Thriving in the workplace – a strategic guide for introverts
Workplaces equate success and good performance with extroversion, noise, and office politics. Introverts may find it tough and challenging. However, we want to help introverts change such an experience – from merely surviving to actually thriving.
Being an introvert is not something to feel ashamed or bad about. Like there are two sides to everything in life, so it is with human personality. There is no extroversion without introversion and vice versa.
Sometimes, people find themselves in situations where they do things outside their comfort zones. This is where the phrase ‘righting the balance’ matters. And this blog post will help introverts right the balance and thrive in work environments where they often go outside their comfort zones to prioritize work and get things done.
What are personality traits?
According to Wiggins (1973), “traits are organized dispositions within the individual which are assumed to have some generality in their manifestations across a variety of stimulus situations.” This means that personality traits are not choices that we make but an expression of who we are, as expressed by our need to act in a certain way. As such, our personality traits are dispositions with a general response tendency which cuts across different life situations. Thus, our traits are part of us, and it is not something anyone can change as they deem fit.
Blevins et al. (2022) explain how introversion is mostly regarded as low extraversion with negative characteristics like low self-esteem and social awkwardness in workplaces. However, introversion does not mean the same as having low self-esteem or feeling less than others.
The discussion about introversion and extraversion in the workplace should change from comparing these two ends of a personality trait spectrum to understanding that what distinguishes them is their different perspectives about the world. This means one personality is not better than the other; they only see the world through different lenses.
Organizations need to be more aware of the advantages of having introverts in the workplace. Both introverts and extroverts have values and benefits they contribute to their workplaces.
How to recognise introverts’ behaviours
How do you know the attitudes introverts exhibit due to their personality? People tend to misjudge introverts because they don’t understand the reason why they do what they do.
According to the 20th-century Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung’s theories, introverts’ interest is more directly inward than outward, toward their own thoughts and feelings. The following general attributes will help you to better understand introverts in your workplace.
- Exaggerated thought processes.
- Highly observant
- Tendency to shy away from social contacts.
- Quieter and more reserved.
- In-depth analysis of tasks.
- Reflective, analytical, and independent.
- More detail-oriented.
Work environments often consider introversion as a liability rather than an asset, which is one of the biggest challenges introverts face in organisations. Also, research shows that workplaces often pass introverts over for promotions and offers. This is highly attributed to the inability of introverts to self-promote themselves. Therefore, extroverted colleagues get all the recognition. However, considering the attributes of introversion, having introverts in the workplace creates a healthy competitive advantage and provides good options for managers to have introverts in roles and tasks that require more inward focus and analytical reasoning.
You can read more about having a healthy workplace here.
The world has such a prejudice against introverts, expecting them to behave like extroverts rather than appreciating their reflective, quiet nature. Such businesses are losing out significantly on the superpower, energy, and talent introverts have to offer. Approximately a third to half of the population are introverts, and it is high time we recognise that this personality trait has great values and power. As Susan Cain discusses in her book, introverts have the power to succeed in their roles, and we see them take some of the greatest leaps in less-introverted occupations like finance, politics, and activism. Despite their introversion, people like Eleanor Roosevelt, Al Gore, and Warren Buffett achieved great things!
Introverts are known for devoting their social energies to close friends, families, and colleagues. They are good listeners, great thinkers and very friendly people who fancy deep conversations, and they do not like conflicts. Most importantly, introversion is not synonymous with shyness. According to Susan Cain, “shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.”
It is amazing to see all these hidden power and talents introverts possess, which can be powerfully utilized. However, it has to start with seeing introverts for who they are and not pushing them to change to a personality trait that was never theirs.
How can introverts successfully navigate the work environment?
Considering the challenges introverts face in the workplace, it is important they become aware of ways they can begin to speak up for themselves in the workplace and get the recognition they deserve for doing great jobs. You can make yourself more visible and simultaneously avoid having to be the centre of attention.
Nancy Ancowitz, in her book ‘Self-Promotion for Introverts, The quiet guide to getting ahead’ explains different ways introverts can become more visible during office meetings and still be themselves:
- Do something that makes you feel at ease – for example, twirling your pen under the table where no one can see it.
- Choose to sit in the most comfortable place for you in the room.
- Always know that all eyes are not focused on you.
- Push yourself and make sure you talk at least once at every meeting.
- Ask questions when you do not understand.
- Get to know your colleagues outside meetings.
The key to getting more comfortable and outspoken at work is this: get to know your colleagues. If you feel overwhelmed talking in groups, try knowing them individually. With this, it becomes less challenging for you to communicate well in the workplace.
For introverts working in organizations that embrace flexible work hours, you can adjust your work pace for better alignment. Here is a suggestion, you can have a tight schedule for two days when you have more face-to-face conversations, meetings, and discussions. Then, you make the next day a quiet one where you mostly brainstorm and work on the tasks that require no collaboration with team members. You can strategize how best to work and have space to replenish your energy.
If your workplace does not have flexible work hours, there is also a tip that should work for you. If your workstation happens to be somewhere you don’t feel comfortable, you can move your desk to a different spot. This might give you better privacy and quiet. Another effective tip is to take a walk, go for coffee, or seek a private space for a few minutes when you need to catch your breath. Other options include using noise-cancelling headphones, adjusting the lighting by reducing or switching it off, or snoozing your messaging apps like Slack when the notifications become overwhelming. However, snoozing your messages should only be for a period; otherwise, you might miss out on important and time-bound messages.
Companies often employ occupational technology and personality assessment to predict occupational performance. It is important to know that occupational performance and success go beyond personality traits and assessment. For example, interpersonal skills can differ significantly even between two people who are on the same side of a personality spectrum. To achieve the accuracy and goals for which personality assessments were created, employers should consider consulting an expert for a nuanced result evaluation. To this effect, we will publish another blog post to discuss the evaluation of personality assessments in the workplace. Conclusively, each personality trait has its superpower and talent, and we all need to be aware of that. As an introvert, you should be aware of your superpowers and, most importantly, be proud of them.
Ancowitz, N., 2009. Self-Promotion for Introverts. McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing.
Blevins, Dane P, Madelynn RD Stackhouse, and Shelley D Dionne. “Righting the Balance: Understanding Introverts (and Extraverts) in the Workplace.” International Journal of Management Reviews 24, no. 1 (2022): 78-98.
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.