We’ve all seen it - the quiet, highly intelligent worker who diligently labours away for long hours, only to be overlooked for promotion and opportunity.
Despite introverts comprising approximately 50 percent of the population, they make up just 2 percent of senior executives.
And while business is starting to recognise the introvert’s contribution to workplace, it’s their gregarious extroverted counterparts that continue to reap the spotlight and recognition.
Most contemporary psychologists agree that - while not all introverts are shy and some extroverts show subdued dispositions - introverts and extroverts need different levels of outside stimulation to function. Even highly social introverts can be highly sensitive to their surroundings.
Throw in the inevitable brainstorming session and increasing encouragement for people to speak up in meetings, we end up with an environment where extroverted qualities seem critical for success. Most modern offices - with their open, flowing layouts - make even more difficult for an introvert to make their mark.
So do introverts need to act like extroverts to get ahead? Or can their careers still thrive while remaining true to their strengths?
With the right strategies, there’s no reason you can’t take on a role that requires a high level of social engagement. There are ways that you can get yourself noticed, have your voice heard, all whilst still staying true to you are.
1. Leverage your strengths, embrace your gifts
Psychologists agree that introverts work differently, showing greater propensity to delve into tasks, showing grit, diligence, creativity, focus, and using their deep powers of concentration for problem solving, analysis, research etc.
Whatever your chosen vocation (design, finance, research, your choice), make sure you have the autonomy and space that allows you to get on with work you enjoy.
Just recognise that you can be more sensitive to external stimuli, and there’ll be times you’ll need space to think.
By consciously scheduling regular ‘breathing time’ breaks away from ringing phones, busy offices and chatty colleagues during your day and between meetings/calls, you’ll be better positioned to make your gifts come to fruition.
And don’t compare yourself to others. The gifts and talents you offer come to life under different circumstances.
2. Meetings and Communication
Many introverts like communicating in writing because it allows you to: a) articulate your thoughts and express them with succinct elegance; and b) emails don’t distract you the way a ringing phone or a tap on the shoulder does when you’re deep in thought.
Emails also allow you to use your time more efficiently, so encourage your co-workers to send their thoughts in writing, on the basis that you’ll be able to provide them a more meaningful response with a 5 minute email, vs a 30 minute discussion.
Unfortunately though, meetings are inevitable, and if we’re surrounded by extroverted colleagues who are more comfortable verbalising their thoughts, it can be difficult to get your ideas across.
If you know what the discussion point will be, outline your ideas and key talking points so you’re prepared and it’s easier for you to speak ahead of more vocal colleagues.
And use your listening skills to your advantage: add value by using your ability to process the information presented, and then come back with a well-thought out solution - remember, just because someone is comfortable speaking aloud, it doesn’t mean they’re adding anything valuable.
3. Manage your schedule carefully (and allow for recovery/quiet time)
We touched on this earlier, but if your day includes a high level of interaction that leaves you mentally depleted, try spacing out your meetings and calls so you get ‘breathing time’ to replenish in between.
This may mean sitting quietly at your desk for 5 minutes, going to the bathroom, or ducking out for a coffee. Those small breaks may just be the thing you need to recharge.
If you have a complex task, an impending deadline or need complete focus on something, block out time in your diary to prevent others from scheduling ad-hoc meetings.
Booking a meeting room to work alone in or retreating into a quiet area will help signal to others that you prefer not to be disturbed, especially if you work in an open plan environment and your co-workers like nothing more than having a chat. Turn off your emails and other messaging aps for a short period so you can focus.
4. Get to know your co-workers
People can sometimes mistake quiet qualities as being unfriendly, aloof or snobbish. Some of us can look cross if we’re distracted from our work or deep in thought. Some of us just have resting bitch faces.
While we may not like forced small talk, it’s important to build connections with our co-workers, even for a few minutes each day.
If you find group gatherings overwhelming, take a colleague to lunch or coffee so you can build a one-on-one connection instead.
By developing stronger ties with your colleagues, they may start to understand the way you work and become more accommodating. And they may be the ones who support and will go in to bat for you in meetings.
5. Functions and Networking
Even if it pains you, it’s important to show you’re engaged and regularly attend events.
Select the ones that hold the most significance, set a time limit for ad-hoc gatherings. But don’t be guilted into attending everything.
It’s better to be selective and happy, than to over-commit and feel exhausted.
If you know you have an important conference to attend, it may be worth reducing other engagements beforehand so you’re ready. If you get stuck for what to talk about, ask others about themselves (always a winning strategy).
And remember to embrace who you are: you don’t need to work the whole room. If you have a meaningful conversation with a few people, then consider it a success.
6. Push yourself
Don’t abandon roles that require extroverted activities like public speaking just because you’re an introvert. With practice, there’s no reason that you can’t be the one giving presentations.
It may sound terrifying, but preparation is everything: community colleges and organisations like Toastmasters offer public speaking classes. It doesn’t matter if you’re crap when you start, the whole idea is to work through the nerves and get used to addressing groups of people. With practice and determination, you’ll have the capacity to achieve anything you truly want.
You may never be completely comfortable giving a presentation or speaking at a conference, but practice will make the process much easier on the nerves. And your bosses will certainly take notice.
7. Smile and stand straight
There’s a plethora of psychological research supporting the significance of non-verbal communication, with body language constituting the largest part of how others see us.
Consider the signals you’re sending others: a tall posture and eye contact exude signs of confidence, whereas slouching with downcast eyes tell others that you lack confidence and have no interest.
By learning how to carry ourselves with our head held high, we tell the world we feel our contribution is valuable and we’re good at what we do.
And smile - Charles Darwin was the first to put forward the facial feedback hypothesis, suggesting that by putting on a smiling face can actually trigger feelings of happiness.
While it’s still unclear why using the facial muscles when you smile is linked to the actual experience of happiness, smiling can help us introverts look more approachable and social.
8. Don’t hide your achievements
We all know at one person who talks, talks, talks and then talks some more. They have no issues about boasting about their achievements (whether they’re true or not), and will happily take the credit for things they had no role in.
Irritatingly, they’re also the ones offered new opportunities and considered for promotions because they’re build a rapport and connections with management.
Self-promotion is essential in a competitive work environment. Don’t assume your boss knows what you’ve done.
You’re probably one of many they manage, and they’re likely to be more concerned about their job rather than yours. If there are redundancies, you want them to know who you are and what you’ve done.
It may feel counterintuitive, especially if you like to let your work do the talking, but the harsh reality is that you need to be seen and heard.
And you can do it in your own subtle way: list your achievements and contribution in a factual manner. Quantify it where possible (e.g. ways you impacted performance, revenue or anything where the team and business benefited).
Keeping a running list of accomplishments will help you at performance appraisal time, as well as make updating your CV and notes for job interviews far easier when you’re ready to move on.
And play to your skills: the one on one connection. Ask leaders out for a coffee or a catch up, take interest in the challenges that they encounter. Not only will it get you noticed in a way that’s more comfortable for you, you’ll get an insight on how you can leverage your skills to make a greater contribution.
Being an introverted doesn’t mean you can’t successfully hold a high profile role. Some of the greatest leaders are introverts â€“ think Barack Obama, Warren Buffet, Al Gore and Bill Gates are all considered introverted.
We can act out of character for short periods if it’s for a purpose we believe in. It’s also important to step out of your comfort zone.