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WORKPLACE / JUL. 04, 2014

Don't Deny Your Workplace Introversion, Nurture It

Do you enjoy solitary activities? Feel refreshed and energized when on your own? Prefer small groups to large ones? Do you have a small but trusted group of friends? If so, there's a good chance you're an introvert. Introversion is a character trait defined by a focus inwards on one's own thoughts and feelings. It is the counterpart to extroversion which, by contrast, is characterised by seeking interaction with others for long periods of time, and feeling energized and excited to be around lots of people. Unlike extroverts, introverts feel energized and productive when on their own, and often feel drained by being around others for prolonged periods of time. They prefer focusing on single activities at a time, and prefer social situations with less stimulation.  

Unfortunately for introverts, our culture tends to prefer the talkative, assertive, outgoing nature of the extrovert and because of this, introverts are often misunderstood. Sometimes they’re wrongly accused of not liking others, when in reality, introverts just have a different threshold of socialization than extroverts and are more focused on their inner world than the outer world. Business culture often favours gregarious types—brash, loud, pushy, and able to command a room. Sometimes it seems like extroverts have introverts beat in the world of work. But do they?

There are actually a number of personality traits that accompany introversion that too often are overlooked, but that can be tremendously useful in the workplace. Introverts take note! Your inherent strengths don’t have to go unnoticed. For example, introverts are:

  • naturally more likely to be good listeners and have results-focused conversations with colleagues with less ‘small talk.’
  • more likely to think and plan before they talk, resulting in more careful consideration of tasks and problems at hand.
  • generally very good at communicating effectively and clearly through written communication.
  • more likely to manage effectively by ‘leaning back’ and letting team members run with their own good ideas, instead of interfering.

If you’re an introvert, it may be useful to think about how you foster your introversion. Do you ignore it by hanging out in noisy bars because you're expected to after work? Or do you listen to your inner voice and nurture your need to energize and invigorate yourself by working alone more often? Identify the ways your introversion makes you a better worker, and build on these skills.

Still, many introverts experience unfair judgments and criticism from management and co-workers, and typical introverted behavior can lead to being overlooked in the workplace, such as shying away from office politics, or being reluctant to self-promote. Flawed perception also plays a major role in these judgments. Introverts may not realize when they are perceived by others as cold, slow, inattentive, stand-offish and this may hurt their chances of being hired, promoted, or encouraged to pursue certain projects at work. 

Just as it’s important for introverts to recognize the ways their temperament is helping them in the workplace, it’s also useful for introverts to realize how it may be hurting their reputation. This doesn’t mean changing who you are. It simply means identifying ways that some people may be misinterpreting your natural behavior. Even such simple techniques as smiling or saying hello to colleagues more often may make a big difference.

The above video is an excellent TEDx lecture by Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, about the importance of creating environments and norms that encourage and celebrate introversion.

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