The world is made up of various types of people and this relates to our personalities too. Some of us love being out and about, socialising with anyone and everyone, while others are far happier being by themselves. Due to personality differences, we tend to struggle with certain tasks or particular areas of our lives. And, when it comes to being an introvert, this could stretch to how comfortable – and, indeed, confident – we feel in work environments.
For introverts, busy workplaces can be overwhelming, with the constant buzz of people, noise and movement. But the office doesn’t have to be an overwhelming/frightening place. Find out more about what it means to be an introvert and how you can tap on your introvert qualities to excel in your career.
Words often used to describe introverts include quiet, shy, reserved, introspective, and even antisocial. But being an introvert is more than about spending time on inward-turning activities such as reflection; it also revolves around the kinds of environments they prefer.
“Introverts can be thought to be more focused on internal thoughts, feelings and moods to be more quiet, reserved, and introspective,” explains Dr Natalie Games, a clinical psychologist at Alliance Counselling. “They generally prefer quiet, minimally-stimulating environments, while extroverts need higher levels of stimulation to feel their optimum. Stimulation includes social stimulation and also lights, noise etc.”
While extroverts gain energy from social interaction, introverts have to expend energy in social situations. So, after attending a party or spending time in a large group of people, introverts often feel a need to recharge by spending a period of time alone, says Dr Games.
Still not sure if you’re an introvert? Dr Games says you may be an introvert if:
- You enjoy spending time alone
- You prefer quality time with one or two people over spending time with bigger groups of friends
- You need alone time to rest and recharge after a busy workday or period of activity
- You can get lost in your thoughts easily, and need time to process and think through most things
Grace Loh, psychotherapist, counsellor and coach at Counselling Perspective, says that, while introverts usually desire solitude, require less social interaction and favour less stimulating environments, this is not to be confused with someone having social anxiety. This is because introverts are not fearful of social interaction but rather are more sensitive than extroverts to dopamine (a chemical released in your brain to make you feel good), needing much less for effect. In addition, having too much dopamine overstimulates introverts.
It might also be the case where you’re not an outright introvert or extrovert but more like a mix of the two, or that you flit between the two depending on the day and the situation. This phenomenon isn’t just in your head. Dr Games explains that, while some people may solely identify as introvert or extrovert, there is a spectrum. Also, there is so much middle ground that it’s okay for people to feel that they don’t fall into one distinct category.
Grace reveals that, if someone bears traits of both introvert and extrovert fairly equally, they are deemed to have an ambivert personality. Ambiverts are highly flexible and adaptive in how they react to people and depending on the situation, one’s mood and inclination, ambiverts can switch to either side of the spectrum. Outgoing introverts and shy extroverts are such examples of ambivert behaviours.
“It is important to remember that while it is easy to label a person as an introvert, extrovert or ambivert based on personality assessment results, human behaviour is complex and multidimensional and one should recognise the broad-brush approach of such assessments,” she says.
“A simplified system to explain the world might seem appealing, but should refrain from discriminatory judgements of whether a person is considered worthy or valuable, based on preferred personality traits.”
Being an introvert could mean that you’re overpowered at the workplace as extroverts tend to be louder and can make themselves – and their achievements – heard more easily. Also, the thought of all that chat in the pantry with your colleagues can be stressful for introverts.
However, introverts have some character traits that actually help them in the office, and they should harness these strengths:
* Introverts tend to be more deliberate when it comes to decision-making, whereas extroverts tend to be “go for it” types. There are moments where one approach is called for, and moments where the other is needed. And there are moments when “seizing the day” is not the right approach, says Dr Games.
* Introverts are usually great listeners. They’ve often acquired this skill because they really don’t like attention on themselves, so they learn to listen to others. Dr Games quotes Susan McCain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts, who said that, over time, this becomes a well-honed skill that is “wonderful for social bonding, fact-finding and negotiation”.
* Introverts also find it easier to sit still in a room on their own as they don’t suffer when the stimuli are removed. It’s the same thing for creativity. “It’s very hard to do creative work without spending quite a bit of time alone. This is easier for introverts. There have been studies showing that the most creative people across many fields are introverts, and that’s not a coincidence,” says Dr Games.
* Introverts are excellent independent self-starters who tend to be intrinsically motivated to perform. Grace explains that this means their internal drivers (rather than external motivations) enable them to be more focused and diligent.
* “Introverts tend to be intuitive, observant and have excellent listening skills, allowing them to offer data-supported insights and be better attuned to understanding different team players’ needs, strengths and challenges, which can help to facilitate better team work and projects,” says Grace.
* Introverts can remain composed under pressure, says Grace, allowing for calmer crisis management that can be reassuring and more effective for other team members.
Examples of successful women who are introverts: Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton, JK Rowling, Meryl Streep and Rosa Parks. “Introverts should not shy away from demonstrating that they can be the quiet powerhouses in the workplace,” Grace adds.
One of the silver linings for introverts during this Covid-19 pandemic? Being able to work from home. Remote working has allowed introverts to be in their own space, leading to reduced social interaction. But this means it could be rather nerve-wracking to either go back to the workplace full-time or adjust to a hybrid working arrangement.
Dr Games has the following tips for introverts dealing with this stressful situation:
- Give yourself time and space, and focus on your strengths.
- Accept your weaknesses – try to praise and focus on what you do well and accept those things you don’t do as well as others.
- Create a suitable schedule – ensure you give yourself breaks after meetings to decompress, add recharge slots to your schedule so others can see that you are not to be disturbed; manage your creative, thoughtful times and downtimes too.
- Know when to say ‘No’ – one key to maintaining sound well-being is learning to say ‘no’, embrace your inner introvert.
Grace suggests implementing a system of examining your work activities and situational contexts, and dividing them up into the three categories of: thrive, neutral and survive. For example, you may find that you thrive when working on your own quietly to allow for research, deep thinking, creativity and productivity; you may be neutral as a participant in trainings, workshops or Zoom calls; and you may feel like you are just surviving fronting presentations, face-to-face meetings or meetings with senior management.
“Understand where your fear originates from for the contexts in the “survive” category. Is it a fear of public embarrassment or a fear of failure that makes you anxious about presentations to groups or authority figures?” she states.
“Look at it from a practical perspective and honestly list down the gaps that you think are present. Then write down how you can feasibly improve, whether it is a matter of skillset such as presentation skills, people skills, deep preparation of content and practising the delivery, or learning to manage the fear and working on overcoming negative core beliefs by seeking a coach.
“Look at where you can pay deliberate attention to the areas that need tending to. As for the contexts where you thrive and are your best self, see if you can spend more time on those contexts and schedule them accordingly,” she adds.
As an introvert, you might feel that you’ve been penalised in your career because of your fear of speaking up or voicing your true opinions. However, be assured that whatever you have to say is just as valuable as what someone else has to say.
“Developing strategies to step slowly out of your comfort zone can be empowering but remind yourself to honour who you are by scheduling recharging time,” Dr Games advises. “Stepping out of your comfort zone is not trying to act like an extrovert, it’s something that you do as you become secure and proud of who you are.”
Don’t ever feel like you need to behave like an extrovert to feel worthy of speaking up, Grace says. You need to know your worth and the value that you are bringing to the table.
“Understand that your own strengths and personal style are unique; you should claim that and come from a position of pride about who you are,” she adds. “When you are centred in confidence about your authentic self, without needing to pretend to be or act as somebody else, it will get easier stepping out of your comfort zone to speak up.”