Hustling in this noisy world can get tiring for us introverts… quite very quickly! When a long day of office banter leaves us drained, we find ourselves wishing for the quiet of home instead of a rowdy bar with our colleagues — even colleagues we really like! No wonder we’re so commonly misunderstood.
Extroverts are both more common and more vocal in society, so it’s no surprise that most workplaces are built around their socializing habits. That makes navigating day-to-day work tough for those of us who let out sighs of relief when we find ourselves alone at our desks.
Here are some of the best tips I’ve gotten from successful introverts that help me survive and thrive as an introvert at work.
#1. Relationship building doesn’t always need to happen in large groups
When I first started working, fresh out of university, I went out for beers with my colleagues night after night. I was a newbie trying to fit in, and it seemed like the polite thing to do.
I didn’t hate those nights swimming in bar noise, but I could easily think of many solitary activities that I would rather be doing. Worse, it slowly dawned on me that after all those hours with my colleagues, week after week, I still didn’t know anything substantial about them.
Finally, a day came when I went out for lunch with just one colleague and we spoke at length about her childhood. That’s when it dawned on me that I’m not aloof, nor am I apathetic toward other people’s stories. I just prefer one-on-one opportunities to bond more deeply with people, as most introverts do.
When I realized this, I started spending time with my colleagues in more personal settings. I made the rounds to their desks, quietly laying the foundations for relationships in the best way I knew how. Little did I know that this strategy is the backbone of winning introverted leadership styles.
To my surprise, I suddenly found myself enjoying group outings more. And when I declined to join one, people understood. They knew me now and knew that my habit of keeping to myself was not a reflection of my feelings toward them.
#2. Find the activity that helps you unwind quickly
No matter how good we might get at drawing some boundaries in a crazy world that knows none, introverts in business still face an uphill struggle. Days come along when we just don’t have the time we need to recharge and face the chattering, clattering world on our own terms. Often, we’re dealing with a schedule we can’t control (which was probably set by an extrovert).
In order, to maximize the benefit of whatever time allotted out for yourself, find activities that help you quickly bounce back when you’re drained. It may be meditating (I use the free version of Headspace at work). It may be taking a walk around the block, or if it’s an option, sitting on the rooftop.
Or maybe it’s just losing yourself in a little mindless daydream. Whatever it is, have your go-to recharging activity ready at all times so you can make the most of any free moment.
#3. Schedule alone time every day
Technology is a wonderful thing, but it does create a noisy, chaotic world. Likes, emails, calls, texts, WhatsApp notifications, Slack messages and more endlessly fire at us, day after day. It reaches a point where the mere sound of a ping raises your blood pressure, and it seems impossible to switch off.
For an introvert, it can all pile up into beeping, reminders, daily emotional disaster, etc, etc. That’s primarily because one of the defining traits one carries. There is a need to re-energize through private and often quiet time, so plan accordingly.
In order to stay strong at work, we have to somehow resist the pressure to respond to every invasion of noise (just like everyone else does). If your instincts are screaming that you need to be alone, tune into that voice and obey it. Whether that means blasting music through your earphones as you work, ducking out for a coffee run or hiding in the bathroom (guilty), do whatever works for you!
Even better, don’t wait until that inner voice is wailing to plan your escape. Alone time is crucial for your success at work, so it’s worth planning in advance.
To remind myself daily that preserving my own sanity is a top priority, I like to use this collection of Microsoft schedule templates.
#4. Learn how to tame that socially uncomfortable voice.
It’s a feeling every introvert knows far too well: stressing over events where we know we will be expected to have courtly chats with everyone. The coping strategies for introverts range from planning small-talk topics in advance to calling in sick right before the event occurs.
The emotional demons that one carry as an introvert doesn’t limit their visits to some special occasions. Self-consciousness and at times, worry can wash over us at any time, maybe even now —upon seeing a group of people laughing as they approach, midway through a conversation with our boss, literally anywhere.
And the worst part? Often, we convince ourselves that everyone can sense our discomfort, triggering a downward, self-fulfilling spiral.
No wonder we think about calling in sick…
My tip? Have a few go-to buddies that understand you better, and lean on them to help you ease into intimidating situations. Our feelings of being overwhelmed are, more often than not, self-inflicted. Sometimes, we just need the right people around us, empowering us, acting as gentle reminders that we can surmount the challenge.
It gets easier with practice, I promise. And it’s okay if there are some days when you just don’t have it in you to take on that inner, self-doubting voice. Just be sure that you don’t use your battery-replenishment alibi to disguise a few passing moments of social unease. Before you go declining an invitation, be clear in your mind why you’re doing it.
#5. Use your natural listening abilities.
In the past, I wasted a lot of energy aspiring to be as charismatic, funny and crowd-pleasing as my extroverted counterparts. They would easily glide around networking meets, laughing, along with champagne in hand, and be always surrounded by people. It is just so easy for them!
For me? If I had it my way. I would just grab a chair by the food and people watch, listening in on conversations (no judgments). Once again, my instincts held the key to succeeding at the office, while being true to my introverted self.
Introverts are renowned for their keen ears, ears that don’t just hear but truly listen. We absorb and internalize the information around us at every moment. This ability can be a real gift to those around us, and successful introverts are masters of tapping into it at the right moment.
I believe that the tendency of introverts to thoughtfully process information is one of our main advantages. And is the secret to anyone’s well-earned reputation as a keen observer and listener.
I’m still not the best person at big office gatherings & meetups. But now I understand that whatever talent I lack for small talk and witty banter. I do make up for my listening skills in smaller group settings.
The world is filled with successful introvert entrepreneurs and introverted leaders in every field. They made it to where they are by embracing their own styles of conversing and socializing, not by disguising themselves as extroverts.
In short, fight for your strengths. Search for the work environments that you can thrive in and play there. Don’t spend too much time concerning yourself with traits that flow out of others but just aren’t in you. Stop losing at their game, and learn to win at yours.
Here are a few of my favourites:
For work-related conversations…
– “Will it be OKAY if we talk a little bit later? I want to give this some more thought over these concerned topics, but I just have a bit too much work right now to manage.”
In social situations…
– “I need to go & chat with someone else right now, but it was great knowing you as a person. Let’s chat later on. Take care. Bye.”
– “I’m going to get myself something to drink as I’m a bit thirsty. Would you like anything for yourself?” (Make sure you are empty-handed when speaking up, or your glass is empty if you want to use this one with someone!)