The Introvert's Guide to Office Culture

Introverted? Here's How Rule Your Office and Own Your Career Anyway
by Sarah Woehler
Photos Diana Zapata | June 20, 2016
For an introvert, from an introvert. Here are the four best practices for any work environment.
Introverts have gotten some airplay (whether they want it or not) in recent years, and that’s a good thing since they’re often the misunderstood underdogs in the realms of work and play. Given that introverts require time away from people to process and recharge, the workplace can be a challenging environment. There's not much room for those who need space and quiet to think.

As an introvert myself working in different corporate environments over the past few years, I’ve had to develop skills that didn’t come quite naturally to me, but which made work much more rewarding once I did. Here are four things I’ve learned along the way:

1. KEEP AN EYE ON YOURSELF AND YOUR NEEDS

Maybe it’s the heightened sensitivity or feeling misunderstood in a culture that favors extroverted personalities, but there’s something comforting about being true to you. So what if you don’t have the energy to join in on lunch with your coworkers in the cafeteria every day or brainstorm better alone than in a big group. Being true to you means accepting yourself and listening to your needs, even if those needs happen to be different than what your colleagues’ needs are.

2. YOU MAY HAVE TO PLAY EXTROVERT FROM TIME TO TIME

This may seem to contradict my prior statement, but in actuality, you can be true to yourself while “playing” extrovert. Think of it like slipping into a party dress or putting on a crazy hat—a little different maybe, but you’re still you. {click to tweet}

Playing extrovert allows you to stay true to yourself on the inside while pushing yourself a bit: to be a little more chatty, to allow the spotlight to fall on you temporarily (even if it’s your least favorite kind of light), to join in on the department dodgeball competition. The trick is knowing that it's only temporary, and you can return to your quiet self once the meeting, event, or social activity is over. Remember: it’s okay to get out of your comfort zone on occasion, especially knowing that you’ll be able to get back into it once the hustle and bustle is over.

3. DON'T SELL YOURSELF SHORT

When I graduated from college, I was shy, timid, unsure of myself, and my biggest fear was—you guessed it—public speaking. When I applied to graduate school, I was offered an assistantship that required teaching English 101 to undergrads. I was both ecstatic and scared beyond belief, but the discomfort is what propelled me forward.

I knew I had to face this fear, and face it I did. I learned that practice makes (almost) perfect. Now I regularly present at monthly department meetings and get by with merely a few little butterflies. The added bonus is that I’ve learned to enjoy public speaking because I’ve gotten the practice and the opportunity to become decent at it. Just because your heart pounds and your palms sweat at first doesn’t mean they always will. And just because you’re not an extrovert doesn’t mean you can’t do some of the things extroverts thrive on just as well—or even better.
Playing extrovert allows you to stay true to yourself on the inside while pushing yourself a bit: to be a little more chatty, to allow the spotlight to fall on you temporarily (even if it’s your least favorite kind of light).
In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, he argues it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in something. Now, I’m not suggesting that you need to spend 10,000 hours to become skilled at public speaking, but the point here is that practice builds both ability and confidence and has the added benefit of helping you to enjoy something you never thought possible.

4. SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO SPEAK UP TO BE HEARD

Speaking up is challenging for introverts because we’re in our heads so much. But in the workplace ideas are exchanged through meetings, and it’s often the outspoken folks who get recognition because of the perception that they’re contributing more, even if introverts may be hustling more behind the scenes.

Recently, during a meeting with the Director of Brand Communications where I work, I expressed a desire to move up in the company. He responded, “If you want that you’re going to have to speak up more (in meetings).” When he added, “You’re very smart, you’re very articulate, people like hearing what you have to say,” it occurred to me how fundamental having a voice in the workplace is. Those who are workhorses may be respected for their hustle, but it’s those that are heard who are going to be given the opportunities for growth and leadership. 

Speaking up may not come naturally for introverts who process information differently than their extroverted counterparts, which is why it’s critical to practice speaking in that forum. Since having that one-on-one with my boss, I’ve begun making a conscious effort to speak up more in meetings, even if it feels unnatural or forced at times. As with public speaking, I’ve found that the more I do it, the easier it gets. 

Finding your way in the workplace as an introvert can be challenging but it also can be incredibly rewarding if you use your introverted skills to your advantage. With advantages like good listening skills, intuition, creativity and high concentration, introverts are subtle but powerful contributors to company success. Temporarily taking on the mantle of an extrovert can you help an introvert make sure that these notable contributions get heard and recognized.

Are you an introvert? What are some of your tricks for making it work?