The corporate world, at least what I’ve seen of it, is a funny thing. It is made for extroverts, and definitely contains lots of lessons for introverts to learn from.
One of the biggest lessons you can learn is how to mix the two and add value as an introvert. The idea for this article was bornt when we were writing a popular article – What is the best advice for struggling entrepreneurs?
What constitutes an Introvert?
Introverts are people who prefer solitude. They usually are very critical of themselves.
Most people talk because they have to say something but introverts talk because they have something to say.
As an introvert, you can go very long without talking to anyone. There are weeks when I just showed up, finished and left, especially at the start of my career.
This is all time you can spend getting stuff done. That WILL be noticed and appreciated.
However, as you go higher up the chain, your value needs to be more than just executing tasks well – you need to ‘network’ and ‘lead’ (This involves managing up, down and sideways).
This is where things get tricky for an introvert. Here are the lessons for introverts to apply at the workplace:
Networking for Introverts
Being at the centre of the web is not optimal, and it’s cognitively taxing for an introvert. Instead, I get to know two or three well-connected people.
This is easy – usually, they find you. If I need something, they can put me in touch.
As Justin Hibbard pointed out in his answer, “A few deep relationships are better than several shallow ones”.
How to Start a Conversation with a Stranger
No matter how many times you deny today, starting conversations with stranger is an essential life skill. This is one of the most common lessons for introverts.
We all know deep down in our hearts it took hell of an effort to make the first move to talk, BUT you can learn it with practice.
I still remember how in my initial days my manager literally dragged me over to have a conversation with another manager – with whom I have been communicating over mails for weeks now.
This was an important moment in my career which I hope will be an one of the most important lessons for introverts out there as well. Your worries are often your worst fears – which do not come true at all!
Taking credit when it’s due
There are a few companies where the culture is one of giving credit where it’s due, and nothing feels as good as people speaking for you.
In a lot of places, though, introverts can have their thunder stolen after doing the hard yards.
This is easy to avoid.
One of the most important lessons for introverts: It really doesn’t take much to send an email marking your manager, letting them know what you’ve been up to and the impact it made.
There are some practices that introverts would do well to follow, and request others to comply. The topmost is letting people know what to expect from you at work.
I need meetings to be set up well in advance, so I am aware of the context and walk in prepared to make it as quick and effective as possible.
There is hardly anything that can’t wait a couple of hours. If you drag me into a corner and request solutions extempore, you are guaranteed to get well below my 100% – I haven’t had time to reflect and think.
I detest “instant brainstorming” of the type where you just get people in a room and tell them to throw around ideas for something.
I usually tell people the problem, tell them to think of ideas on their own and spend 10–15 minutes at a later time piecing together a final solution. This also happens to be the best way to get an introvert’s contribution.
If anything’s bothering me, I let my immediate superiors know.
This is part of #2, and is also quite handy if I don’t know the solution – it’s more efficient then to get a more experienced colleague’s advice.
Developing good relationships and ambience helps getting things done – when people get along they are more open and willing to work together.
There would be less misunderstandings (sometimes emails and writing might seem cold or even misinterpreted because it’s devoid of body language and voice tone).
People enjoy talking and openly sharing ideas, the team is more willing to help each other. People can be more forgiving and trusting too.
Sharing about ourselves, talking about different things and doing group activities together can foster better relationships – people get along by talking.
It can be during lunch, coffee break and so on. Sharing about ourselves, jokes, casual stuffs can make us more receptive and feeling good when interacting each other. Interacting in person is also very different from interacting online.
People are more receptive with live interaction.
Sharing about ourselves and asking personal questions is actually very easy – people also love talking about themselves.
On the other hand, sharing bits of ourselves can make others more receptive to trust us. Being an introvert, I tend to be more of a listener but I often felt that asking personal questions when we are not too close yet seems intruding.
But after noticing how people actually ask personal questions easily to know each other, I’ve started doing so too and it’s really easy to get to know each other.
People actually don’t mind answering about their interests, kids, hobbies, origins and so on.
People prefers others with whom they get along – that is why sometimes the more likeable people are promoted instead.
But then there is indeed value in preferring those who are easier to work with. Aside from the mentioned benefits, pleasant people also tend to facilitate rather than complicate.
Imagine trying to work with someone talented but too stubborn to listen or help.
People who are friendlier and charismatic can also have advantage when dealing with other people, like clients.
Someone empathetic and diplomatic can understand clients’ needs while helping them figure out a mutually beneficial way, while someone less friendly or diplomatic might create more conflict and therefore difficulty when working with clients.
Same for working with other team members.
Sometimes one needs to set some boundaries with interactions… diplomatically – while getting along with others is fun and good.
Sometimes we need to balance it and focus on our tasks too. Like how to say no or schedule a meeting at a more proper time later. Being too receptive can negatively affect our tasks, and for introverts it can also be draining.
My introvert lessons learned include:
It is possible to set your own rules.
I took a job in an office in which my co-workers were constantly attending social events to get leads. After analyzing the results of the office’s work, I discovered that these social events produced little or no results.
explained this to my supervisor and told him I would be doing things differently. Pursuing a different path worked, so no one interfered with me. I do almost all of my “networking” by email.
You will sometimes have to choose whether to (a) do the work or (b) receive credit for the work.
Few people can do both.
As an introvert, you will likely choose to be the one actually doing the work, and that’s not a bad thing.
One of the lessons for introverts here is to learn how to get your work recognised. Else your effort will go to nought.
Always eat lunch alone
I know there’s a book that says the opposite, but for me lunch is a beautiful island of not-having-to-deal-with-anyone.
I use it to recharge, and I suspect most introverts do the same.
The truth eventually comes out.
As an introvert, you often have to bite your tongue while extroverts take credit for your work or otherwise manoeuvre themselves to climb the corporate ladder.
They usually do not fool anyone, at least not in the long-term.
Unsolicited recognition is the best kind.
There is a world of difference between (a) the scenario in which a subordinate goes to his/her boss and says “look at this great thing I did” and (b) the scenario in which someone from another department pulls the boss aside to point out something great the subordinate did.
As an introvert, you will more likely be the object of the latter type of recognition, and that will work to your advantage.
Also if praise makes you feel out of your element, it’s a normal lesson for introverts. Read Harvard Business Review’s article – What to Do When Praise Makes You Uncomfortable.