How To Succeed at Work as an Introvert
Sometimes it can feel like promotions and success in the workplace are reserved solely for charismatic, quick-on-their-feet extroverts. But in reality, thriving companies need a mix of personality types, from employees who excel at on-the-spot brainstorming to ones who gravitate toward executing and developing the very ideas generated from brainstorming.
If you identify as an introvert — drawing energy from being alone, disliking interruptions and unexpected requests, and tending to be reserved in meetings — then here are some tips to help you work within your comfort zone, and still stand out as an essential employee.
Find Quiet Places to Work
In 2012, Susan Cain published her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, as well as giving a TED Talk on the same topic. One of the revelations from Cain’s influential book was that companies tend to cater to extroverts over introverts both in office design and culture.
Open floor plans create an environment where the noise of background conversation is constant; a lack of doors makes it easy to pop over to co-workers cubicles without advance notice. It’s an impractical work environment for introverts, who often work best independently, and without noise or interruptions. So too is the common emphasis on teamwork and brainstorming.
If this sounds a lot like your workplace, try to find the secret, hidden spots — a rarely used conference room, perhaps, or a corner cubicle up for grabs — to hunker down and work. If there aren’t any, or if you really need to be at your desk, give co-workers subtle cues that let them know not to interrupt you. Try, for instance, putting on large, conspicuous headphones: you don’t even need to use them to play music; their presence alone can act as a metaphorical “do not enter” sign.
Give yourself the gift of alone time: escape from the crowds at the office throughout the day by going for a short walk, sitting in a nearby park, or even finding a quiet spot to grab a coffee. This time spent alone can help give you the recharge you need.
Make sure you’re in the right job for your personality type, too: if a job requires all problems to be solved as a group, or if being center stage is a must, it might not be the right spot for you.
Focus on Doing Work That Caters to Your Skills
Introverts tend not to thrive in big groups, brainstorming meetings, or any type of work that rewards the person who speaks first and loudest. Of course, that’s not necessarily true for every introvert — keep in mind that introverts and extroverts exist on a spectrum, with many people landing somewhere in the middle.
In general, introverts will excel when given time to prepare and think on a matter. Introverts balance their distaste for speaking extemporaneously with being strong listeners, skilled at analytical thinking. As Bill Gates, an incredibly successful introvert points out, “If you’re clever you can learn to get the benefits of being an introvert, which might be, say, being willing to go off for a few days and think about a tough problem, read everything you can, push yourself very hard to think out on the edge of that area.”
Think about ways you can apply your persistence to generate solutions, from detailed research to thorough reports to developing code to resolve a bug. An introvert’s strong listening skills can be useful in one-on-one meetings, and can also be helpful in sales-related positions. Presentations, too, can be a strength for introverts: while a panel discussion, which demands responses to potentially unexpected questions may be tough, a lecture or speech allows for thoughtful advance preparation, and can be an opportunity to shine even for shy types.
Be Social in a Way That’s Comfortable for You
Very often, being successful at work is a matter of building relationships. It’s through these connections that you can solve problems, gain insight, or even just get a work-related favor at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. Engaging in work-related social activities can help strengthen these connections, as well as building friendships that can be useful for your whole career.
As an introvert, it’s wise to avoid back-to-back social gatherings, since you may feel drained after time spent in a crowd. To that same end, build relationships through one-on-one social time: go to lunch and coffee with co-workers, and at big events and gatherings, find one or two people to chat with.
Be Your Own Best PR Person
People who thrive in social situations, frequently speak during meetings, and volunteer to attend client meetings can often drown out more reserved co-workers. The first step to getting recognition is to acknowledge to yourself the strengths and skills you bring to the workplace as an introvert. Not everyone can code for hours, dig through data, or analyze a complicated problem.
Your work quite likely speaks for itself: just as you may prefer not to speak during meetings, an extrovert may prefer not to write a monthly internal newsletter, and will appreciate you doing the detail-oriented work.
If it seems sometimes like your contributions have less visibility than those of more extroverted co-workers, give yourself an edge by sharing your accomplishments. Boasting is generally unappealing, but something as simple as putting an “I” in a sentence instead of a “we” can help highlight the work you completed. Consider sending out an email to announce a new project (and of course, be sure to acknowledge any person or department that has contributed). Or, set up occasional one-on-one meetings with your manager, and keep a running list of projects that you’ve completed, and particularly note any initiatives or responsibilities you’ve taken out outside of your formal job description.
If you ever feel held back by your core personality, just remind yourself how many successful people identify as introverts: Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mark Zuckerberg, and J.K. Rowling are just a few famous introverts.