How can an introvert thrive at work?

October 4 2013 | offbeatbride
By: UrbaneWomenMagCC BY 2.0
I love the Offbeat Empire SO MUCH that I have overcome my fear of putting myself out in the world to ask you guys this question. I have been at a great job for six months and have just had my second employee review. What came up is that my boss thinks I need to be more confident and assertive and forge better relationships with my colleagues. He also said that he has had feedback from people who, before they had much to do with me, had thought I was rude because I was uncommunicative — although he has stressed that people like me now and realize that I am just shy.

My work seems to be mostly full of extroverted, hard-working, high-energy people (that definitely describes my boss). I am finding myself getting more introverted as I get older (pretty sure I was never this bad in school) and I have trouble initiating conversations with people, especially over the phone. I am perfectly able to become excited over things that I am passionate about, which includes my job most of the time, but I can be prone to being quiet and too much conversation wears me out. I don't think well in meetings of more than three people, so I don't often speak up when there is a general staff meeting.

I'd like to be able to communicate better with my colleagues without unduly stressing about all the social interaction. Do any homies have advice for dealing with being the introvert in the workplace?Lee

  1. I got this exact review at my first job out of grad school. I made an effort to do small friendly things, like smiling at people when they passed my cubicle, saying good morning, etc. I stopped finding excuses for skipping monthly department lunches. I didn't always enjoy these things, but it did make my coworkers feel more comfortable with me and me with them, which made most of these activities more enjoyable in the long run.

    I'm also a person who has trouble making small talk. I loved this short book How Did You End Up Here? for ideas about what to ask people. People love talking about themselves. The key to being a charming conversationalist is just getting the other person talking.

  2. I'm not sure what you've done so far, but there are a few easy things I've done to help me when I'm in situations like this. I generally spend time in areas where people congregate and say "hello." In the kitchen when I'm getting coffee, I ask other people how their weekend was or what fun things they're doing. I bring my lunch and sit in the kitchen. Even if no one's there and I'm reading a book/magazine, it tends to open a door to have conversations. When I'm passing someone in the hallway, I give them a compliment about what they're wearing. I've generally found that if I smile and make an effort to be friendly, I seem more quiet and reserved instead of rude and uncommunicative.

    Also, if you feel comfortable, you may want to consider starting something like a free book/magazine corner (where people bring in books they no longer want) or start a book club (or something else that conforms to your interests that you think others may find interesting to).

    • As an introvert who (somehow) overdid the lunch in the kitchen bit, make sure that in your effort to be a bit more extroverted you don't push others' boundaries for interaction and polite conversation.
      *sigh* I'm still not exactly sure what went wrong but something subtle did.

  3. I'm pretty introverted too, and I hate big meetings and events. Still, sometimes you have to do it, and extroverts often don't understand the effort, which is frustrating. But you can do it.

    What's helped me is to always smile and wave or say hello, even if I'm just passing someone. It shows friendliness without requiring real conversation. If conversations happen, always remember you can plead out. You're at work. There's work to do. ^__^

    As for meetings, I always bring pen and paper, to write my thoughts instead of trying to think, follow, and uncomfortably throw myself into discussion all at once. Write, and then you can offer ideas as you grow more confident (if self-doubt is also an issue). Also, I try to imagine that I'm only talking to one person at a time, even if I'm talking to a group and sharing eye contact.

    For the phone, have a script or an outline, at least for the start, and don't be afraid to go pretty straight to the point: "Hi! This is ___. Do you have ___?" Phone calls are probably my biggest stressor, and having an outline helps a lot.

    Lastly, if your interests and fun parts of the job help/energize you, try to maximize them in social situations as much as possible. Talking about work projects and exciting developments is easier than typical small-talk, at least for me. And whenever you're on break, as much as possible TAKE A BREAK. Recharge those introvert batteries however you can! I will read in the break room, take an extra minute or two in the bathroom, use the stairs instead of an elevator–whatever gives me a few more seconds of "me" time.

    Best of luck!!

    • I second writing your thoughts down during meetings.

      I also hate speaking up in front of large groups. It has nothing to do with how much I know about something, but it sometimes is perceived as not paying attention or not understand what is going on. So when I see someone in the hall after a meeting, I ask them questions then. It also gives me time to double check the relevant information I need to make a thoughtful comment. People seen appreciative that not only was I paying attention to their presentation, but I was thinking about it afterwards too.
      On the other hand, if it is something time sensitive, you have to speak up in the moment. I am not great at this, but I normally use the "I understand _________, but I need to know _________." or "I understand ___________, but I think a better way could be ___________."

    • I am not too nervous about speaking in front of large groups. But in a big staff meeting or large group conversations, I sometimes feel so overwhelmed by all of the things going on around me that I almost never get to the point of having something constructive to contribute.

      It seems to take me longer to process ideas in environments like that because there is just so much to process, so I'm almost never the one to have suggestions or questions. I love the idea of writing out my thoughts in a way that might lead me to say something (as opposed to just taking notes on important information). I am absolutely going to keep it in mind.

  4. I have this problem, plus I have a bad case of "resting bitchy face." I apparently look sad or pissed off all the time… which is annoying. I have to go out of my way to smile CONSTANTLY at people. It really does help, though.

    • Oh yes I too have been practicing The Smile to overcome RBF. It is surprisingly easy once you get over the "I feel dumb smiling all the time" feeling.

      At first I looked like this:
      >:]

      Then I practiced in the mirror till I found a relaxed smile I liked:
      : )

      If you're getting a smile cramp, try a stretch:
      :O

      Then resume:
      : )

      I find that making an effort to smile at people when they approach you (or vice versa) helps quite a bit, and it means you don't have to be "on" all the time. Like, no need to smile at your computer all day, you know?

    • I have, according to some, the word case of chronic bitchface known to humanity. Worse than Grumpycat.

      I have literally been pulled aside by my supervisor at work (a new guy) and asked "Why do you walk around here looking like you hate the world?"

      … This is just my face. I- wait, what the fuck kind of question is that? (This supervisor and I do not get along and it is very likely I will be filing a grievance through my union against him soon if he doesn't back off of me.)

      I'm very lucky that my work doesn't require me to work with the public, and the people that I CURRENTLY work around I get along with VERY well, but wow do I not like extroverts who ask introverts these kinds of questions.

      Maybe I look like this because I don't like you (true). Maybe I look like this because I have chronic pain (true). Maybe I look like this because I have a face and am not a Stepford Wife oh my gosh????

      I'm going to quietly add here that I don't wear makeup and that I partially believe he thinks I look angry because of the "you look sick" thing experienced by women who wear makeup, and then don't.

      • My husband tells me that when I'm just amiably staring into space letting my mind wander that I look like I'm trying to set someone on fire with my mind powers. Others have told me the same thing, although not so descriptively (they tell me I look "angry" or "in pain"). I'm glad I'm not the only one who struggles with this.

        I also don't wear makeup, but it never occurred to me to wonder if that had anything to do with it…

        • re: makeup, I think there's a group of people who think that *not* wearing makeup is in some way rude/disrespectful. Like if you showed up on Monday wearing silk pajamas – they might be cute and clean and very expensive, but it is just. not. done. My personal experience is that the pressure for well-applied makeup increases as one moves east across the country…

  5. I am a big introvert too, and I struggle in the work environment. I've come a long way (I used to panic when my desk phone rang, and my face would flush, and I didn't want to answer), but I still have a long way to go. I hate small talk, and I suck at "networking" which is really important nowadays for a career. Walking to & from a conference room having to make small talk with my boss is painful & awkward. I feel like I must come off weird at times. It's very difficult for me to be confident in meetings also. I can fake it to an extent, but usually only one-on-one. Complimenting something about them (shoes, hair, whatever) is usually a good way to come off friendly but not need to have a full conversation (like if you had asked them about their weekend, etc). I still have no idea how to "network". It feels so fake, forced, insincere.

    • When it comes to talking with the boss while walking from point A to point B, I found that having a question to bring up for discussion that may not be pertinent to a larger group allows a chance to talk about something that genuinely interests you. Even though I'm an introvert, I actually do have a fair amount of clout in my team and actually train people. I use training topics for my single questions, but I imagine there are lots of possibilities for such questions.

  6. Ideas from a fellow introvert:

    1. It sounds like your batteries are drained. Find a way to better restore yourself in your home environment. This way, you have more energy to meet your coworkers in the middle.

    2. Speaking of middle ground, it's not the middle ground if they don't meet you there. Talk to HR about doing the Myers-Briggs Inventory, and the difference between Introvert and Extrovert.
    2a. Ask for the meeting agenda to be sent out prior to the meeting so you can prepare yourself if there is anything you want/have to talk about. Also, ask for the minutes to be sent out so you can review them to make sure you didn't miss anything important.
    2b Go to people. Start with someone you already know, cuz that's easier. Go to their office/cubicle/desk to ask their opinion/advice on a work thing, and then while you're there ask about a cool thing they have on their desk. Slowly branch out to doing this with coworkers you don't know as well.

    • I was totally thinking about the meeting agenda and minutes and such. This is actually a common practice and a serious positive to keep meeting productive. (I've been to workshops on holding good meetings). If you can read up ahead of time, this can help a whole lot because you can go in with any points you need to have. It also makes the meeting more productive because other people can do the same thing! Pitch it that way, and then you are cooperating and not just being a pain in the ass.

      • I always offer to TAKE the minutes. I'm very good at it, and it's a much easier way for me to interact. If I'm taking minutes, I'm perceived as very actively involved . . . but not expected to talk.

  7. I'm an introvert myself, and just lately I've been feeling VERY put off after I found people immediately judge me for it and they also see it as an undesirable quality… In your case, it's a pretty wonderful thing that you really like your job, that would help keep you motivated.

    What I've learnt over the years is you need to know the extent and triggers for your shyness. I find it hard to make friends at work because I get super serious and focused on the job – I pay even less attention to people and it gets worse for me. The company I work has started a voluntary "committee" of sorts to organize off-work activities and such, I didn't take it but I thought it could have been a great opportunity to become more acquainted with people. I don't know if that would be adequate where you work, if it could I think it might help you as well

    Being happy and relaxed is sure what has worked for me in the past to be less shy, and don't beat yourself up about it or try to get on full extrovert-gear too soon if you're not feeling it.

    Conversely, just openly admitting to being shy (which takes a bit courage) gets most people to respect and accept that and stop fussing about everything you're not saying.

    Sorry for the long post! I hope any of these might help

  8. Fellow Introverts you need this book!: The Introvert's Guide to Professional Success: How to Let Your Quiet Competence Be Your Career Advantage

    I picked up this book as part of my professional development goal in my review and I LOVE it. She helps you create a clear plan. I find myself becoming more introverted as I grow older because I am discovering who I am is an introvert and not the extrovert I tried to make myself. The biggest thing is to put things into practice, one of the examples from the book was to make it a goal to have lunch with a coworker at least once a week. The idea was that it allowed you to stay in your comfort zone 80% of the time, but push you out of your comfort zone 20% of the time. The more you get out of your comfort zone, the more comfortable you get being there.

  9. Hi!
    Coming to terms with your introverted self will help you come a long way.
    My husband is a BIG introvert. He hates being called shy.. because he's not. He just doesnt need to cacauphony of voices surrounding him that us extroverts do. He has always been an introvert, and he was miserable until he started reading books on it, and realizing he wasnt "weird', shy or distant"

    Introversion and Shyness are TWO DIFFERENT THINGS!

    My husband asked me to read this one time. I thought it was a great read.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/29/introvert-myths_n_3569058.html

    I have found that his ability to channel his introvertedness into his work is way better when he gets to work iwht a team long term. (I never saw him happy at a job before because he was a contractor and he never really got to know his co-workers) He's been at his current company for almost 6 yeras now and knows his team like the back of his hand. He's relaxed with them, easier to talk to, not overwhelmed with their chatter.

    Sometimes it takes time to settle into your spot, he's gotten to know his managers and discussed with them a little bit about what it takes for HIM to do better in a work place and they have done things to accomodate them. They have smaller one on one meetings, They have meetings where only the person who has the "token" is allowed to speak (this helps him as he has a very deep low resonating voice that most people talk over becasue they dont hear him)

    There are a few management books that really helped him. He works hard EVERY day to make eye contact, smile, and respond to conversations.

    We listened to the Audio Version of "How to win friends and influence people" GREAT book. I feel like it gave him some really good insight, despite its age.

    Also, Crucial Conversations (when the stakes are high, i think was the version) was important to him as well.

    Give it time, and get to know your peers. Listen to them, smile, and read a few good books on introversion. Its only been six months. You can do it! I hope some of this helped. If i have any other good links from my husband ill post them up.

    This little cartoon was a great visual. Print it out and put it up on your cube wall… who knows.. maybe someone will read it. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    http://nedhardy.com/2012/05/30/a-guide-to-understanding-the-introverted/

    • I really liked Susan Cain's Quiet. It made me feel a lot more confident about being introverted, and she makes a lot of excellent points about introverts and workplace creativity/productivity.

  10. Are we the same person? Like seriously? O_O

    I had the same issues at my job and my first evaluation. I almost actually lost my job because my coworkers/boss didn't like me because I never engaged them in small talk (I HATE small talk). I like to sit at my desk and do my work. I'll answer some calls, emails, etc. but I just can't be that person to be like "HEY HOW'S YOUR WEEKEND" because I probably have Asperger's or something and I don't know how to make it look like I care.

    But when people talk to ME I definitely answer back and try to give actual responses –I try to say something funny now instead of just YEP I'M FINE because it turns out that people like funny. Even if you THINK they don't, they do. And generally smiling at people is a good tactic. But there are some people that want you to suffer, and will never smile back at you or engage you in small talk, and then tell your boss that you're the rude one. :\

    But it's so exhausting, the amount of emotion and effort I have to expend every day @_@

    • "But there are some people that want you to suffer, and will never smile back at you or engage you in small talk, and then tell your boss that you're the rude one. :\"

      To build on this, sometimes you just can't change what someone's going to think of you. I'm extroverted by nature and spent a fair bit of emotional energy trying to be friendly (not pushy!!) with a new woman about my age, in my team, at my workplace. 6 months later I hear that she's complained to management about not feeling welcomed by her team *FLAIL!!!*

      Although I'm extroverted, I value close friendships with a few people and being on good terms with most. With that in mind, maybe you can be strategic in fostering friendships with a couple of people at your workplace. Invite them to share lunch/coffee breaks with you. Be upfront about being introverted (and then let your actions speak louder than words that you're making an effort). I'm quite the relational over-thinker and strategist in the workplace. It's meant I've got a few close friends I trust and I'm on good terms with most.

  11. I find that bribing people with food helps boost their opinion of you. If you like to bake, for instance, you could find the occasional excuse to bring in a tray of cookies/cupcakes/whatever. Put it in a break room or common area and send out a company-wide email to let people know it's there, or take the food to a meeting if that would be appropriate. It's hard for people to think you're unfriendly if you bring them goodies.

    • I am personally not fond of this advice. It's not necessarily bad, but I think it comes with a caveat. Women should think for a while before they do this, especially in a male dominated industry. It may make you more popular, but it can also make you seem less professional (which may backfire on the confidence and assertion thing).

      Just look around your office and determine who's bringing unsolicited goodies. If it's the managers and bosses – great, go ahead and bring in a box of donuts, the culture there supports it. If the bosses don't bring in snacks then think twice.

      Now here's the large grains of salt to take my reply with. 1) My mother is the CEO and president of our company and 2) we've done quite a bit of work with the armed forces. My struggle isn't that I'm perceived as shy. My struggle is being taken seriously as a professional, consequently I swing very Type A at work.

    • My one coworker gives up seasonal post it notes. It probably costs her $3 since there are a very small number of use, and we are constantly using them to communicate with her for orders, etc. It's a nice little practical gift that shows us she's thinking about us, but isn't food or clutter. And I'm pretty sure there isn't anything gender-stereotypical about post it notes, but it doesn't help that we're all female so that isn't an issue.

    • Awesome point, LXV.

      If I still worked in an office, I would absolutely bring baked goods, but not as a bribe. I genuinely bake so much that it's unhealthy for my husband and me. My favorite part of working in an office was having a place to "get rid of" excess baked goods. It was actually a great way to meet people because people usually like to thank the baker, and it lets them get to know you a little. So I would say if baking is actually your hobby, go for it. But don't do it just to have something to use to make people like you. That'll probably backfire.

  12. I fall on the introverted side, even though most people would view me as an extrovert, so I admit that I fall close to the border and thus it is less of a struggle for me.

    The lunch thing is something I actually don't do. My workplace is pretty varied so it is not abnormal to not join in for lunch. I use that as time to unwind, personally, so I sit at my desk and eat. I do, occasionally, eat with others, or very rarely go to coffee times. Those can feel like too much energy and I don't always have it.

    I put in the effort in smaller groups though. I say hi to people, try to occasionally use the phone if I have a question, or just walk down to someone's office to ask instead of sending an email.

    I have found that letting people know your specialities can help. I was new in an office that is very friendly but also fairly stable. I demonstrated competency in some areas, though, and willingness to help. Suddenly they have realized they can ask me for help with things and I will do it.

    Also, if you overhear someone mention something you're interested in, try to take note of it. Even if you don't jump into the conversation, maybe approach them one-on-one or in an email and mention you are also interested. Or share a web article or something that you read on it. Open up a tiny bit to help them know that you are open to it.

  13. I think it would also help to know what kind of expectations there are for your job. For example, do you have to talk on the phone within the company on a regular basis? Or could you accomplish the same thing by going over to someone's desk? How often are there staff meetings where you are expected to share an opinion? Are there any other informal ways you can make yourself a "contributor?" Obviously, different jobs require different things, but I would suggest you try a "workaround" a lot of the concerns that you have, rather than just trying to change.

  14. As a fellow introvert with past reviews detailing about the same thing as you all are saying I have to say the biggest turn around was just being friendly when the occasion did arise. I realized I didn't really have to do all that much to seem friendly but quiet vs. distant/disengaged. Try to think of baby steps, the suggestion of just smiling and saying "hi" to people as you walk by is a great one! I'm just not the type of person who cares for superfluous conversations so i had to work on even recognizing situations were I could step up my game. Example:

    Old work-me: walk into mail room grab mail and leave

    New work-me: walk into mail room has hello to anyone in there and possibly ask how their weekend was/what they're going to do on the weekend.

    It's little but it certainly shifts people's perception of why you're quiet. I now find that people describe me as focused, instead of as rude and to myself. Even just talking about work stuff is better then nothing (you are at work after all!) My go to conversation starter when I have nothing else "hey did you get my e-mail about ____" They either did or didn't but either way it's almost always a conversation starter that leads to a short and sweet exchange.
    Just do a few small changes, they add up! People are honesltly just as busy as you are at work and don't really want a huge conversation with you all the time, they just want to feel that you are approachable if the need arises. Good Luck!

    • This is a really good point. Just smiling and saying "Good morning! How was your night?" to your coworkers, instead of quietly sliding into your desk and putting in your headphones, can make a really big difference.

      On the small talk front, if you can find an office buddy who watches the same show(s), sees the same movie(s), or reads the same book(s) as you, that's another awesome, easy conversation starter. Every Tuesday morning, two coworkers and I have a detailed discussion about the previous night's episode of How I Met Your Mother. It's fun, and a built-in topic! ๐Ÿ˜€

  15. I think small talk gets easier the more you do it with the same people. You aren't constantly searching for new topics, but instead having a long conversation in snippets. Also boundaries can be tricky at work. Even though you could easily be friends with and tell a coworker everything about your life, it's not always appropriate. I've gotten much better at asking open-ended questions about weekends or about children if they have them. That way people can reveal as much or as little as they like, and you come across as friendly and caring. For example, instead of asking something that seems judgmental or could make someone anxious like, "Can your kid write his name yet?" ask "What is your kid doing in school?"

    When all else fails, I ask about their pets. People who know me well enough also know that if I am getting social anxiety awkward or intorvertedly-exhausted to ask about my pets.

    • Big YES to pets! Pet people love talking about their pets, and will even listen to your own stories about your beloved pet. I find pets much easier to ask people about than kids, since kids can be so personal.

  16. This one never seems to get easier, even in my current role with a bunch of engineers as my colleagues – and they are a relatively introverted group! My favorite tricks are asking about the previous/upcoming holiday (seriously, any holiday… could be May Day, it really doesn't matter) with an open-ended "Any plans for…?" or "Did you enjoy the nice weather for…?" Complimenting people on their hair, sweater, purse, shoes, etc. also seems to work well.

    I read Susan Cain's book but I also enjoyed The Introvert Advantage: Making the Most of Your Inner Strengths

    I would agree that it's important to make an effort, especially if your level of interaction has come up in a work review, BUT I like the suggestions above about looking for workarounds or compromises that fit your style, not just changing 180 degrees (not sustainable anyway, from my personal experience).

    I used to work for a boss who was very gregarious and never ran out of excuses to order up cake and ice cream for the whole office. Which is fine until you're having cake and ice cream, like, every other week and attendance is EXPECTED. My current boss is more of an introvert himself, so it's a pretty good fit.

  17. Interesting question, which raises a few points for me.
    1) Your boss and co-workers seem to think that it is *your* responsibility to fit in with the environment that *they* have created. Surely your boss has some responsibility too? It's part of his job to make sure all of his employees are able to do their jobs. If people have complained that you are uncommunicative, maybe they need to look at their own behavior. Did they provide a welcoming environment for you? Did they reach out to you, or did they expect you to do all the work? If meetings are difficult for you, then sure there are things you can do, but there are things the people organizing the meetings could do too, like running them to an agenda, making them as small and focussed as possible, asking for follow-up opinions via email, etc. Which brings me to my next point…

    2) Some of the things you describe (like finding it hard to speak in large meetings) are not unique to introverts. In a large meeting, there will probably only be a few people who speak up regularly and confidently. The rest of the group are more likely to feel more like you do. Even if they speak up, they might still hate it and dread it. So if you can work with your boss to find a way to address this, you'll probably be doing a lot of people a favor. You said that too much conversation wears you out. I don't think you are alone in this. My job requires me to be social and active much of the day, and believe me, I go home absolutely wiped out. Although you see your colleagues as high-energy extroverts, they might also be having a hard time, you never know.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that instead of labeling yourself as the problem, I think you should look at your work environment, and work with your colleagues to find ways to make it more accommodating, not just for you, but for other people who probably don't love small talk either. Maybe whole-staff issues could be addressed by email conversations rather than by a big meeting? Or maybe by a vote rather than a discussion? Are those difficult phone conversations really necessary or could they be done face-to-face or by email? I definitely second the idea of bringing in food to share – it's friendly without requiring much interaction. In one place I worked, a new member of staff spruced up the ladies bathroom by bringing in air freshener, nice soap, and a new mirror – it really made everyone smile. In fact any communal items would help – if you're known as the person who always has painkillers/chocolate/hand sanitizer/magazines/a spare phone charger, and are willing to lend them out, it will be hard for people to see you as rude.

    • Yes to this. I love everyone's suggestions for helping introverts (like me) adapt to the workplace. But what about your boss's responsibility to get the best out of his/her employees? Being a good manager means adapting somewhat to each employees' style, role and needs. It'd be great if employees were robots who never needed motivating, leading or nurturing. But we're not. We're people with quirks and personalities.

      I wonder if it would help to talk to your boss about meeting in the middle? S/he isn't going to change your personality, and while there are steps you can take to meet performance expectations, it's also possible to do a good job while being yourself. Perhaps outlining some of the ways you excel at your work? Like being a good listener, getting to the point in meetings, or allowing others space to contribute.

    • Regrettably, how things *should* be rarely matters in the face of the way things *are.*

      One of the things we do at my job is try to change cultures to increase safety and profitability in other companies. We have objective measurements about time saved, money saved, and lives saved; data collection software out the wazoo; and champions everywhere we go. We have been invited in and paid to make these changes. And it is hard as f*ck and takes at least 18 months.

      For one person to attempt a culture change in their workplace, it is playing life on hard mode. At least for me, it's a lot easier to change my approach to a situation than it is to drag the situation to meet me halfway.

    • Sadly, IME, this just doesn't work. American culture is so tuned towards extroverts that it's nearly impossible to change anything, unless you're in a position of authority.

      And expecting a workplace to change to accommodate one (possibly more) people isn't realistic either.

  18. My husband, who has struggled for years with people labeling him as shy or indecisive when he is in fact simply introverted, also recommends the book Quiet by Susan Cain.

    I lean more extroverted myself, so I don't have any specific advice to give, but I do suggest picking up that book, because it made a HUGE difference to my husband. And he works as a pharmacy technician at a retail chain, which means his entire workday is about interaction and being social.

    Good luck, and don't forget, being introverted is okay! Not a hurdle you HAVE to get over.

  19. If your relationship with your boss is friendly enough I would actually ask him this question. Because it's two very different problems with very different solutions if, say, your coworkers think you're unapproachable, versus you aren't *perceived* to have any initiative in meetings.

    The other benefit is that your boss is the one "keeping score" with what you need to improve and how he would like to see you improve. All of the suggestions by the offbeat homies are good ones, but you have to make sure you are applying the right solution to the correct problem. (The correct problem in this case is the one that impacted your performance review and the correct solution is whatever behavior your boss would like to see more of.)

    Finally, going back and talking to your boss about this would show that you do have a level of assertiveness and confidence and ovarian/ testicular fortitude necessary to do so.

  20. Introvert's Life Hack for Practicing Small Talk:

    You know how sometimes you go get coffee or buy groceries and you get that barista or cashier that's really outgoing and chatty? When they say, in their cheery, extrovert voice, "How's your day?" tell them how your day's going. Just say whatever comes into your head, and if they're really chatty and extroverted, they'll talk to you. This really helped me with small talk, because I don't care what Chatty Barista thinks of me, so if I say something weird and awkward, who cares? And it can't ever last longer than it takes for them to ring up the groceries or take your coffee order, so you have a quick out. So it helps me practice: finding something random and small to share about my day, really fast, when I'm talking to someone that I couldn't care less what kind of impression I make, is so much easier and less stressful than only doing small talk when it matters!

    • omg, I love this advice! I really hate it when the person ringing up my order in a food place talks to me. I don't have anything against them, I just really don't like conversation with random strangers (me to my boyfriend: "I don't want to pick up Jamaican food after work, they are too friendly there" <- real thing I have actually said. several times.). But, what a good idea!!

  21. I am an introvert as well, and adjusting to my role as a supervisor was really difficult, given my personality. Part of my job is making presentations to groups (sometimes large) of people, talking to strangers, and recruiting people… all things that are very much against my nature. One of my old supervisors encouraged me to "Fake it til you make it." I thought he was crazy at first, but the more I tried it, the more it actually worked.

    I'm still an introverted person, but I have gotten over my major fear of those above activities (mostly) by pretending I was at least into them and not scared s—less.Getting over the initial fear and discomfort is the worst part; once that's done, it easier to build on it and soon it becomes not a very big deal. But, give it time. 6 months is still relatively new.

  22. I think a big part of succeeding is trying to work *with* your introversion rather than against it as much as possible. Otherwise you'll just exhaust yourself, not enjoy going to work, and burn out.

    For example, I specifically told my boss that I don't think as well in brainstorming meetings, and that I prefer to know what we will be brainstorming ahead of time so that I can outline a few thoughts or ideas to present in advance. This is a great way to make sure that you participate in meetings and seem like you're more actively involved in discussions, because you already know what you're going to say instead of putting pressure on yourself to think on the fly (which, if you're like me, doesn't come as naturally). Also, is it possible to have more one-on-one discussions about projects instead of big group meetings? If you can manage to orchestrate that, that also might help you get more directly involved without overwhelming your introverted sensibilities.

    I don't know what type of place your job is, but if it's the kind of place where everybody's at a computer all day it can also be easy to just fall into the habit of sitting at your desk by yourself and only communicating with your coworkers via email. I forced myself to get more personally involved with my coworkers by making a point of getting up from my desk and walking over to talk to other people in person when I have a simple question or comment, rather than doing it by email. It's not too overwhelming, because the interactions are generally fairly brief, but I really do think it goes a long way to help you get more comfortable and friendly with your coworkers. And once you get into the habit, it feels more natural and you'll start having more conversations with those people in general.

    Lastly, part of it might just be that you're still relatively new. Six months really isn't that long, and I don't feel like I really started feeling comfortable at my job and with my coworkers till a year or so in. It takes a while to build up a level of comfort with a new group of people, especially if you aren't doing a lot of face-to-face interacting. I've naturally come out of my shell a lot since I started almost five years ago, because now I know these people super well and I'm comfortable with them. Just make efforts to build relationships with your team, and give it a little time, and you should be OK. ๐Ÿ™‚

  23. Lots of good advice in here. In general, the two things I'd recommend (from one introvert to another) are:

    1. Eat with your co-workers. You might be like me and wanna get some internet time in, but don't do it – eating with people builds bonds like whoa. There's a reason "breaking bread together" is a thing. (And voluntary segregation at the middle-school lunch table.)

    2. Check on people. Work questions, how-did-you-handle-that questions, questions that show you know what's going on with that person even just super minimally. I'm an introvert but I hide it well, so sometimes people complain about other introverts to me: the "too quiet" thing is a cover for "too self-absorbed". Shyness comes off not as fear but as aloofness, holier-than-thou. Quiet comes off as judgmental. You can undo a lot of damage and foster a lot of goodwill by just checking on how your people are doing now and then.

    • People always think I'm an extrovert too! Which I find hilarious because I always score as *very* introverted on MBTI-type tests. I joke that I'm an introvert who has the ability to flip on the "extrovert switch" when necessary.

      • I think a lot of introverts (particularly those who don't have any social anxiety) have that switch to flip. While I do have loads of social anxiety, I am positive that anyone who knows me from when I teach assumes I'm an extrovert. In reality, I'm such an introvert that I don't even want my SO to talk to me much immediately when I come home as I need to have some 'no human' time. (I also nearly always score 97% introverted on all the tests)

      • I don't even see it as an extrovert switch. I'm an introvert. I draw my battery charge from being by myself, making dinner for my husband, reading a book, or playing a video game. I expend my charge when I'm at work, interacting with people, or out dancing. It's still inherently me and my personality, it's just a matter of whether I'm expending energy or gathering it.

        On the other hand my dad is definitely an extrovert. He draws his charge from being around other people. He positively lights up. But leave him alone too long and he gets listless and turns into an old man. Too much solitude drains his energy to the point where he thinks he's an introvert because he has no energy to want to go out and do the social things.

        • I LOVE this metaphor. The switch can imply that you aren't acting like yourself or that being an extrovert is the better situation that you have to turn on.

          I also love being honest with your friends about your personalities. Neither extrovert or introvert is better, they are just different. When I've been hanging out with someone ALL DAY and they suggest 1 more activity, I'm normally socially spent by that point, even though I've had fun all day and I would love to do that same thing another day. I've found that being honest with your friends instead of making excuses is best. "I've really had a blast today, but I've gotta flash my introvert card now and make an exit."

          And totally an aside, it's way better to do this than make up false excuses that rely on antiquated gender roles like "Gotta go do my wifely duties and clean the house" or "Gotta go or the wife will nag nag nag."

  24. I'm a bit of a counterpoint, because I really do like to talk to people at work though, especially since my actual job is mainly just me and the files all alone.

    One thing I find interesting is that introverted people have said to me, "Oh, it's easy for you to chat with people you don't know well!" I chat all the time, but it actually isn't easy: I feel awkward ALL the time, and I frequently don't know what to say or whether I'm making a poor impression.

    The difference between me and a true introvert is that I WANT that conversation, not that I'm good at it. If you ask me about my weekend, I'm so pleased that you're interested and I'm hoping you'll tell me about yours, too.

    I just thought it might help folks on this thread to know that, no matter how chatty an extrovert is, she still might be, "Oh no!" on the inside. Anything we can do to help each other through the awkwardness of life is appreciated…especially smiling in the hallways…

  25. Hey everyone, thanks for the replies to my question! It's taken me all morning to read them. It's great to know that others have struggled with this as well. I have actually been implementing a lot of this advice in the last couple of weeks without realising it – especially about taking the time to smile at people in the corridors. I'm going to check out some of the books y'all have recommended ASAP and really work on the talking thing :). Since I hate the phone, I already do the thing where I walk up to someone's desk and talk to them rather than phone them – it would never occur to me to use the phone when they are only a few feet away, lol! I also love the idea of getting the meeting agenda beforehand – unfortunately when we do have meetings (which isn't very often, tbh) they tend to be pretty informal.

    I think, having thought over some of the replies here, that a part of my problem is that although I really like this job I haven't found my comfy spot in it yet. In my last job (admittedly in a much smaller office) it only took a few months before it came out that I was the artistic-type in the room, and so I was able to carve out a little niche for myself doing work that I absolutely loved, and people would come to me with projects and really seemed to value my opinion. I haven't found a thing in this new job that I do quite so well, so I don't feel that I am contributing in a way that I would like to. Something else to work on!

    Offbeat Editors, I am sending you a tip for posting this for me. It has been incredibly helpful and definitely encourages me to contribute to the site in the future, yay!

    • So here's a budgeting trick to save on some social interaction coinage. (It works for me!)

      Whenever anyone asks how I am doing that morning I look them in the eyes and say "I'm amazing," as brightly as I can. It's unusual enough from a standard greeting that it sticks out and makes you seem friendly without being so weird that it becomes annoying.
      1) it seems to genuinely brighten other people's mood. ("Wow, I've never had anyone in my checkout line who was amazing before. That's awesome.")
      2) it brightens *my* mood
      3) it often opens up the conversation into "So why are you so amazing today?" Which is a nice, surface-level conversation that doesn't require too much digging to participate in. (It's friday. I just turned in that data sheet. Because the weather is great…)
      4) Even if the day is complete shit, *you* are still an amazing person. "I'm amazing – the day is pretty awful, but *I* am amazing." This often gets a smile and a laugh.

      And you can pretty much do this on autopilot after a short while.

  26. So one thing that has helped me (I'm another one of those people where my only negative review on performance evaluations has been 'connecting with people') is to always, without fail, say good morning as I walk into the cubicle. That at least starts the day on a somewhat good note.

    Additionally, I've tried to perfect what I call my "yes, I'm listening" face. Basically, my standard resting face looks a little bit annoyed (maybe not as much as those who have 'resting bitchy face', but I do look a little pissed with the world). But you also don't want to smile ALL the time.

    So my listening face is mostly my relaxed face but with a slight eyebrow raise and making sure I'm not frowning. This face works wonders, in my experience.

    I also plan social interactions – while this is more of an anxiety thing than just an introvert thing, having a vague script to go off makes interacting not nearly as stressful or draining, and I make sure to have at least one conversation (however brief) with someone I work with every day.

  27. I know this is going to sound strange, but I ended up making some dents in my introvert-centric tendencies by allowing an extrovert to take me under his/her wing. I somehow always end up sitting near extroverts at my job (where I've been employed for almost five years), and I decided after a bit to allow them to talk to me. This took some effort not really because I'm shy (although I can be) but actually am a bit aloof and love to get absorbed in my work (which is reviewing appraiser's reports for completeness and accuracy, something that does become a metaphorical black hole). I seem to attract some extroverts, and I decided to indulge their efforts to talk to me. It actually allowed me to not only develop friendships at the workplace but helped me develop an ear for what was going on in other parts of the company. TL;DR? If you have an extrovert nearby, they might be able to do some of the hard work of meshing in the workplace for you. You just have to keep an eye/ear out for the right signals.

  28. We did personality quizzes as a team building exercise. I was the only introvert in the group. My colleagues looked at me like I had a communicable disease. Some work environments are hard on introverts.

  29. In high school I had a teacher who was super bubbly and outgoing with our class (she only taught the journalism classes so it was the same students year after year) but was extremely shy with everyone else to the point that other students thought she was mean. She had had this crazy life though and had worked in a ton of industries, run her own business, done marketing, she had even been a "girl in the red velvet swing" at a bar in Memphis. She was really great at explaining to us how to deal with being introverted in the professional realm.
    Anyway, loads of background behind – she has a book! It's all about this situation!

    http://www.amazon.com/Public-Relations-Marketing-Person-ebook/dp/B003TO6JPO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1381168799&sr=8-1&keywords=miki+markovich

    Like I said she is wonderful and really helped me when I was younger. I don't think I would have done as well up to this point in my life without her guidance.

  30. I had this issue a couple years ago, and my boss suggested I start emailing the team. This might not work in a more formal company, but we decided together that I would email everyone with a random "about you" question and start conversations that way. It also got me some brownie points for bringing the team together! Email is much less intimidating than face to face, and when you start getting to know everyone that way and seeing how nice they all are, face to face interaction follows seamlessly.

  31. Despite appearances (I've done LOTS of public speaking in the past, and I teach English to teenagers now), I am an introvert, and I was SERIOUSLY shy for a long time (into my mid-twenties). Even now, at 42, I cannot start a conversation with someone I don't know without feeling like I'm going to panic (once a good friend "threatened" to make me talk to one stranger a day – she says I went pale (I'm a fairly dark-skinned African-American) and looked like I was going to pass out).

    A few things I did to make things a bit easier:

    1. Smile. I naturally smile a lot, so this was the easiest for me.
    2. Say "hello" or "good morning" to one new coworker a day. By "new" I mean someone you never have a reason to talk to normally. Since it's a fellow employee they're not a complete stranger, so it's not QUITE as scary.
    3. Learn to ask leading questions. People LOVE to talk about themselves usually, so learn to ask them questions that will get THEM talking. SO much easier than doing the talking yourself! Who, what, where, when, why, and how, learn to love them.
    4. Practice, practice, practice. The more you do this, the easier it will get.
    5. Give yourself space to recharge. Luckily I live alone, so I always have plenty of time and space to retreat. Make the time and the space for yourself. You NEED it!

  32. I think there's a HUGE difference between being an introvert and not being confident and assertive. Extroverts and introverts solve problems differently. I would think about why your boss feels that you aren't confident and assertive, is it really just because you're quiet? It might be, if the rest of your office is extroverts! Honor yourself, too; why don't you speak up in meetings? Is it because it's scary or because others are sharing the same information you would (the former is anxiety, the latter is economical). Introverts get their power from being alone and extroverts get their power from being with other people. Are there things from this list (http://www.pinterest.com/pin/572309065118202820/) you can do to make your efforts stand out more to your coworkers? Ugh, this post came across more stiff than I meant it to. Point being, first of all, there's nothing wrong with being an introvert and I think if you pick the right things to put energy into, it will pay off without feeling like a chore or causing you stress.

  33. It's funny reading these comments, because much of the advice offered (eating lunch alone in the break room, admitting personal things to baristas) scares the hell out of me. I'll never be comfortable with those things. Yet, some people would say emphatically that I am extroverted. In large groups, I am often rambunctious, even at work.

    I'd honestly be a little offended if my boss told me that I basically need to change my personality as part of my job. Does that really have anything to do with my actual work? I guess it depends on your profession. To me, saying good morning shouldn't have an affect on your performance. And I HATE saying good morning.

    So, I usually launch into "Did you see the Emmy's???", etc, to avoid personal small talk. Pop culture is a safe zone. Movies are easy to talk about. Neutral topics make me feel safer. I don't want to really hear about other people's weekends, nor do I want to talk about mine, but it's okay talking about a new television show or even a restaurant or bar that's just opened up. I also like to brainstorm things to bring up in meetings. Writing down your own questions or suggestions during a meeting before speaking is a great idea. I should use that tip more on the phone. I avoid talking on the phone at all costs.

  34. There is a great book called "the introvert advantage". It covers everything! Including ways to deal with your extroverted coworkers.
    One tip I remember is to talk with your boss and ask that agendas for all meetings be sent out in advance. That way you can digest the info, think of ideas abd things to say, and contribute IN the meeting. That way you will seem more involved and assertive. There are a bunch more tips but I can't think of them off the top of my head. Go figure, I'm an introvert!

  35. Learn people's names. People love when you say their name. "Hi/good morning ……" Goes a long way. Also knowing little details, like to ask someone about their garden or their dog can be a great way to build rapport.

  36. I am an introvert and I also have social anxiety (it's not as bad as it used to be, but there are still some things that seem impossible to me). You said you do better in small groups. If your boss/supervisor is in charge of meetings, can they build in small group discussion to solicit feedback from everyone & make it easier for everyone to contribute? I had to talk to my boss about this, and the funny thing is that she said she preferred talking things out in small groups too. It ended up being a really good thing for our group overall.

    Does your job do anything to recognize birthdays & accomplishments? If not, you could ask your boss if you could get access to a department birthday calendar and coordinate a card for each of your coworkers for their birthdays. This is the first thing I took charge of in my office, and people still really appreciate it. I usually just print out a flat no-fold card on 8.5×11 paper so there's room for everyone to sign. You can email everyone to let them know a card is available to sign at your desk and to come by and sign by X date, or you can route it inside a file folder with a note inside explaining whose birthday it is, when the birthday will be, and to please bring the card back to your desk when it is full or if they don't know who to pass it to next. Then I like to leave the card on the birthday person's keyboard after they leave so it is there in the morning for them on their birthday.

    After doing the birthdays thing for awhile, my boss has given me other responsibilities to help keep morale up. These have required me to get out of my shell a little more, but it's been easier because I'm doing things that I know my team enjoys and appreciates. It's given me a way to make noticeable contributions to the team without having to put myself too far out of my comfort zone. Plus it's been a really great thing on my reviews. I'm productive AND I make everyone feel valued ๐Ÿ™‚

  37. Although I do attempt to at least make eye contact and offer a greeting upon arriving at work, I refuse to change my personality to appease those that work around me. Although I find it annoying and rude for everyone to spend the first hour of everyday small talking communally, I would never expect them to change their personality to appease me. I tune them out in order to focus on my work during my most productive time of the day, and they have learned to not engage me in anything not work related. Perhaps I feel this way because I have a job, not a career. But if you hired me to bookkeep and push paper, I am confident making friends is not part of my job description. In an interesting twist to happen within a month of starting my new position suddenly attending a weekly sales meeting was expected of me. I attempted to attend no more than two before I put my foot down, approached my boss and stated the extreme anxiety associated with these meetings, and requesting to know exactly how attending is necessary to complete the work I was hired for. I no longer have to attend these meetings.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.