In her 2013 bestselling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, author Susan Cain makes the case that corporate America is built to favor extroverts. And this, she claims, is really a shame since introverts are the people who innovate, create and propel the world forward.
So, what is a hard-working introvert to do in an office that rewards the gregarious and self-promoting? Try to approach typically-awkward work situations with these tips for social panache. Though challenging, we promise your boss will be pleased. We've adapted these tips from one of the expert sources for Cain's book on introversion, The Washington Post's Lillian Cunningham.
Introverts typically prefer self-deprecation to self-promotion. This is a wonderful character quality, but it makes it hard for employers to give credit where credit is due.
Solution. If you're introverted and feel squeamish about speaking up for your hard work, make a spreadsheet where you catalog each of your achievements and projects. Call a meeting once quarterly — or use your yearly performance evaluation, if your boss won't be receptive to regular meetings — to review your successes and ask for ways to build on them.
Chatting with colleagues and vendors is painful for introverts, particularly when networking functions have no purpose besides chatting. It's like a work meeting, but with even less of a point. Networking, however, is super important for building relationships and strategically moving up in your field.
Solution. Set a goal to attend a certain number of events per year, and then forget about it once you attend. Remember, too, that online networking through e-mail and social media can work just as well — and can even widen your circle beyond your geographic residence.
Holiday office parties are the only time to watch your boss run around with a lampshade on her head, but that doesn't change the challenge of all the noise and people milling about.
Solution. Drink! Just kidding, although it doesn't hurt to have a little social lubrication. Try to remember that office parties only happen once or twice a year, and that you can always leave early. The most important thing is that your colleagues see that you care enough to attend, even for 30 minutes.
Introverts are endlessly polite, but politeness ends poorly if the office over-talker takes up residence at your office door. Over-talkers are a time suck, and they're also likely to exhaust you as you're trying to plow through work.
Solution. Find mastery over kind phrases that cut the conversation short. Here's a formula to try out: non-verbal cue, validation and conversation killer. For instance, put your hand up in a motion that signals he or she should stop talking, and then say, "You know, I really know what you mean about that project. Let me finish this task so I can think about that more thoroughly." And then get back to work.
Unfortunately, modern office managers tend to believe that problems are solved in the group context of meetings. For introverts, the exact opposite is true. Your best creative work is done in solitude, which makes it hard to shine when the boss demands solutions during a meeting.
Solution. When an important problem-solving meeting is scheduled, block out an hour of time on your schedule to go for a walk to think. Explain this need to your boss, and come to the meeting with your thoughts written on paper, so you don't feel overwhelmed in the group.
Introverts are often brilliant, but it's hard to display that brilliance when you shun public speaking, whether in a small office meeting or an auditorium.
Solution. Desensitize yourself to the fear of public speaking by practicing in small, manageable ways. Join a toastmasters group. Give a speech to your kids. Do anything that takes the edge off the fear, and practice in small ways until you feel more confident.
This post was sponsored by Sanuk.
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