Saying the words “introvert” and “getting ahead” may seem a bit incongruous, as the label ‘introvert’ can conjure up all sorts of images – from the solitary bookworm sitting alone on a park bench, to the shy wallflower at a party, peering down at their shoes. Introversion is often misunderstood as shyness, but the real definition is a little bit different.
What Exactly is Introversion?
Whether or not you identify as an introvert or an extrovert has nothing to do with whether you feel “shy” or “outgoing.” Rather, it’s about where you get your energy. Introverts replenish their energy reserves by being alone, usually in a quiet space. Extroverts get their energy from other people. (This explains why some people can stay at a party all night long, while others simply make an appearance and then tiptoe quietly out the back door!) In general, workplaces are designed to favor a more extroverted atmosphere – with open work spaces, large conference rooms, and a heavy emphasis on teamwork. It may feel like a challenge to get ahead if you’re an introvert, but here are some tips and tricks to help you. (Full disclosure – as a career development teacher I had to figure out many of these coping mechanisms for myself as I am about as introverted as they come!)
Know Your Strengths
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease” – right? It’s easy to listen to the loudest guy in the room. But does the loudest guy in the room always have the best ideas? Maybe not. His strength may be in his swagger, but yours may be in an entirely different area. Are you good at compiling data? Can you read body language expertly or proofread executive communications? Maybe you are the team bridge builder, always fixing relationships or smoothing ruffled feathers. Show your stuff, in the way that is most comfortable for you. It may be a one page email summary sent every week to your manager highlighting your accomplishments, or it could be a quick hallway conversation where you share a nugget of info that you know will help your team. Either way – knowing your strengths, using them, and communicating them, will help showcase your value.
Respect Your Limitations
If you’ve been in back to back meetings all day and you simply can’t stomach the thought of going to that after work happy hour, don’t sweat it. Chances are you’ll show up cranky and resent every moment of small talk. Instead, let your boss know privately that you have a family commitment. (being committed to yourself is ok!) Connecting with the people you work with on a social level IS important however (it’s where some of the best networking conversations take place) so don’t let your avoidance of happy hour stop you from creating those bonds. Instead, try cultivating one on one relationships. Invite a colleague to lunch or coffee that next week and keep the work talk to a minimum and social talk to a maximum. The meeting will be on your own terms, and you’ll be rested and ready.
Prepare Prepare Prepare
Being one step ahead is one way to avoid that “caught off guard” feeling. I know that I need extra time to process information, and sometimes my brain doesn’t work fast enough to contribute in large team gatherings. If I have a chance of researching information ahead of time, I will sit down before the event or meeting to quickly jot down a few notes. If I’ve run out of juice completely and just can’t contribute during the session, I make it a point to follow up afterwards with my ideas.
Ask For Feedback
We tend to judge ourselves by our intentions, while others judge us on our actions. As an introvert, I am naturally introspective and have what feels to me a pretty high level of self-awareness. However, it ALWAYS surprises me when I receive feedback from others on my contributions at work. I learn something new every time. Asking for feedback (and being able to accept it) demonstrates maturity, professionalism, and the willingness to continue honing your craft.
Take Care of Yourself
Now more than ever, companies are making do with less staff. Workloads are increasing, and many of us are doing the jobs of two and three people. Stress and overwhelm are common workplace companions, and it’s necessary to remember that we just can’t do it all. It’s important to put boundaries in place that will allow you to have time for the things that refill your energy tank, whether it’s time snuggling on the couch with your dog, playing music or being with family. Remember – work is only one part of the introvert’s life!