An Introvert’s Guide to Thriving in an Extroverted Workplace

Business people at workIt’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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Adia Tucker, MSEd, LMHC, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 13 comments
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  • wes

    wes

    February 24th, 2015 at 10:21 AM

    Water cooler chat is like the most uncomfortable thing to me… how do I get involved with more of that when tat is something that is so far outside of my comfort zone?

  • Lew

    Lew

    February 24th, 2015 at 3:20 PM

    So there will always be a part of our jobs that we don’t like or that make us get a little outside of what feels the most comfortable with. But I think that we should take these chances as times to learn and to grow and not be afraid. Life is all about adjusting and making do even in the toughest situations. So you don’t like to talk to other people. Big deal. There’s always the motto of fake it til you make it, so maybe this is going to be one of those times when you just have to put your big boy pants on and do t even when it is a little bit of foreign territory for you

  • Garcilla

    Garcilla

    February 25th, 2015 at 3:32 AM

    I know that it may be hard but you have to at least make an effort to be a part of the group. It is never going to be beneficial for you to stick out like a sore thumb and not be a part of the crowd.

    It doesn’t mean that these are people who have to be your best friends, but it will certainly get you a little further ahead if you are willing to socialize with some of them from time to time instead of always shutting yourself off from them.

  • gabby

    gabby

    February 25th, 2015 at 11:20 AM

    Can I just say that as the office social butterfly (hey I recognize that!) that it can be hard for us extroverted folks too. Nothing makes me more uncomfortable than when I have a coworker who seems disinterested in what us going on around them or that I feel like is shutting himself off from the rest of us.
    That in and of itself I think can make other people defensive too, like we are doing something wrong too.

  • Tennyson

    Tennyson

    February 25th, 2015 at 2:16 PM

    how about you make friends with the office extrovert and ride their coat tails?

  • Adia

    Adia

    February 25th, 2015 at 5:07 PM

    Gabby, thanks for giving your perspective as an extrovert – we introverts can get lost in our own heads and not notice how our tendencies make our extroverted friends and colleagues feel. We all need to make the effort to better understand each other!

    Wes, water cooler “chit chat” can definitely feel strange if it is forced. You can always start with what you know you have in common with your colleague – asking about their weekend, checking on how they are doing with their latest project, or praising them for a recent work accomplishment can be good starting points. Like everything else, small talk requires some practice for those who find it awkward, but the more you do it, the more natural it will feel.

  • katherine

    katherine

    February 25th, 2015 at 6:31 PM

    I am going through this at work now.. I just feel like everyone gets offended because they feel like maybe I don’t like them.. which isn’t true, but then I feel wrong for not ‘fitting in’ with them.. but, why can’t they just accept that some people are just like that.. why can’t that just be ok without it being an issue. Why does being social and outgoing have to be ‘the norm’, and everyone who isn’t like that is ‘different’ or ‘weird’.

  • Donald

    Donald

    February 26th, 2015 at 5:11 AM

    I have also seen it when the opposite is true, when there is that one person who is so outgoing and friendly working in an office where more of the workers are quiet and subdued. Look it is going to be hard on anyone coming into a situation where they feel like they are so different from the majority of other people who are there. My old man always said that it wasn’t about making friends but there are times when I have to disagree. How are you ever going to enjoy going to work every day of you can’t have people there that you can relate to and who do that with you?

  • cal

    cal

    February 26th, 2015 at 3:45 PM

    Unless the people that you work with are numbskulls, then they are going to make an effort to include you if you make that same effort with them. So be a part of the team, don’t rule things out.

  • Donna

    Donna

    February 27th, 2015 at 11:18 AM

    Even though I am a little more on the shy side I always try to toot my own horn a little when the supervisor is around because I work hard and shouldn’t have to let someone else take all the credit for the hard work that I am doing too.

  • Dr.Paul

    Dr.Paul

    February 27th, 2015 at 12:48 PM

    The “how to thrive” reference sounds like creating adequate conditions to withstand the extroverted pressures and stressors. In fact, thriving comes from within with direct unconditional self-acceptance and authentic presence. Then, if you manage to stay present, there will be moments when you are actually thriving.

  • kris

    kris

    February 28th, 2015 at 9:15 AM

    You have to understand when you are in the process of choosing a career that there are always going to be certain fields that tend to pull in the introverted types and then there are those that are probably better suited and more of a draw to those who like to keep more to themselves.

    Now this is not to say that you have to choose to not follow your career dreams just because typically the two of you would not look to be a good match, but it does mean that you could enter into it with a better understanding of the other people with who you are probably going to be working if this is what you choose.

  • Dr.Paul

    Dr.Paul

    February 28th, 2015 at 1:47 PM

    There are ways the organization/management can make better use of introverts, e.g. by checking at the end of a meeting for additional thoughts [introverts take longer to process], and to provide some mechanism between meetings for introverts to share their late arriving ideas.

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