I’m sitting in the back of the crowded room, near the wall, and it seems like this staff meeting is never going to end.
All the extroverts – the room is full of them – are jumping over each other to debate the finer points of a new policy we’re putting into effect. There are so many differing opinions and rapid changes of topic that I’m not even sure what the central problem is anymore. The conversation is moving so quickly that I couldn’t get a word in if I wanted to.
Suddenly all the talking stops. A decision has been made. I’m still thinking about a point someone made ten minutes ago.
As an introvert working on a team of (mostly) extroverts, this has happened to me more times than I can count.
What’s an introvert to do? Shrink back into the wall and let everyone else make the decisions? Get passed over for raises and promotions because you’re not as visible as your extroverted colleagues?
While we’re never going to keep pace with extroverts in their ability to talk eloquently on the fly or possess (seemingly) endless amounts of energy, we can succeed on extroverted teams, and keep ourselves sane.
1. Own your introversion.
Be comfortable in your own skin. So you aren’t the biggest personality in the office, but you can harness a quiet, steady confidence all your own. It’s a confidence that says, “I know I’m good at what I do, and I don’t need a celebrity-sized entourage to validate that.” Remember that introverts excel at certain things that extroverts don’t, such as their ability to focus for long periods of time, be a self-starter not needing much management, reflect and think deeply about issues, observe things that others miss, listen, see others’ perspectives, and self-recharge.
2. A little chit chat goes a long way.
A “hi, how are you?” or “how was your weekend?” every once in a while goes a long way towards making you more visible to your colleagues, and making you appear more engaged and friendly. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking suggest that introverts build time to socialize into their daily schedules so it becomes a habit. She says it’s easy for us to plant ourselves at our desks, put our heads down, and just work all day. This is what makes us happy and it’s how we feel productive – time spent socializing seems like a waste.
“But we all know that part of doing a good job is forming the bonds and the connections and the relationships that we all need,” Cain says.
Block out 20-30 minutes a day to just walk around the office and chat. Make it a point to have at least one personal, meaningful conversation with a coworker. A little small talk greases the wheels with colleagues, keeps you in the know about what’s going on in the office, makes you feel more comfortable with others on your team, positions you for new opportunities, and possibly makes coworkers more open to your ideas and suggestions, since they’ll now have a personal connection with you.
3. Learn about the purpose of a meeting ahead of time.
In my experience, when managers schedule meetings, they don’t tell you much ahead of time about what problem they’re trying to solve or what they’re hoping to accomplish. They say the meeting is going to be about “the new product rollout” or “scheduling.” Introverts love to solve problems, but unlike extroverts who like to talk to think, we do our best thinking quietly and alone.
Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, says, “Introverts don’t mind meeting with a team. We know that’s necessary for strategizing. But we prefer if our contribution to the larger project is something we can do by ourselves, then bring back to the team. We’re most productive when we can focus quietly and independently on a task.”
Ask your teammates or manager ahead of time what issues are going to be discussed. (They’ll probably like that you’re taking a proactive approach.) Then, write down your thoughts and bring your notes to the meeting so you don’t draw a blank when it comes time to talk.
4. Speak up in the middle of a meeting every once in a while.
Make it a personal challenge. Allow yourself to mumble and shake and have ill-formed thoughts that aren’t perfect. I sometimes get hung up because I want what I do to be perfect – I wait for the “perfect” time or until I have completely thought through something. The extroverts aren’t sitting around waiting for perfection – they’re saying what comes to mind now and “striking while the iron’s hot.” Besides, you’ll probably be better at it the next time you speak up. Practice makes perfect.
Remember, don’t wait for a pause in the conversation to speak. It’s okay to cut people off sometimes. Everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t you!
5. Take the time you need.
If someone asks you, “What do you think about this?,” it’s okay to confidently say, “I need to think about that for a minute,” or to take your time in answering, even if it seems like people are getting impatient.
6. Use an understanding of personality to harness your strengths and know the preferences of your coworkers.
Taking a personality test like the Personality at Work can be the first step in determining your preferences and strengths. Once you know the things you’re good at (and the things you aren’t so good at) you can start to play to your strengths and refine your weaker areas. Knowing the personality type of your coworkers can benefit you, too. You can understand what drives them and what drains them. Read the Personality at Work blog for in-depth personality descriptions.
7. Notice your own levels of stimulation and give yourself a break when needed.
Cain says, “At the heart of it, introverts and extroverts respond really differently to stimulation. Introverts feel most alive and energized when they're in environments that are less stimulating -- not less intellectually stimulating, but less stuff going on.” When you start to feel drained, move yourself as soon as you can to a quieter, calmer environment. This may mean shutting your office door for a while, turning down the lights, or taking a short walk on your own.
Although your extroverted colleagues may be running around in a frenzy of activity, don’t feel guilty about your need for a break. Growing research actually shows that we may be able to be more productive by doing less. That’s good news for introverts – we already naturally understand that cycle of work, then recoup!