The modern workplace can feel like it was designed for extroverts: open office layouts, rapid-fire brainstorming meetings, weekly happy hours.
But what about the introverts? Those who would prefer to just get on with their work in a little peace and quiet. Do they have no hope for career advancement in an office where those who talk loudest get the most attention?
A self-professed "classic introvert" wonders what can be done, and we turn to psychologist Art Markman for advice.
I guess I’m what you would call a classic introvert. I’m a hard worker, but I don’t really speak up for myself. I’m just more of the “keep my head down and work”-type rather than the “toot my own horn”- type.
The bad news is that it always seems like those people who are the loudest about their ideas and accomplishments are the ones that are better-liked and are rewarded with promotions and big projects.
For example, I know the advice is always to speak up in meetings but I freeze, and I can’t think on the spot like that. I always think of ideas and things I could have said after the fact.
Is there anything I can do that won’t make me totally uncomfortable?
Thanks in advance for your help,
Shy By Nature
You have given a good description of being an introvert. The personality dimension of extroversion/introversion is focused on how much someone really has the goal to be the center of attention in social situations. Extroverts crave that attention, while introverts prefer to work behind-the-scenes.
If you feel that being in the background is holding you back at work, then there are several things you can do to make your contributions more visible. Some of them should feel fairly comfortable, but others may require you to stretch out of your comfort zone a bit.
It can be hard to be the center of attention in meetings, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t let key people know what you have been doing. Find some of the important people in the organization, and set up meetings with them to discuss your progress on projects. You can use those meetings to get advice, but also to let people know what you have been doing. It is often easier to have these discussions when talking with just one other person.
Of course, you will have to say a few things about yourself, even in these conversations. You may feel uncomfortable letting people know what you have done, but it isn’t impolite to do that in a work environment. You can always do it in the context of asking for some advice about how to do what you do more effectively, but make sure that people are aware of what you contribute.
The phrase “actions speak louder than words” has a lot of truth to it. There are many ways to communicate your effectiveness within an organization. Certainly, there are people who love to talk about what they have done. But, you can also just be visible in the pursuit of your job.
One of the phrases that you used in your letter is that you prefer to “keep your head down and work.” It is possible to work hard and to keep focused without being completely invisible. You can do your work without keeping your head down. You can lead by working with others and by taking on a mentorship role to new people.
These roles can happen behind-the-scenes, yet still be visible to the people around you in ways that will allow your accomplishments to be more widely recognized.
Public speaking is one of the most stressful things that most people can be asked to do. It is so stressful that psychologists often use the threat of having to give a speech to a group as a way of manipulating stress in experiments. For introverts public speaking can be even more frightening.
That means that you need to practice. Luckily, there is help. One of the best things you can do is to join an organization like Toastmasters that provides a supportive environment for people to hone their skills in public speaking. The thing about getting in front of a group is that the more you do it, the easier it gets.
This kind of practice has another benefit. You mentioned that you feel like you have trouble coming up with things to say spontaneously in meetings. One reason for that is that stress also impairs thinking abilities. So, the more nervous you get at the prospect of speaking in a group, the more difficulty you have coming up with something to say. As you get more comfortable speaking, you will also find that you are able to come up with more things to say.
If you have a dilemma you’d like our panel of experts to answer, send your questions to AskFC@fastcompany.com or tweet us a question using #AskFC.
[Image: Flickr user Rocky Lubbers]