The word “introvert” is an adjective that has followed me my entire life. I made my mom accompany me to birthday parties as a child and would rather melt into the floor than raise my hand in a packed lecture hall in college. I never thought of this trait as a negative, but more as a quirk. Like someone who’s a picky eater or has trouble falling asleep. However, when I entered the work force, I realized that my introverted nature set me apart from a group of dynamic, talkative salespeople.
At my pervious job, I would attend weekly department-wide meetings in a room filled with co-workers. These gatherings were focused on brainstorming and revolved around each participant throwing out ideas for analysis by the rest of the group. Other people were so unaffected by these meetings that they often forgot about them. I on the other hand would sweat for an hour before and after.
What seemed like part of a typical day at the office for some, was enough to induce a cold sweat and sleepless nights. I’m not a “blurt out whatever comes to mind” kind of employee, and hated feeling everyone in the room swivel to look at me if I decided to chime in. Because of this, I would make my mandatory contribution (an update on my work) and then sit and observe. If I came up with an idea, I would stay after the meeting and talk to my supervisor about it one-on-one. This is how I felt the most comfortable.
While I saw nothing wrong with my preferences, eventually a manager explained to me that my silence during meetings was coming across as disinterest. No one else knew that I was developing ideas after everyone had returned to their desks; they just saw me sitting quietly week after week. I was horrified when I learned this. Though I felt, and still do, that companies should work to better accommodate introverted personalities, but I didn’t want to come across as lazy or uninvolved.
I’ve realized that I’ll never be a “beat your fists on the table” type like some people are, but I’ve also worked to get more comfortable speaking up. I don’t want to change my introverted personality, but I also don’t want to let my soft-spoken nature set me back at work. For fellow office introverts, here are some tips for survival:
1. Plan out what you want to say ahead of time
Whether it’s a casual department update or a formal presentation for upper management, scripting out what you want to say can help to make you feel more comfortable. I realized that part of my issue during the weekly company meetings was that I was convinced that I would say the wrong thing, forget the points I needed to make, or flub my words. Planning out exactly what I needed to convey, no matter how low-pressure the situation was, helped me to feel more confident when it was my turn.
2. Don’t feel bad about speaking up
Sometimes I would come this close to expressing an idea during a department meeting, but would instead opt to let someone else talk. I figured they probably had something more pressing to say. While I was deferring to someone else, I was also letting my thoughts go unheard. If you have an idea, say it. Don’t just assume that everyone else will have something more developed to contribute.
3. Be honest with your manager
For non-introverts, it’s often hard to see why tossing out a half-baked idea in front of your co-workers may seem daunting. To make the situation easier, have an honest discussion with your boss about your personality type. This will help them to understand where you’re coming from, and may prevent judgments on actions that aren’t a reflection on your interest level, but rather of your personality.
4. Find a company that works with your personality type
Some businesses cater to introverted employees, allowing for quiet work time instead of meetings and presentations. If possible, seek out a company that enables you to operate how you feel most comfortable.
5. Realize that no one is as critical as you are of yourself
When you’re nervous about speaking up, it feels like the whole room is hanging on your every word. In reality, people are probably listening, but not as closely as you may think (or fear). They’re hearing what you’re saying, but they’re also taking notes, thinking about what they want to say next, and wondering what they’ll eat for dinner. In all honesty, any small mistakes that you make probably won’t even register.
6. Don’t force yourself to change
When you’re in a room filled with people who speak up easily and give a dynamic presentation, it’s tempting to try to mimic their traits. In reality, introverts provide their own unique set of benefits and skills. Though we’re not loud presences, we’re often analytical thinkers who can empathize with others. Realize that you bring your own strengths to your organization, and there’s no need to take on a personality type that isn’t yours.
7. Find a friend
If you have a co-worker you feel particularly close with, consider discussing your more introverted nature with them. The next time you give a presentation, seeing this person’s face and knowing that he or she is supporting you can provide a boost of confidence.
For office introverts, a little adjusting may be required in order to seamlessly blend your own strengths and ideal work habits with a company culture that often promotes teamwork and collaboration. With a little time outside of your comfort zone, you can hone your abilities and contribute positively, regardless of whether you would have won “most outgoing” in high school.
Ask Levo Mentor Rachelle Hruska, Founder and CEO of Guest of a Guest, how she manages feeling introverted as the head of her company and website.