The Introvert's Guide to Workplace Politics
Work + Life Balance

The Introvert's Guide to Workplace Politics

by Hillary Hoffower
Photos Joanne Pio | February 25, 2016

BEING AN INTROVERT ISN'T A BAD THING. IN FACT, IN THE LONG RUN, IT JUST MIGHT MAKE YOU A STRONGER ASSET AND BETTER CAREER WOMAN.

One of my former supervisors was kind enough to once forward me the reference she had provided for a soon-to-be internship of mine. One of the questions my future boss had asked was, What are Hillary’s strengths and weaknesses?

My supervisor’s answer went something like this:

Hillary is a bit quiet at first, but she soon comes out of her shell.

My first thought was: Wow, if that’s all she could come up with, that’s pretty good. But there was something nagging me in the back of my mind—Is quiet actually considered a weakness in the workplace? Is this something I need to improve on?

Being quiet is often associated with introversion. And if you are part of the one-third of people out there who make up the introverted population, the workplace can certainly be a struggle at times. Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, touches on the rise of the Extrovert Ideal and how it’s filtered into and influenced the structure of the workplace—and how introverts have become undervalued in the process. 

It’s important to note that introversion does not equal shyness. According to Cain, it’s actually about how one responds to stimulation. Whereas extroverts thrive on larger amounts of stimulation, too much stimulation might overwhelm introverts, who feel more energized in low-key environments. Which is why those back-to-back team meetings can feel so draining. 

As an introvert myself, I know how exhausting it can be to navigate some of the most typical workplace situations. With a little help from Cain’s book, here’s a guide to help you survive and learn how to tackle those common sore spots.

If you are part of the one-third of people out there who make up the introverted population, the workplace can certainly be a struggle at times.

NETWORKING AT EVENTS 

Among introverts, networking events are often referred to as a necessary evil—you want to expand your contacts and career prospects, but you dread the small talk.

Cain points out that the problem introverts face when it comes to networking is not talking to strangers, but making small talk with strangers. Introverts prefer to connect on a deeper level and have meaningful conversations as opposed to fluffy ones. With this in mind, it’s easier to develop a strategy for your networking game. Consider these tips based on Cain’s advice:

  1. Choose networking events that are truly interesting you so you genuinely looking forward to going.
  2. Prepare topics to bring up in conversation. Introverts are naturally good listeners, so use this skill to ask questions once the conversation is flowing.
  3. “Collect kindred spirits.” This is Cain’s phrase for finding “your people,” whose company you sincerely enjoy and would like to stay in touch with. This will make it easier to have deeper conversations filled with less small talk, and therefore help you develop more meaningful connections. Finding these people can be helped by….
  4. …selecting the people you want to talk to beforehand. See if you can find a list of attendees before the event, select the ones you want to connect with, and reach out via LinkedIn to set up a meeting. This way, you’ll avoid wandering around during the event and be able to better complete tip two. 

MEETING A CLIENT FOR THE FIRST TIME

Regardless of whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, meeting a client for the first time can be exciting and stressful, especially if you don’t know what kind of personality you’ll be dealing with and if there’s a lot riding on the meeting. Plain and simple, clients want their money’s worth; think about what they want to hear—do they need insight or a problem to be solved? This lets you use your two best natural introvert talents: preparedness and listening.

  1. Do your due diligence and research both your client and company beforehand. Find something you have in common with the client to help build that more meaningful conversation. Create a meeting agenda and prepare talking points on how you can address their needs— the less you need to improvise, the easier the conversation will go.
  2. Because introverts like to think or mull things over before they speak, they’re great at listening. Let the client lead the conversation — listen to their wants and needs and take notes. This will give you the time to figure out how you want to respond — and because you’re prepared, you’ll know how to address their concerns.

SPEAKING TO A CROWD 

Whether it’s a speech for a conference or giving a presentation to your boss and coworkers, public speaking is the Achilles’ heel for many an introvert. Cain got over her own stage fright fears by following the advice of Malcolm Gladwell, who asserted that public speaking is not an act of extroversion. Instead, view public speaking as a performance or storytelling role you inhabit on stage. Cain suggests crafting your story beforehand, practicing it, and then sharing it with people. Once you’re done, you can go back to being yourself and recharge in your room, cubicle, or office in solace. She offers a few more tips on her website:

  1. Preparation is key (do you notice a pattern here?). Practice your speech or presentation until you feel comfortable with it or until you have it memorized. Record yourself if you must!
  2. Watch videos of speakers (such as TED talks) or read a transcript of a speech that really impressed you. Study the speakers’ faces and emotions as they delivered their talk or the way the speech was constructed and take mental notes on the strengths.
  3. Focus on your strengths as a speaker and take advantage of them. For example, if you have a sense of humor, use it. Cain suggests framing your speech around your message and who you are as a person.
  4. Smile at your audience as they enter the room and when you begin speaking to feel more “relaxed, confident, and connected.”
Public speaking is not an act of extroversion. View public speaking as a performance or storytelling role you inhabit on stage. 

ATTENDING A CONFERENCE

Conferences can be a whirlwind of an experience, and an exhausting one at that for introverts. They can be especially intimidating if you attend one by yourself — but they don’t have to be. If you can, arrive at the conference a couple days beforehand to become acquainted with the setting and locations. That way, you won’t have to stress over finding the seminars and workshops as you go, and you’ll begin day one on a calmer note. Try the following:

  1. Find people attending the conference you want to connect with ahead of time via social media. If the event is listed on Facebook or LinkedIn, scroll through the list of attendees. Search Twitter for mentions of the event. Post an interesting, relevant article on the event page or respond to the tweet to whoever mentioned the event. These baby steps at establishing connections will help you feel more comfortable once you’re there. Bonus points if you have a blog, write up a few posts related to the event, and share it on social media using the event’s hashtag.
  2. Bring business cards along for a good way to break the ice, and have go-to topics in your mind to help move conversation along.
  3. Most importantly, remember that you can pick and choose the sessions you want to attend. If you’re not interested in one, take the time to retreat to your room for some downtime or walk the grounds to recharge. Proactively scheduling time to recharge will help you relax and reflect on the sessions you did attend, preventing you from feeling overwhelmed. Unwind at the end of the day with a nice bath or book for post-conference recovery time.

PARTICIPATING IN A MEETING

In chapter three (“Collaboration Kills Creativity”) of her book, Cain points out that the standard structure of “free-for-all discussions” generally favors people who are more comfortable jumping in conversation than those more comfortable with thinking their thoughts through. In this case, the faster responses that generally come from extroverts tend to dominate while the introvert is taking time to listen and formulate information into a quality contribution. Both provide valuable contributions, but introverts can better contribute in a structure that allows them time to think first. Keeping that in mind, these two tips inspired by Val Nelson’s advice on Susan Cain’s website, may help:

  1. Create a list of bullet points in advance of topics you want to address in the meeting. Think of your thoughts in advance so you know what to say; you’ll feel more relaxed going into the meeting.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for time to think. Mention that you’ve heard some good opinions, but that you’re still formulating your own and would like to come back to your points a little later.

These qualities are also key if you happen to be the one leading the meeting. Because introverts are so great at listening, know that you’ll be a great leader in the meeting because you’ll thoughtfully consider everyone’s viewpoints before coming to a decision. As an introvert, you’ll also understand that some of the employees in the meeting may be introverts, too. Give them the chance to speak up by asking them if they have a contribution, but don’t put too much pressure on them; let them know it’s okay if they need time to think. 

Remember: being “quiet” isn’t a weakness — it’s a strength. Use the natural talents that come with being an introvert, such as listening, preparing, and carefully formulating your thoughts, to your advantage.

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Need help navigating another situation as an introvert? Ask us in the comments and we'll give you some pointers.

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