Introverts: Don’t worry! Employers value your smarts, insight, and dependability. We don’t want you to change who you are; the world needs introverts as much as extroverts. That being said, sometimes office environments call for us to go beyond our comfort zone to create a supportive team environment or just demonstrate that we’re friendly people too! But there’s no need to fret -you can still be an excellent asset without compromising yourself. During the holiday events, it’s likely that you’ll have to make small talk – and in meetings, you may not be able to remain silent (even when taking time to process what has been said). If this is something that makes you uncomfortable, I’ve sought advice from psychologists on how best we can “fake” our way through these situations.
[Related: Science Says There Are Four Types of Introverts: Which One Are You?]
1. Rethink your perception of social gatherings.
To maximize success in the modern workplace, introverts should reevaluate their approach to small social interactions according to clinical psychologist Perpetua Neo, Ph.D., and Blush Online Life Coaching CEO Kali Rogers. “While some people see getting together as a way to unwind, introverts see it as work, but often feel guilty for doing so,” Rogers says. On the contrary, introverts should celebrate being part of a workplace that includes social gatherings as an essential element. “Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do in order to push forward,” Neo says, “and attending social events is great for new opportunities at work.” According to Dr. Neo, these meetings are a fundamental necessity. “Chances are, if you believe that these social niceties are painful, unnecessary and unpleasant, then they will be nerve-wrecking, tiring and difficult,” she says.
2. Take a proactive approach and do some preparation.
Take a proactive approach and do some preparation.
Ita M. Olsen, a renowned speech and communications expert, advises that individuals who struggle with small talk become comfortable by having some prepared phrases at the ready. “Just put a nice smile on your face and say something like “Coming to these events makes me a bit nervous—I never know what to say!” Olsen suggests. “I’m willing to bet real money that most people will be able to relate and say so. This establishes a bond that’s so much stronger than typical work-chat.” Let go of any apprehension and share some personal information about yourself; it will foster stronger connections in the workplace, make communication easier, and drive more successful outcomes. “You don’t have to poke fun at yourself, but that, too, is a real relationship starter,” Olsen adds. “People love humor and the deliverer of humor, and making fun of yourself is just that.”
Want to contribute thought-provoking ideas during meetings or brainstorms, but find yourself struggling to speak up? Start by writing them down first. This way you can properly articulate your thoughts and ensure that they are heard. “During the meeting, open your notebook and say ‘I had this idea,’” and then read it to the team,” Olsen says. “We all do it. Additional benefit: It will be so much more well formulated and concise.” Ten points for the not naturally outgoing!
[Related: How to Better Your Business Without Networking: Five Networking Alternatives]
3. Go for the one-on-one.
On a personal level, I feel much more at ease talking to people one-on-one than in groups. Subsequently, I make sure that my daily life is filled with these situations as often as possible. If you require some added self assurance beforehand, take advice from Constance Dunn – communication instructor at UC Santa Barbara and let her words inspire your confidence! “You know what’s great about being the office introvert? You’re something of a mystery. Because you speak quite seldom, when you actually do pipe up, people listen. Use this knowledge to your advantage in your quest to appear more outgoing, or connected with the rest of the tribe. If speaking up in group situations gives you the squirms, casually approach co-workers on a one-to-one basis, like at the water cooler or copy machine. The person you approach will be flattered that you singled them out.”
During the holidays, when everyone is in a festive mood and has had something to drink, it’s easy to get swept away in conversation about unusual hobbies or life experiences. This can be an excellent opportunity for quieter individuals who may not feel as confident in social situations; simply by listening intently and engaging with longer stories like that of your boss’ biggest carp catch ever, you will find yourself at the center of attention! In all cases though, Olsen recommends her clients put more stock into being attentive listeners. “When you really listen to people it makes them feel good, which provides an important foundation for productive and positive relationships,” she says. “Really listen and repeat what you think you’ve heard.”
5. Ask uncommon questions.
Introverts generally view small talk as trivial—and with good reason. “Introverts draw strength from having an active inner life and are invigorated by building deep, personal relationships, so the chit-chat we have to make at parties can feel superficial and fake,” says Melody J. Wilding, a therapist and professor of human behavior . To make conversations more stimulating, she encourages inquiring about unusual topics that pique your curiosity. “Instead of the trite small talk about the weather or asking ‘So, what do you do?’ be different, stand out, and leverage being your curious introvert self by asking things like where the person grew up, what was the best book they last read, or what has been fascinating them lately.”
6. Pay attention to your body language.
One of the simplest hacks for appearing more extroverted is to adjust your body language. “When used well, facial expressions and body language can be an introvert’s best friend,” Wilding says. “Simply giving someone a warm smile can be enough to make that person relaxed enough to start talking. Open body language (not crossing your arms or legs) makes not only the introvert more relaxed, but the others at the event more comfortable. People often walk away with the impression that you are sympathetic, in agreement with them, and super nice.” Unbelievably easy, yet remarkably effective.
7. If it’s a social event, leaving early is an acceptable option.
While you may sometimes have to make an effort and show up for a team-building event that doesn’t quite match your interests, there’s no need to stay the entire night.“If introverts get in habit of staying the entire time, things can get ugly really fast,” Rogers says. “Introverts have a shorter fuse when it comes to socializing, and there is no need to push ourselves to the limit. But that’s not an excuse for ditching completely, either. So show up for half or three quarters of the time. Leave when you start to feel the anxiety coming on.” By taking the time to pre-plan an early exit strategy, it will encourage you to actually attend.
8. Set aside time for yourself to refresh and recharge.
For introverts, appearing outgoing at work can be an exhausting chore. To avoid burnout from too many social engagements, Dr. Neo suggests setting a limit on the number of events you attend each week.For example, “I’ll have three meaningful conversations, and then I can leave.” Once you’ve done this, she says, “reward yourself with something nice…and ample time to recharge.” Take some time to socialize, reward yourself for your accomplishments, rest and then repeat it all over again. Believe in yourself – you can do this!
Photo: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images