Thriving At Work As An Introvert
The year was 2013, and I had secured a sweet job at a media startup. The workplace culture was what sold me—all the Keurig coffee you could imagine, monthly full-company meetings with beer and games, and an intriguing open-floor office plan. The vibe was youthful, energizing, and for an introvert like me, intimidating.
It took me several months before I was invited along to after-work drinks, which was a godsend since I had been in this new job in a new city all alone. Even though I’m a shy-at-first introvert, I still found myself craving some human interaction.
I finally started to get in my groove. I made friends, had a consistent work routine, and began to thrive in my fairly independent role. Then we underwent some restructuring, and I moved to a team full of people I had never worked with before. A team of talented people who worked together closely and had developed a rapport; a team full of—you guessed it—extroverts. Fortunately, there was another introvert on my team, and my new manager was a staunch introvert that helped me ease into life in this new group.
But there were still days when I left work with an empty cup—I was pushing up against my limits of team time. I often couldn’t get on the same wavelength as my extroverted teammates, and soon realized that my best work happened when I embraced my introversion. Instead of trying to out-speak my colleagues, I doubled down and let my work speak for me. This lead to more genuine connections, a better relationship with my manager, and a more productive team.
So here are some of the best strategies I learned for thriving in a team environment as an introvert.
Schedule decompression time
One of the most important self-care practices for introverts is to have time to recharge—away from people. It’s an unspoken rule in my apartment that the first fifteen minutes of being at home after work is my time to curl up on the couch and play a game on my phone or scroll Instagram. Mostly, this is to calm down after being in LA rush hour traffic, but it’s also nice to have some quiet alone time.
You can do this at work, too. Spend your lunch hour on a solo walk outside, or put on headphones and plug in to work for a while while you recharge.
Structure is your friend
Knowing what lies ahead gives you more information on how you’ll need to manage your energy for the day. Ask for meeting agendas ahead of time so you can feel prepared—and come into the meeting with ideas for how you can contribute in ways that best use your talents without draining you.
If you’re working collaboratively, set clear roles within your team so you all know who’s doing what, and when it’s expected to be done. Set yourself up for smooth operating so there are fewer last-minute meetings or phone calls that take you off-guard.
And if you’re not sure your voice is being heard, let your body do some of the work for you. Take up physical space in your meeting by filling up your chair and not shrinking into it. Place any personal items in front of you with a little sprawl—you don’t have to encroach others’ personal space, but claim the space in front of you proudly. When you go to speak, move your hands and sit up straight to indicate that it is your turn gosh dang it.
Connect with your team
If you’re feeling the open-office drain, connect with other members of your team who identify as introverts and discuss how they handle things. Set up coffee runs or lunch dates with people who will give you the space and presence you need.
You can even ask for help from your extrovert colleagues—any team worth its mettle will take its members seriously and identify new ways to work better.
Connect with your manager
Personally, I handle one-on-one meetings much better because I feel seen and heard—and am comfortable being honest. Chat with your manager about how team meetings can be better structured to allow everyone to shine, not just the extroverts. Ask them to create space in your meetings for everyone to speak, to ask more direct questions to the introverted team members, and to reign in any conversation monopolizers.
Another thing that brought me out of my comfort zone, but really helped me, was to ask directly and frequently for feedback. It helped me be in control of my progress, rather than wondering constantly if I was falling short of expectations. Turns out, most of the time things were fine—but when I did get constructive feedback, I was able to prepare for it and process it in my own time.
If you need more support, ask if you can set up a day or half day where you can work from home—some people are more productive when they are completely on their own.
Ultimately, asking for help is the most important takeaway. It’s terrifying to admit your “vulnerability” to others, but the truth is that introversion is as much an asset to your team as extroversion. Don’t work against it—own it!
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? I’d love to know your favorite strategies for working with teams in the comments below!
Emily Torres is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Indiana, where she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her reading or writing, caring for her rabbits, or practicing at the yoga studio. Say hi on Instagram!