Your average American workplace is not always kind to introverts. Trends like open floor offices and everyone-talking-at-once brainstorming sessions can be draining and might even convince you that a natural preference for extroversion is the real price of admission for professional glory and success.
I've been there. However, I've got good news.
Fact is, with clarity and intention, any ambitious introvert can begin to receive the recognition he or she deserves at work. Here are three truly life-changing tips for introverts in the office. Adopt them today, and you’ll soon be seen as the invaluable asset that you are.
1. Identify (and Flaunt) Your Quiet Strengths
Before you can begin changing how others see you in the office, you have to identify for yourself what your strengths are. Try not to think of your strengths in terms of your current job title or industry, but rather consider the value that you’d be bringing with you to any position you transitioned to in the future.
Perhaps more importantly, don’t let extroverted ideals cloud your vision. If for example, you’re the type to lose yourself in solitary work, realize that your ability to contentedly read, write, research, code, or create for hours at a time is incredibly productive! Further, a tendency like this suggests that you're independent, self-motivated, and likely to contribute innovative ideas to your team. (Yep: Research suggests that focused, solitary work—not group brainstorming—produces the best ideas.)
Once you’ve recognized what your strengths are, try to find ways to call attention to them in the office. For me, that simply meant saying out loud what I was already thinking. I’ve always preferred reading non-fiction at home to crowded social events on the weekends, but during conversation with acquaintances and colleagues, I neglected to voice the references that came to mind. It wasn’t until opening up that I gained a reputation as a trusty source of thoughtful, interesting information.
There are other strengths you can’t simply bring up in conversation—but, for instance, if you’re an exceptionally good listener, you can show it by referencing the story your boss shared with you months ago or asking a co-worker how her kid is doing at his new school.
2. Know When to Rise to a Challenge
When I discovered that I was an introvert, I felt that I finally had permission to opt out of activities that strained me. It was a huge relief to say no to after-work drinks or mingling at extended family gatherings when I didn't feel up to them. I knew that honoring my introversion with alone time meant I'd be an overall happier, sharper, and more creative person—in both my personal and professional life.
However, for a long time, I used my introversion as an excuse to avoid golden opportunities as well. Like the time my local news channel called because they wanted to interview a resident web designer on-air, and I purposely waited too long to call them back. Or the many times I neglected to send follow-up emails and build meaningful connections with successful, well-connected people in my field.
Now, I realize the difference between those times when I was honoring my introversion and times when I was caving into fear, and how important it is to separate the two before the latter threatens to hold you back.
So, next time you’re thinking of saying no to an opportunity under the guise of being an introvert, pause and think about the real reasons behind your decision. If it's all dread or disinterest, then you're probably right to skip out. But if fear is suggesting you run away from something with clear potential to enrich your career, consider rising to the challenge.
3. Tell People What to Expect From You
One big problem with introversion in the workplace is that it can often get misinterpreted. An easy way to get around this is to just come out and tell people what they can expect from you.
Take, for instance, a very spunky copywriter I know. Her online personality is loud and bold and fun. When I stumbled across her blog, I assumed she was an enormous people person with boundless energy for her clients and friends. Then I read her "About" page, where right at the top she refers to herself an introvert who hates talking on the phone. Had she not mentioned this, and had she answered the phone with anything less than booming enthusiasm, a potential client may have been taken by surprise. Insulted, even!
My husband is another excellent example. When he found his intense solo work becoming frequently interrupted by chatty co-workers, he worried that he was coming off as rude. But instead of letting misunderstanding harm his reputation, he implemented a system where he used red, yellow, and green magnets on his desk to communicate whether he was “in the zone” or available to talk. This system was soon spoken of admiringly around the office, not to mention solidified his appeal as “the quiet genius.”
Being an introvert in the professional world can be tough at times, but it's no excuse not receive the recognition you deserve. By flaunting your quiet strengths, knowing when to step outside your comfort zone, and preventing miscommunication, you’ll soon find yourself commanding greater attention at work.