It’s been a while since I have attended a party. Actually, I don’t remember the last time I was at such an event. I guess 13 months in a pandemic makes party attendance a distant memory. When that is said, prior to parties being put on hold, I used to attend, now and again such social gatherings. I have always had this strange love-hate relationship with parties. I have always disliked arriving at the event as there would be many people to greet and most likely people I didn’t know. I usually enjoyed the post-entrance part. Mingling with 1 or 2 people I knew, digging deep into a conversation, socializing 1-1 with selected party attendees and then, almost without any exception, there would be this turning point where I’d get overwhelmed, over stimulated by all the people and the noise and with or without excusing myself, I would just leave and go home abruptly. Yes, yes… I have used the “no goodbye” impolite exit many times and suddenly just disappeared from many parties. I don’t enjoy saying goodbye as I always feel my exit needs a justification.
Most people who know me would not describe me as an introvert. That is because I am social and not shy. I speak my mind, I can mingle in small groups and I can be outgoing in the right setting. That being said, what most people don’t realize is that I am an introvert. I do best in a controlled social environment, I flourish in 1-1 conversations and I am outgoing when surrounded by a very small group of people I know. When this is said, at the end of the day, after I go home, put the kids to bed and say at least 5 sentences to my wife, I need time alone. I need to just be me by myself and recharge my batteries that have been depleted by all the extensive simulations and interactions I have had through the day.
According to Psychology Today
an introvert is a personality style characterized by a preference for the inner life of the mind over the outer world of other people. Compared to extroverts, introverts enjoy subdued and solitary experiences. Introverts do not fear or dislike others, and they are neither shy nor plagued by loneliness. A crowded cocktail party may be torture for introverts, but they enjoy one-on-one engagement in calm environments. Evidence suggests that, unlike with extroverts, the brains of introverts do not react strongly to viewing novel human faces. Introversion is often mistaken for shyness because both are characterized by limited social interaction, but the resemblance stops there. Those who are shy typically want to engage with others but are fearful of doing so. Many introverts, on the other hand, socialize easily; they just strongly prefer to do so in very small groups or, sometimes, not at all.
Being an introvert is not problematic in general and the pandemic, for some of us, has actually been a blessing as social interactions have been reduced while online communication increased, which offer introverts a much more controlled and limited social environment. It also offers us the possibility to carve out, at least more easily, time alone. That being said, there was a time before the pandemic and there will be a time after the pandemic, where crowded offices will exist once more and where large business gatherings, workshops, department days and networking events will be back. Therefore, before “normal” life catches up with us, I wanted to share my thoughts around being an introvert. What strengths and limitations it has brought me in corporate life, especially as a manager and also share some tips and tricks I have learned to make the most of who I am in a world where being an extrovert is usually the preferred model.
Being an introvert in an extrovert world
Two thirds to half of the population are introverts. I am definitely not alone. When that is said, we live in a world, especially the corporate one, where being extroverted is the expected norm and the rewarded personality style. We work in open offices, we are supposed to easily engage in group work, we are supposed to think and solve problems through brainstorm group sessions and share our ideas in plenum. If you are an introvert like me, the idea of a brainstorm group session might make you shrug… Personally, I dislike to think in a group setting or under peer pressure. It is not the optimal way for me to come up with good ideas as this pressured environment completely turns my creativity off. The corporate culture has a bias for extroverts and often, showing extroverts traits are essential for career advancement. Not always, but often. Engaging in self-promotion, being vocal, quick to speak and share thoughts in meetings are often prerequisite behaviors to show promotional potential. In my case, I have been told many times that I am often too quiet in meetings and that it is a shame as I always have great ideas or feedback after the meeting is over. I have been told that I should have shared my thoughts on the spot, in the meeting and should learn to be more assertive in this setting. What people don’t realize is that I am usually quiet in meetings, especially the ones which include many people or people I do not know. For me, as an introvert, those meetings are out of my comfort zone and in these cases, it takes me more time to think. My ideas or feedback come after the meeting is over as I have a chance to think on my own, reflect on the problems presented and what was discussed.
Over the years, I have learned to hide my introversion and play the extrovert game to some extent or when needed. That being said, as I age and as I realize that being authentic both at home and at work is critical to me, I play the extrovert game less and less. In addition, as I became a manager a few years back, I have also realized that being an introvert has great advantages in a managerial position. I don’t need to be the center of attention, I am more than happy to support and “push” my team to get the visibility they deserve as well as the recognition. Being an introvert makes it easy for me to listen to the challenges they face and reflect alone or in 1-1 settings, on how we should tackle these obstacles. Being an introvert also makes it easy for me to engage with each of my employees individually and build deep connections with them so I understand who they are, what drives them and how I can best support their success.
Over the years, I have learned a few tricks that have enabled me to be successful as an introvert in an extroverted corporate world. Here are my tips and trick for introversion at work:
Carve out time: Finding time to recharge is critical for me and for my mind’s stability. Therefore, I block parts of my calendar, when I can, to have timeslots where I can put on my headphones, focus and recharge.
Online communication: in both my personal and professional life, online communication tools have been a blessing. It is much easier for me to reach out and talk to people online. This is not new for me as I remember discovering online chat rooms, mIRC and ICQ as a teen. I met a girlfriend I moved to Denmark for online and met my wife through an app. For me as an introvert, online communication has enabled me to communicate a lot more comfortably as the pause between each message gives me time to think.
Bathroom breaks: in large events, parties, networking gatherings or conferences, I take many bathroom breaks. Not because I have a small bladder or incontinence issues, but simply because I need time to recharge. Therefore, I excuse myself often and go ground myself when needed. I also always have headphones with me so that if I need to shut the world out for the length of a song, I lock myself in a bathroom stall and block life out for a few minutes.
Prep, prep, prep: my introversion makes it hard for me to be good at spontaneous clever insights in meetings, especially when the meeting includes more than 1 or 2 people. The best way I found to mitigate this is to prepare for meetings. I usually prepare a few speaking points and questions so I know I don’t have to think about what to say at the meeting and focus on what is being said instead.
Ask questions: As I am not good at spontaneous clever insights in large meetings, I try to ask questions. This allows me to show that I am participating and actively listening without having to think too quickly on my feet.
Write: As you might have noticed, I like to write. That being said, this is also a great advantage for me as an introvert. I do a lot of my communication in writing, which is a mode of communication I am much more comfortable with. It allows me to have enough time to think without being interrupted and really assess what I want or need to say.
Phone calls: I never answer calls from unknown numbers as I don’t like talking to strangers! Additionally, I don’t always answer calls from people I know if the timing of their call doesn’t suit my current mental state. If I need to be in my head, forced conversations are unpleasant and I am not my best self. I usually text or call back when I am in the right place in my head for socialisation. It took me a long time to realize this and most importantly, to realize that I am not obligated to answer the phone when it rings. I have a choice and my mental state is a good reason not to answer.
Stakeholder management: my job includes a lot of stakeholder management. As I don’t like to engage in large groups, I have learned to do most of my stakeholder management in 1-1 settings. Additionally, as I don’t like to engage with strangers, if the stakeholder management includes people I do not know, I will start the engagement in writing, something I am much more comfortable with. This helps build a relationship with the person. Once the relation is established I continue one-on-one, a setting I enjoy and that enables me to connect and engage fully.
Self-promotion: I don’t like promoting the work I do. It makes me uncomfortable. I have learned over the years though that promoting oneself is important to be noticed and it helps to advance one’s careers. Therefore, I have learned to do it in a way that is less uncomfortable for me: I bundle it with promoting others. I use “we”, “us” and “the team” to ensure credit and promotion is not only about me but about the group.
Headphones: for me, headphones are probably in my top 5 life accessories. I simply CAN’T live without headphones. Headphones allow me to ground myself anytime and anywhere. Additionally, at work, they allow me to create “my bubble” in an open office setting, shut my colleagues out and the world for that matter, and solely focus on what I have to do. In addition, headphones are a great way to signal to people that you are busy or focused. People don’t dare bother someone with headphones as easily as people sitting without. Therefore, sometimes I just wear headphones without any music just to signal that I am busy and don’t want to be disturbed.
Observation skills: most introverts are great observers, or at least I read so somewhere. I spend a lot of time observing others in all my social interactions and I use observations in many ways. I use them to deepen connection with others (e.g. I will say to a friend “I saw you seemed uncomfortable earlier when…”), to identify good moments in conversations to interject or ask a question, to assess relationships between stakeholders, to assess people’s reaction to information etc. Observing people is a gold mine and we should all spend more time observing and listening as there are so many nuggets available when one takes time for it.
Solo project: now and again, it is nice to take on a solo project and only have to work by myself. There is something so easy in working alone, at least for me, and not having to negotiate and compromise with others. Therefore, to sooth my needs, every now and again I take on solo projects so I can spend time working alone.
Focusing on 1 or 2 people: At a business dinner, a family gathering or a party, I always only focus on 1 or 2 people to ensure that I won’t get tired and overwhelmed too fast.
Avoid the “social hangover” and leave early: when I have had just enough or too much, I leave (events, parties, conferences, etc). It’s not always easy to leave without looking impolite so finding a balance is critical, but I have learned that the added effort required for staying is not worth it. If I stay too long, I will wake up the next morning with what I call a “social hangover”. If you never had one you are lucky. A “social hangover” is like a regular hangover, but instead of being induced by alcohol, it is induced by an overdose of socialisation. I will wake up the next morning still exhausted and depleted and my day will be ruined.
As we continue to live in this pandemic and as introverts have reduced their compulsory social personal and work interactions to a minimum, I do believe many introverts have managed to shine during this time, especially in a work setting. They have had time alone, time to gather their thoughts, reflect and use social tools and technology to engage with colleagues in controlled settings. I believe this will help us realize that we need to view introverts at an increased value. They are great colleagues, dedicated employees and great leaders. Being quiet, although not always rewarded or highly regarded in corporate culture, should be embraced and I hope that after COVID, we can resume a new normal life where introversion at the office is seen as a strength and not a weakness. I also hope that some of my colleagues reading this post will now finally understand why I am so quiet sometimes at meetings. It’s not because I am not paying attention, it’s simply because I need time to think, on my own, after the meeting.
P.S. you can also see my original post and all the comments here on LinkedIn