Career Advice / Getting Ahead

Professional Introvert: An Introvert's Guide To Navigating The Workplace

. 7 min read . Written by Sanjana Bhagwat
Professional Introvert: An Introvert's Guide To Navigating The Workplace

Being an introvert has gone from being a belittling critique, to a #quirky trait thrown around by anyone and everyone, to something that is now a part of most people’s vocabulary. It is, however, still not a part of a lot of people’s understanding – often, especially, introverts themselves. So, for all my fellow introverts out there, here’s a guide to navigating the workplace as an introvert!

Despite having been an introvert since the time I could walk (usually away from overwhelming situations), it took the last several months of working from, and largely staying at, home, for me to come to fully understand, accept, and learn to navigate my personal and professional space as an introvert.

Are You An Introvert?

There’s no one type of “quintessential” introvert. There’s those of us who are generally shy, those of us who simply prefer spending time alone, those who have limited energy to give to things, those who love to be in the spotlight but need time in isolation to regenerate, and those who actively dislike or fear social situations – especially unfamiliar ones.

Do any of these situations apply to you? Do you tend to feel better, or “replenished”, when you spend time alone? If given an option, would you spend a larger portion of your day in solitude than surrounded by people and activity?

If your answer is yes, chances are you fall somewhere in the spectrum of introversion! This is most definitely not a bad thing. Being an introvert does not mean you get to dismiss yourself or allow others to dismiss you. All it means is that you need to define work and success in your own terms – and this guide will help you do just that!

What It Means To Be An Introvert At The Workplace

It is no secret that our current work culture has been designed to allow extroverts to thrive. Leadership, capability, visibility, and even reliability, are all inevitably equated with extroversion. It can be difficult for introverts to navigate such a work culture without feeling either invisible or completely burnt out in pushing themselves too thin.

As an introvert I’ve gotten a rather heavy end of the stick – I like spending time alone, do my best creative and productive work in isolation, dislike being the center of attention, can find social situations taxing, and can also feel cripplingly anxious in unfamiliar situations.

The work-from-home scenario in 2020 had been an almost ideal work situation for me. I got to focus, think, and work for long stretches of time without a part of my brain constantly wired to being aware of stimulations around me, as it is wont to have been in an office. I got to limit my interactions with people and anxiety-inducing situations. On days when I had limited energy to spare, I could more easily dictate how I distributed it between my personal and professional life.

woman smiling at laptop

It was only when friends and colleagues would complain about how much they felt disconnected and hated working from home, that I realised what a nightmare the situation must be for extroverts. Additionally, even for introverts, being comfortable in complete isolation can also ultimately mean becoming too comfortable in complete isolation. Managing to avoid the spotlight can just mean never being in the spotlight and having extremely low visibility at work.

It does not have to be either-or. Introverts and extroverts can work in mutually-beneficial synergy. And, most importantly, introverts can not only survive, but thrive, at the workplace. 

A Guide To Navigating The Workplace As An Introvert

Guide To Team Meetings

Starting with the bane of an introvert’s workplace existence – team meetings.

The first step to conquering team meetings is just to be there and make your presence known.

Go over the meeting’s agenda beforehand and reflect on what you can contribute to the meeting. Strategise talking points. This will ultimately not only help you, but also allow for an efficient meeting. Practice in front of a mirror beforehand if public speaking scares you.

Speak up early on in the meeting to make yourself visible and take off the pressure you put on yourself a little, for the rest of the meeting.

If you are unexpectedly put on the spot during the meeting, and are unable to articulate your thoughts with everyone’s eyes on you, go ahead and ask if you can take some time to think the question over. Introverts usually don’t do their best thinking during meetings. I personally find it difficult to speak on the spot during meetings. However, like most introverts, I tend to listen in a more engaged manner than most. Use this to your benefit – keep minutes during the meeting, or follow up on something a colleague said during the meeting, one-on-one after it’s over.

If you were unable to speak up or contribute your opinions during the meeting, make sure you follow up with the meeting’s members on email or Slack. Make it clear that there were a few thoughts you had after the meeting, on what was discussed, and list them down succinctly.

Guide To Talking To Colleagues

When left to their own devices, it can be easy for an introvert to simply sit at their desk and work all day without so much as looking up.

Talking about things other than work with colleagues may seem like a waste of time to introverts – behaviour that is not intended to be rude as it is more a self-defence. Introverts often tend to overthink what they say or even text, and spend more energy than most on even mundane conversations.

However, connections are a vital part of not only workplaces, but life. Even well-adjusted introverts require meaningful relationships in the long run.

(Continue reading below.)

Make talking to colleagues a habit, if it’s not a desire that comes to you organically. Schedule half an hour to 45 minutes everyday to walk around the office or call up a colleague if you’re working remotely. Pop into a co-worker’s office or message them to simply say “hi”.

1:1 conversations, whether online or in person, are an essential item in the introvert’s kit of workplace success. 

Make socialising a daily habit. Like any other habit development process – it’ll feel uncomfortable and might even result in a few embarrassing interactions at first, but will grow to be more natural and require less energy with every passing day.

Guide To Setting Boundaries

Create space and adjust your pace.

Create spaces of safety and solitude for yourself at work. Take regular short breaks and go for a walk. Decline having lunch with co-workers if you’re not feeling up to it every now and then. When working remotely, set aside personal time on your calendar when you won’t be responding to emails, messages or calls.

Adjust your pace in a way that makes you feel most at ease. Some introverts may find working for 8 hours straight in a buzzy office taxing. Others may find working in a fixed period of 9 to 5, and disconnecting after that easier to pull off. Find out what pace of working works best for you, and schedule your work day around that!

Additional workplace activities like networking events, office parties, and other socialising events, can be particularly draining for you. So, be strategic about them. Attend the ones where it’s important to be seen, and skip the rest. Alternatively, show up for some time, say hello, and leave early if needed. 

Guide To Defining Success On Your Own Terms

Your successes may not look like the conventional ideas of workplace success that have historically favoured extroverts. Introverts also tend to find it hard to speak up about, or shine the spotlight on, their own work.

In addition to measuring your success at work in terms of the organizational ideas of success, track your wins individually. Did you suggest an idea that was loved and implemented by the company? Did you juggle two important tasks and execute both of them in a timely manner?

Define success in your own terms, and keep track of all your wins in a personal “brag sheet”. Tracking them will help you bring them up during relevant meetings or conversations.

It will also come in handy during your performance appraisals. It can be easy for superiors to value extroversion and spontaneous performance, since it is the most visible in terms of results. Your shyness or silent work might be mistaken as “aloofness” or underperformance. Use the examples in your tracker to show that this isn’t true.

A personal “brag sheet” can also go a long way in preventing you from doubting your abilities, and motivate you to feel more comfortable to put yourself out there!

Being an introvert in no way means you have to either resign yourself to not succeeding at work, or change yourself. All it means is that you need to rework how you work. I hope this guide helps make the sometimes daunting world of work easier to navigate for all my fellow introverts out there!

If you found this article helpful, stick around for more such introverts guides to networking, leadership, interviews, and more! 

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