Tips for the office introvert

It can be tough out there for the office introvert. The office is, by nature, a social place where people constantly stream in and out and talking. Whether you’ve got a private office, a semi-enclosed cubicle, or—gasp—the dreaded open concept set up, chances are if you’re in an office, you’re getting a lot of stimulation all day every day.

These environments certainly work for lots people and, in fact, are necessary for many jobs to be done effectively.  But they’re also incredibly taxing on people who need some peace and quiet to get their work done.

I, shock of all shocks, am the typical office introvert. Here are some things that help me get through it.

Own your introversion

You’re an introvert, and that’s ok! Letting the people you work with know that can go a long way. One of the most common pieces of feedback I received early in my career was, “You don’t speak up in meetings.” As any professional introvert has likely heard, I needed to prove not only that I was listening, but also that I had something to contribute. At the time, I was on a team full of talkers. I mean the type that doesn’t filter a single thought, whether it’s fully formed yet or not. When my manager asked me to speak up more, I told him that I was always fully mentally present, but couldn’t get a word in edgewise when I had a thought. From then on, he committed to making sure I had an opportunity to share when I wanted. He made space for my voice.

Invest in a pair of headphones

I work in cubicle in an office. It’s placed at the most crucial intersection of the whole floor—the point where the front door, two meeting rooms and the printer area converge. And I. Hear. Everything. When there’s a knock on the door when someone forgot their pass, when a meeting lets out and then continues directly in front of my desk, when someone has problems with the printer and dashes back and forth between it and their desk repeatedly. I hear it all. And it drives me crazy. That is, until I bust out the trusty headphones I keep at my desk and play something calm and mellow. Using them as earplugs, without any music is also encouraged.

Work from home

If you’re lucky enough to be able to work from home, even once in a while, take advantage of the opportunity! Of course, not all jobs can be done from the home office (or couch), but for the ones that can, the opportunity for silence is golden. While my job requires me to be in the office most days, I’m able to work from home when I need to. When I do work remotely, I find it refreshes me. Working in my pajamas is a plus, but having no noises, no people, no interruptions to contend with– that’s enough to push the reset button on my stimulation limits.

Find someone who gets it

If you suspect a coworker is an introvert, they probably are. And let me tell you—having someone to commiserate with when it all gets to be too much can help a lot. In my previous office, our set up went beyond open concept. The four members of our team each occupied a corner of one giant cubicle. I spent all day every day facing three other people, including some serious talkers. When the third colleague and I first discussed our mutual introversion, it made me feel so much better knowing someone else understood. We swapped knowing glances when the extroverts were doing their thing and basked in the silence when they weren’t there. These things are so small but they made me feel, well, less crazy! It helps to know you’re not the only one cringing at the loud conversations or feeling drained by the noise.

Chances are, you’re not a lone introvert in a sea of extroverts—so make your presence known and things should get a little easier to deal with.

A landscape of mountains and behind a river

Climbing Career Mountain

Being an introvert is not a detriment to your career. It is, in fact, possible to be successful in business while being an introvert. We just have to convince the rest of the world.

In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain talks a lot about the fact that the world favours, and is set up for, extroverts. It seems there’s a need to be charismatic, outspoken and sociable to climb the corporate ladder. But introverts make some of the most inspiring leaders.

Born to lead

When I say “CEO,” you might envision a charismatic person, who’s more than happy to talk about their company anywhere and everywhere. And while extroverts can certainly make great leaders, it’s important to remember that introverts are built to embody leadership.

We listen. Our natural tendency to be quiet while others speak means we hear a lot. By listening more, introverts can hear what their colleagues, employees, clients and customers are saying. We hear all of the ideas in meetings and workshops—including the diamonds drowning in the rough.

We think. Introverts are much less likely to jump into an idea headfirst. No, we need to mull it over, weigh out any pros and cons, come up with a plan and act accordingly. We may take a bit longer to get to the action part than extroverts, but when we’re ready to act or speak, it’s always well thought out.

We’re calm. Our tendency to think carefully before every word and action means introverts are often more prepared than an extrovert may be. We’re ready to face the tough questions and probably have the answers written down (on paper or in our memories). People always mention how calm I am when faced with a crisis at work. It’s not that I’m not worried or have everything in control—it’s that my brain takes time to process what’s happening and all of the impacts. I don’t have time to panic, so I walk away, contemplate and try to come up with a solution.

Building a network

They don’t say “it’s not what you know, but who you know” for nothing. Without a doubt, networking is a crucial part of getting ahead in your career. Getting to know people in your field can be extremely helpful in finding out about opportunities, having someone vouch for you. It can also be extremely painful for introverts. All those events, all that small talk—it’s enough to drive one insane! That’s why I don’t network. Instead, I make lots of sincere connections to construct a network around me.

When I work with someone, I make a personal connection with them. By being friendly, professional and personable whenever I deal with anyone, I earn their trust. Very quickly, you start to get a feel for how a person prefers to interact—do they want quick, short and to-the-point responses every time, or are they always up for a quick laugh. Commiserating with an overworked colleague or always having the answer for someone who’s new to their role goes a long way in creating a relationship.

Introverts are much better in one-on-one situations than they are working a room, so use that to your advantage. I’m not saying you should put on a façade and pretend to care just to please everyone you deal with. What I’m saying is that if you’re an introvert, you’re probably pretty good at developing a deeper connection with colleagues, clients or customers. And who would you rather have in your corner—a name on a business card or someone who truly trusts you?