Succeeding as an introvert in the workplace

By The Space Between Us

Never mind what anyone tells you … introverted people can be a major asset in the workplace. So do yourself a favour, take a few moments with our TSBU writers and TSBU clinical psychologist Lwanele Khasu as we show you how to succeed as an introvert in the workplace.

The world is not just about extroverts. Introverts have the skills to be leaders and movers and shakers, too. Just look at what famous introverts like Rosa Parks, J.K. Rowling, Albert Einstein, Meryl Streep, and Mark Zuckerberg have achieved. Have we got your attention yet? Excellent. Read on!

How do I know if I’m an introvert?

We think the dictionary needs a little updating. Because being an introvert does not necessarily mean that you are shy. TSBU clinical psychologist Lwanele Khasu says that introverted people can have high levels of confidence and voice their opinions easily, however they rather choose to form well thought out points before doing so. “We can actually learn from them but utilising the ‘stop, think, and act/speak’ methods that come very naturally to them.” she says.

For a better understanding of personality types, we also look to psychologist Carl Jung, who popularised the introverted and extroverted personality types in the 1920s. And we love how he puts it in terms of energy.

Quite simply, introverts and extroverts are two different personality types who give and gather their energy in different ways. Extroverted people turn outwards, towards other people to gain their energy. Introverted people turn inwards, into their own minds to gather their energy and to recharge. And while nobody is 100% introverted or extroverted, here are some signs that you may be leaning more towards introversion.

You could be an introvert if you:

  • Are very self-aware
  • Feel quite comfortable being alone
  • Have few, but very close friends 
  • Prefer working on your own rather than in a group
  • Are drawn to jobs that give you more independence
  • Like to learn by watching
  • Prefer writing to talking
  • Take your time to make decisions
  • Need some quiet space to concentrate
  • Find yourself reflecting or daydreaming often
  • Feel drained after spending time in a crowd
  • Withdraw into your own mind to rest

Does this sound like it could be you? For a more definitive answer, you can also take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test.

How do introverts succeed in the workplace?
One of the most important things to remember about your mental health as an introvert is to find ways to cope when the outside world becomes too much. The workplace can be very frenetic, so keep checking in with yourself and take a little quiet time to grab a coffee or take a quick walk when you need to recharge. The more you consciously develop a personal self-care plan, the more you can harness your strengths in the workplace. So let’s look at more tips for introverts to cope at work …

Find a quiet space to work. Thankfully, this is a lot easier in the newer, more flexible hybrid workplace. But if you don’t yet have the freedom to choose where and when you work, try the headphone trick. Whether you prefer to play some music or create stillness with noise-cancelling headphones, you can keep the outside distractions at bay.

Turn your listening skills into a superpower. Listening is a skill that tends to come quite naturally to introverts. It also just happens to be one of the most important skills for leaders. Those who pay attention are quicker to pinpoint problems and create solutions, are more empowered to create change, and can build a stronger network. So keep fine-tuning your listening skills!

Make your natural introspection your team’s ultimate go-to. Because introverts spend a lot more time absorbing, contemplating, and processing, we can be the ones everyone else turns to when they need a fresh idea or a different perspective. It was the late theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking who once said, “Quiet people have the loudest minds” … be that loud mind!

Be prepared to speak. You’re probably not very comfortable with public presentations, but it is still an excellent opportunity for career advancement. So when the invitations come, don’t just turn them down, or try to wing it. Accept, prepare, plan exactly what you’re going to say, give yourself a few practice runs, and when it finally comes down to it, stay focussed on your material rather than the audience. 

Be your own PR representative. The more extroverted among us tend to get more recognition. But it doesn’t have to be that way. One way to give your accomplishments more visibility without making yourself the centre of attention is to send out group emails from time to time that highlight the latest projects you’ve championed. You could also set up one-on-one meetings with your manager to underscore your recent accomplishments and initiatives.

How do I accept myself as an introvert in a world culturally biased towards extroverts?Unfortunately, the extrovert bias is a real thing. In fact, former lawyer Susan Cain quit Wall Street to write a book about how society is geared around extroverts. And although society may currently be skewed towards favouring extroverts, Khasu says there is a big misconception about introverts and their ability to self-love and accept who they are. “Introverts are generally more self-aware than extroverts because they spend a lot of time listening to their own thoughts and understanding why certain things affect them.” 

However, Khasu points out that introverts like to “personalise the things that happen to them”. You may believe that you are the issue that needs to be solved, but this is just because of a tendency to overthink situations. So here’s a little guidance from Khasu…

Learn to understand the things happening around you. If there are incidences at work, remind yourself that there may be more than one reason as to why they have occurred. Do not attribute mistakes or mishaps to yourself only.

Learn to trust yourself. Extroverts may be more verbal than you, but that does not mean that their ideas are better. Honour and acknowledge the contributions that you give too. 

Understand your own quiet strengths. When you compare yourself to others, you undermine your strengths. So own your abilities!

Give yourself an opportunity to make mistakes too. You can learn a lot from mistakes. So be less self-critical and give yourself the freedom to try new things without overthinking the outcomes. 

Create a close social circle.  This circle can be an incredible support system without overwhelming you. Choose people who understand you so that you don’t have to overcompensate and drain your energy.  

If you’re still struggling with your introverted nature and find that anxiety impacts your everyday functioning, please reach out to your physician or a mental health professional. You can also find a wealth of skills and clinical support in the TSBU workshop Young Professional Programme (YPP): Building Self esteem Beyond Performance and Dispelling the Imposter Voice.

Remember, you can succeed while still being authentically you!