It’s Monday morning, and you head straight to your office. Your top priority is to check email and get situated. You prepare your agenda for the upcoming staff meeting so that there are no surprises or dreadful tangents. Most of all, you look forward to tomorrow, when there are no meetings scheduled. Just a long, uninterrupted day of hunkering down in your office—sounds like paradise! But you know that your focused, independent style may be seen as aloof, so you resolve to attend that office get-together, even though you much prefer a quiet night at home. If any of this sounds familiar, do not be alarmed; it may just be that you’re an introvert.
On the whole, introverts possess myriad qualities that make them successful in the workplace. Their keen attention to detail, sense of responsibility, and ability to work well under little or no supervision make them ideal as colleagues and subordinates, and their loyalty and commitment to the work make them well suited to leadership roles. Introverts understand what they need to thrive—opportunities to work independently, a quiet space, and time to gather their thoughts before presenting or providing feedback.
These preferences, however, are frequently misunderstood. It is all too easy for a well-meaning introvert to be interpreted as distant, unfriendly, or overly task-oriented by colleagues who may value the more typically extroverted qualities of sociability, teamwork, and self-promotion.
American workplace culture places a higher premium on extroversion. The ability to network, trumpet your achievements, and tap into the office “grapevine” frequently makes the difference in not only advancing within your work setting but also further developing your career. Individuals tend to hire or promote those whom they like, know, and feel good around, not just those who are excellent, dedicated worker bees. Introverts can tick all these boxes—they are not antisocial, as is commonly assumed; rather, they are social in a different way—but their natural style can make it tricky for personal connections to happen.
If you are an introvert working in an extroverted workplace, it may be important to pick moments when you stretch beyond your natural inclinations while still capitalizing on your core strengths and remaining true to who you are. The strategies below can help you foster productive relationships with colleagues, achieve recognition for your successes, and set yourself up for advancement:
- Engage in more water cooler chit-chat. Your office may not have the traditional water cooler, but the spirit of this suggestion holds. Make it a point to leave the confines of your workspace now and then to share some news from the weekend, ask your coworker about that new class they are taking, or gab about the latest movies. Doing so even once or twice a week will help you to form more social alliances while keeping your finger on the pulse of what is happening around you.
- Attend office social gatherings. Making an appearance at office parties—even a brief one—will allow coworkers to see you in a more relaxed setting, and you will send the message that you are interested in celebrating individual and company successes. And if your heavy workload is tempting you to skip the celebration, remember that everyone else is juggling responsibilities as well, and you will still get the work done—you always do!
- Volunteer for a team task. You may view yourself as an independent worker, but do not shortchange the skills and focus you could bring to a team project. Not only will you have the chance to exercise new skills, but you can get to know the professional strengths and personalities of your colleagues better.
- Extend a kind gesture. Distributing handwritten holiday cards, baking a plate of brownies for a coworker’s birthday, or volunteering to start a gift collection for the expectant mother in the office are great ways to show an interest in your colleagues, spark new conversations, and let others get to know you better.
- Initiate meetings with management. You may be getting a lot of great work done while secluded in your office for hours, but it would be a mistake to assume that your manager is aware of your successes. Because extroverts seek out social interaction, they typically have the ear of management more often than introverts. If a meeting is not otherwise scheduled, check in with your boss informally at least once per week to report your accomplishments, solicit feedback on current projects, and develop a closer working relationship.
If you are an introvert feeling out of place in your work setting, you do not need to alter your personality. Celebrate your unique strengths, but be wary of getting lost in them. A little flexibility and openness in your approach at work can allow others to see how great you are and help you build relationships that are critical to your professional growth.
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