversation. But as an introvert, you’re likely listening, taking notes and problem-solving in your head. By taking in all the information presented in the meeting and then working independently, you can come back to stakeholders later with a fully thought out solution.
It’s also helpful to prepare for meetings ahead of time by outlining your ideas and key talking points. You’ll have your thoughts laid out in front of you, making it easier to chime in ahead of the more boisterous attendees.
3. Schedule alone time into your calendar
Even if you have your own dedicated workspace, eliminating distractions at work can be a struggle, especially with the growing popularity of open offices. With people popping by your desk to chat, pinging you with questions on Slack and scheduling ad hoc meetings, it can be tough to get any actual work done ― or recharge with some alone time.
Make sure you have time to work on important tasks with complete focus, or simply take a much-needed break, by blocking out time on your calendar and retreating to a quiet area. “If you’re doing work and need quiet time, book a conference room,” said Salemi. “Or go for a walk to clear your head.” Scheduling that alone time on your calendar will let co-workers know you’re busy and shouldn’t be disturbed.
4. Make an effort to get to know your co-workers
Developing strong relationships with your co-workers is important. You’ll have allies who are willing to hear you out, go to bat for your ideas and support you in meetings.
Unfortunately, introverts tend to get a bad rap as being unfriendly since they aren’t fans of small talk and prefer to work independently. If you’re an introvert, you’re probably shaking your head in disagreement ― you like spending time with other people, just on your own terms. And that doesn’t mean you’re unfriendly.
So while an extrovert might shine at the office happy hour or picnic, an introvert is better suited for making individual connections. “Take key stakeholders out to lunch or for coffee,” Salemi recommended. “You can build individual relationships one-on-one rather than in a group setting.”
5. Go outside your comfort zone
Introverts tend to avoid being the center of attention, so it’s likely your instinct is to shy away from public speaking and similar uncomfortable situations. But that’s only doing you a disservice.
“Whatever you’re resisting the most is what you should actually be doing,” said Salemi. “If you want to progress in your career, you’re going to need to give presentations, you’re going to have to speak to your boss and explain why one of your employees deserves a promotion... You have to speak and be articulate.”
If that sounds terrifying, know that you can ease into it by practicing first. Salemi suggested taking an improv class, attending Toastmasters meetings or joining your local chapter of the National Speakers Association. “Start getting comfortable speaking in front of other people,” she said. “It’s OK if you’re not good because you can get better. The idea is to work through the nerves.”
You might never feel 100 percent comfortable giving a major presentation to co-workers or speaking on a panel at a conference, but practicing will make the process a lot easier, and you’ll stand out as an engaged employee.
6. Keep a brag sheet
You probably know of one or two people in the office who have no problem bragging about themselves. And they’re probably the first ones to be offered new opportunities and additional responsibilities.
One of the unfortunate consequences of being the quiet one in the office is that your accomplishments might not be recognized as often as they should. Even though self-promotion can feel awkward, it’s necessary in a competitive work environment if you want to stand out.
“You need to be heard in the workplace and be your own advocate,” said Salemi. “You can’t assume that your boss knows everything you’re doing, especially as the workforce becomes more and more remote.”
Salemi said you can stick to the facts and share instances when you might have impacted revenue or caught an error that saved the company money. Keep a running list of these accomplishments and bring them up in meetings with your manager, and don’t forget to update your resume with your biggest accomplishments as well.
“At the end of the day, when your boss is looking at the numbers, they’ll want to see who is adding value,” she said. “If you’re quietly sitting at your desk doing a good job, there’s a chance no one knows it.”