23rd Mar 2020
The workplace can be a challenging environment for introverts, writes Jenny Darmody, but there are ways to navigate it
For introverted employees, the workplace can be a loud, over-stimulating and extroverted place. Susan Cain’s New York Times bestseller, ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking’ talks about the fact that society champions and rewards the extroverts of the world and, by extension, often ignores or undermines the introverted population.
While most employers will talk about the importance of diverse thought and varying personalities, the constant move towards open-plan offices can make it very difficult for those who don’t work well in that kind of environment, which often includes introverts.
In fact, a recent study in America showed that 80% of workplaces are now open-plan. Closer to home, The Guardian reports that the UK has twice as many open-plan offices as the global average, despite an overwhelming amount of research that highlights the problems with them.
It’s not just open-plan offices that pose problems for introverts. Public brainstorming sessions and meetings that demand interaction and on-the-spot problem-solving massively rewards the extroverted ideal and hinder those with more introverted tendencies. But while the working world is catching up to these facts, what can introverts do right now to ensure they thrive at work in spite of these challenges?
Book meetings with yourself
Introverts can often perform perfectly well in open-plan offices and since there’s a spectrum for introversion, this set-up may not bother them, especially if they’re used to it. However, if you’re finding the busy, open floor draining on your energy and ability to focus, book some time in your calendar (and a meeting room if you can) to work in solitude for an hour or two.
This small pocket of time away from the rest of the office can really help you recharge. These blocks of time can be used as breaks, to power through some work in peace or to give you some quiet time to think creatively.
Prepare for meetings
Remember what we said about those on-the-spot meetings and interactive brainstorming sessions? They can often stop introverts from doing their best thinking. A good way for introverts to counteract this is by looking at the meeting agenda in advance and spending some time preparing ideas, thoughts or just what they hope to say.
If these meetings usually pop up in your calendar without context, consider asking your manager to let you know what it’s about in advance so that you can adequately prepare. Brainstorming has its place, but there’s no benefit to making it a surprise.
Find the right productivity tools
We all need to find the right tools to be our best selves at work and this is no different for introverts. This could include other forms of communication such as Slack to help you get across a good idea away from the dreaded brainstorming session or Trello to help arrange your to-do list.
Alternatively, it could be about using tools to cut out distractions such as soothing background music or an ambient sound generator such as Noisli to help cancel out the distractions that come with an open-plan office.
Don’t apologise for opting out
Whether it’s a company-wide coffee break at 11am, a Christmas party or just some after-work drinks, don’t force yourself to attend social events if you don’t want to go. While you may want to put in some face time with your colleagues outside the office or put some effort into networking, it’s important to recognise your limits and watch your energy levels.
Don’t overcommit to social events, especially if you’re only saying yes because you feel guilty about saying no. Give yourself the downtime you need when you need it and remember, networking doesn’t have to mean ‘working the room’. It can simply be a good one-to-one conversation with a couple of people.
Talk to your manager
We’re not going to love every element of our jobs all the time and it’s often good to push yourself a little, not for the sake of fitting into an extroverted world, but so that you can challenge yourself and grow in your own way. But if there are elements of your job that you feel are particularly draining for you as an introvert, talk to your manager about this.
Explain the parts you find taxing and solutions as to how you might be better able to deal with those situations, such as an agenda in advance of meetings or the opportunity to work remotely on occasion.
Introverts have a lot to offer the workplace and there is a lot of research around the importance of having both introverts and extroverts in offices. But in a society that favours the extroverts by default, it’s important that introverts quietly take some of the power back.
Jenny Darmody is the growth editor at RECRUITERS.ie, Ireland’s most trusted recruitment partner. Jenny is also a former journalist, specialising in all things career-related and work-life balance.
Read more: Work smarter, not harder: four secrets to being more productive at work
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