Help for introverts in extroverted workplaces

ChangingCoursesquareSusan Cain’s 2012 bestseller, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, helps shed light on the issue of introverted workers in the workplace. In an interview with National Public Radio, Cain stated that American culture started idealizing extroverted personalities at the turn of the 20th century when we had the rise of big businesses.

“It’s quite a problem in the workplace today, because we have a workplace that is increasingly set up for maximum group interaction. More and more of our offices are set up as open-plan offices where there are no walls and there’s very little privacy,” she said. “The average amount of space per employee actually shrunk from 500 square feet in the 1970s to 200 square feet today.”

What is an introvert? An introvert is a person who draws energy from time spent alone. Introverts tend to find social situations draining and need time alone to recharge after being around people. They tend to be introspective and like to explore thoughts and feelings. They may prefer to talk about concepts and ideas rather than making small talk.

Introverts are not self-absorbed loners or anti-social. Because they process information internally, in the workplace they can be viewed as cool, detached, and highly professional in demeanor.

Persons with extroverted personalities tend to like talking small talk and are highly sociable.  In other words, extroverts are the opposite of introverts.

In his book The Introvert Advantage, author Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D. says that introverts are often overlooked and their contributions underappreciated due to their reluctance to speak up in meetings and failing to toot their own horn.

Here are a few tips to let co-workers know that you are participating at meetings:

•  Relax before meetings by deep breathing for five minutes in a quiet private place.

•  Use nonverbal signals like nods, eye contact and smiles to let others know you are paying attention.

•  Say something — ask a question or restate what someone else said.

•  Give your thought a beginning, middle and end.

•  Say, “I want to add something to what you mentioned a few minutes ago,” to keep your thought in sync. Get people’s attention by giving an opening phrase in a firm voice: “I’d like to add something…” or “My thought is…”

Try these tips on how to toot your own horn without feeling overexposed:

•  Let your boss know what type of work, projects and tasks are interesting to you.

•  Talk about yourself with colleagues in an easy, relaxed way. For example, chat about your hobby while waiting to use the fax machine.

•  Compliment coworkers and acknowledge their accomplishments.

•  Volunteer to help on a committee; others will then see you as a team player.

•  At some point, almost all of us find ourselves having to address a group. If you are an introvert and you get anxious when having to speak publicly, try these tips as part of your preparation:

•  Accept speaker’s anxiety — it happens to everyone.

•  Know your audience and direct your talk to them.

•  Know your topic

•  Practice, practice, practice until you feel comfortable.

•  A week before your presentation, see yourself feeling confident. Visualize an attentive audience.

•  Find a few friendly faces when presenting and look at them.

•  Speak a bit louder than you normally do.

•  Use your natural humor.

•  Remember that every presentation doesn’t need to be perfect.

•  Congratulate yourself when it’s over!

Author Laney provides additional strategies for preparing to deal with the external world:

Strategy 1: Shoot from the Lip — pick a person in your immediate area and strike up a conversation about the environment or the weather.

Strategy 2: Calm your Inner Irritations — take deep breaths and respond to each situation uniquely.

Strategy 3: Be Kind, Don’t Rewind — try to make an uncensored statement in a safe environment.

Strategy 4: Pack Your Survival Kit — have on hand what you need to have a pleasant external experience. This can include a book to read as you take a break during your day.

Remember, in every situation, especially in the workplace, don’t leave home without your sense of humor. Learn to laugh at yourself and others will laugh with you!


Tammy McIntyre, M.Ed. is a workforce development consultant providing individuals and small businesses with career development services. She welcomes reader responses to