Are you an introvert? Here’s how to thrive in an extroverted workplace
Introverts in the workplace are often misunderstood and modern workspaces can sometimes be counterproductive. Here are some insights into the highs and lows of being an introvert in today’s work scenario.
The modern workplace is slowly adapting more extroverted characteristics – open concept workspaces, a heavier emphasis on collaborations, and the constant expectation to report work progress, be social and be more visible in order to get more opportunities. All these can be challenging for introverts who tend to prefer a more independent approach. For some, the work from home period served as a respite from their extroverted workplaces. But with Phase 3 on the horizon, it’s only a matter of time before everyone heads back to the office.
Challenges introverts face at work
Fear of being misunderstood
“As an introvert, you don’t want to be the centre of attention or put on the spot,” shares Samantha David, a content editor who works for a travel tech startup. “I’m sometimes very worried about saying the wrong thing or sounding stupid/asking silly questions. People might misunderstand this and think I don’t care about my work, or that I’m incompetent.”
Finding a way to speak up
Samantha’s concerns reflect the misconceptions that most people have about introverts. They are usually viewed as being shy, quiet, passive, antisocial, inattentive, or unproductive. Senior research project manager, Robert Leonardo, shares similar sentiments as Samantha. He finds it challenging to voice out his opinions in group meetings or discussions, especially when there are a lot of extroverts talking and taking the stage too fast. “Oftentimes it can be tempting to keep quiet because my point has already been brought out. But as a rule of visibility, I usually find ways to contribute.”
Out of all the challenges, visibility in the workplace is one of the biggest ones that introverts face. “The biggest hurdle is visibility at work. I feel that we are wrongly perceived as people who do not care or who only work for money – probably because we do not show off what we do or we try to do things discreetly,” says Robert.
Sophia Yip, a learning design specialist, concurs, “Most bosses prefer their staff to be more effusive and it seems like extroverts get more opportunities in the workplace.” So, although it’s against her nature and she does not particularly enjoy it, Sophia has volunteered to host events and do public speaking to keep herself in her boss’ radar.
Jean Ng, who leads a regional team in market development and business development, finds herself in similar situations as she needs to do a lot of presentations. “It’s hard for me to engage sincerely at times, since my natural reaction is to want to run from the room or fade out. Constantly overseeing my team is also draining for me because as a leader, I cannot fully disengage.”
Drawbacks aside, introverts know that socialising and working in unconducive environments are factors you can’t avoid in the workplace. “You need to change your mindset when you try to adjust. It’s more than just the ability to blend with the rest – you do so because you want to reach out and be a positive contributor to your team or community,” says Robert.
How to thrive in the workplace
Despite all the misconceptions and challenges, introverts can be valuable team members who can offer new perspectives. If you’re an introvert, here are some strategies to help you cope in an extroverted workplace.
Have a good balance between socialising and alone time
Human interaction is unavoidable especially if you have to work in a team. Robert tries to strike a good balance between being sociable and being reclusive. “If I find that too much socialising is distracting at work, I join group lunches to keep me connected with everyone.”
Sophia needs a lot of downtime to recover from socialising, especially because her job requires her to interact with a lot of people. “Sometimes I work later in the office on purpose because there are fewer people around,” she adds. A trick she does at work is to wear earphones (with no music on) to send out a polite ‘do not disturb’ signal. “I also have a ‘talkative’ side during team discussions. I have a different persona during office hours, then, I use my quiet time at home to recover.”
Find effective ways to communicate
Introverts are usually more pensive and prefer to keep their thoughts to themselves until they’ve had enough time to think things over. Because of this, they tend to find it challenging to engage in group discussions.
When there is a need to raise her views, Jean finds ways to bring her points across tactfully to avoid conflict and maintain peace. “Sometimes, I discuss one-on-one with colleagues at their desk in a less guarded setting so that they can be more receptive to what I am saying.”
As for Robert, he’s usually able to express himself more comfortably and in detail through email where he can also expound on ideas. But at the same time, he does see the benefits of face-to-face or virtual interaction for faster and more straightforward results.
Take care of yourself first and schedule your ‘me time’
Introverts feel drained in large social settings. It’s similar to extroverts feeling drained when spending too much time alone. That’s why it’s important to find time to recharge and realign your mind to avoid burning out. “When there is a need to be quiet, remove yourself from the environment temporarily,” Sophia advises.
“My company is a startup and it’s an incredibly extroverted workplace. I cope by telling myself to be firm and take care of my mental health/myself first. So, if I look at the situation and if I can afford to give it a miss – no matter how much pressure there is from colleagues to hang out and go for a drink – I just say no,” says Samantha.
Jean also advises finding the time and space to decompress. She schedules regular ‘me times’ such as going to the gym during lunch to rebalance and recharge, especially if she has a long work day ahead. “If all else fails, go for coffee walks and use that time to catch a breather.”
Know your boundaries but get outside of your comfort zone, too
Yes, introverts tend to enjoy their own company but that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy socialising. They do – but in small groups and with people they are comfortable with.
“Don’t forget to give yourself a little push to join the extroverts every once in a while. After that, take a few days to recharge like I do. As much as I want to stay in my little shell forever, I think it’s important to put yourself out there. Who knows – maybe you’ll find fellow introverts doing the exact same thing?” says Samantha.
According to Jean, it also helps in identifying the natural extroverts in the office and moderating your exposure to them to avoid feeling drained by their personality. “You could also try creating a routine that works for you and feeds into your nature in order to continue to blossom in extroverted workplaces.”
And lastly, own being an introvert
Because of their reclusive nature, most prefer to keep their introversion concealed and they can function in the office without their colleagues ever knowing their true personality. If you are comfortable enough, why not take a cue from Robert, “I have also been vocal about being an introvert, and I bring that up to the table to say, I am different but that does not mean I am inferior to extroverts.”
Being an introvert can work to your advantage. You just have to know the right ways and means to let it be your strength!
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