Helping Office Introverts Stand Out

How many introverts does it take to change a lightbulb?

None. Having the lights on makes more people come and visit.

As one of the nearly 60% of the population who identify themselves as being more introverted than not, I can admit to not wanting to change my lightbulbs every now and then. I’m guilty of turning off all my lights on Halloween night just so I could read a good book in peace (sorry kids). I can also attest to the challenges being an introvert can sometimes present in the workplace. I hope the following offers a few ideas on how introverts (and extroverts) can maximize their potential, while creating a successful work environment.

extrovert problem

Introverts thrive inside their heads and are energized by being alone, while extroverts get their energy from being around others and often think best when they are speaking. Feelings of being misunderstood or overlooked in the workplace are common for introverts. Naturally, many believe the way to overcome those feelings and stand out is to become like their extroverted counterparts. Dr. Jennifer Kahnweiler, in her webinar entitled How Introverts Can Shine at Work, disagrees. “Introverts make the most effective leaders and influencers when they stop trying to be extroverts and rely on their own natural strengths,” Kahnweiler notes.

What are some of those natural strengths?

  • Calmness
  • Listening and observation
  • Focused thought time
  • Thinking before speaking
  • More engaged in depth instead of breadth

I am labeled in my circle of friends, some of whom are extremely extroverted, as “Grandma” (slightly offensive to someone in their early 30’s.) They come to me with their problems. I try to be a calm, engaged listener without feeling the need to interject very often. Dr. Kahnweiler argues that the listening and observation skills that introverts possess makes them the best leaders for extroverted employees. That is because a good listener allows the bursting thoughts and creativity of extroverts to come to the surface. Two extroverted employees are more prone to talking over one another, therefore stunting valuable ideas from formulating.

extrovert introvert

Those natural strengths also attribute to natural challenges introverts face. What are some of those challenges and what can be done to minimize them?

  • Introverts have a hard time making fast decisions. Occasionally I find myself sitting silent in meetings as rapid conversation goes on around me. I’m not silent because I have no opinion or nothing of value to add, but by the time I process what has been discussed and sort through my thoughts, I find the moment has passed. Dr. Kahnweiler suggests that providing an agenda of discussion items, if possible prior to meetings, or splitting up brainstorming and decision making sessions can help introverts in your office feel better prepared to contribute.
  • Introverts have a hard time selling themselves.  In her webinar, Dr. Kahnweiler gives an example of two employees. One who regularly makes an effort to share updates of what he’s working on with his boss and one who doesn’t share anything. When the next project or job promotion comes around, the boss will naturally gravitate towards the employee who shares information. He doesn’t have time to pull status reports out of his employees. Introverts need to make a conscious effort to involve others in their accomplishments, even when they don’t feel like sharing.
  • Not surprisingly, introverts suffer from people exhaustion. Making quiet time throughout the day will help introverts tap into their strengths. Dr. Kahnweiler calls it “taking your brain for a walk”, and even endorses holding walking meetings instead of in an office or cubicle.

I hope one or two of these insights have been helpful, or at least interesting. I’ll end by making a deal with you RMASFAA.  You promise to let me take my brain for a walk from time to time and I’ll promise to give those poor kids candy next Halloween.

Eleanor Roberts

-Eleanor Roberts
Association News Committee Member, Utah

2 thoughts on “Helping Office Introverts Stand Out

  1. Pingback: Training Tip of the Month — May | RMASFAA Blog

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