How can an introvert thrive at work?

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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

Comments on How can an introvert thrive at work?

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

    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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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 ( 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

  12. 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 🙂

  13. 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.

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