IT IS tough to be an introvert in a world that equates success with performing. Here’s how to change the way you work while staying true to yourself.
Introverts come in all shapes and sizes. Same are shy and avoid being out there, while others love to perform and need quiet time to regenerate afterwards. Amy Schumer and Oprah Winfrey consider themselves introverts. Others may fear situations in which they have to interact with people they don’t know or address a crowd. But the stimulation of a busy office environment and a tightly packed workday drains all introverts.
They need quiet, regenerative time. They need to feel control over their space, pace and place of work. If you’re not sure if you’re an introvert, ask yourself the following questions: Do you feel replenished by being alone? Given the chance, would you spend a chunk of your workday in quiet instead of surrounded by co-workers in a buzzy office? If the answer is yes, then you’re probably an introvert. That’s not a bad thing, but it may mean creating success on your own terms.
Boundaries are important when it comes to maintaining a healthy relationship with your work. This is true for anyone, but especially introverts. As an introvert, you may feel rattled by sitting through too many meetings without a break, a lack of physical space or privacy, bright lights, loud noise or work demands that invade your personal time at night and on weekends.
To find your boundaries – and set limits – try answering the following questions:
- When in the day do you feel most productive and at what time of day are you just finished?
- Do you work on weekends? Do you feel resentful or that you’re finally getting a chance to catch up in peace?
- What distracts you, and in what space do you feel no distraction?
- If you’re in a noisy coffee shop or a brightly lit environment, how do you feel?
- Do you get more work done around people or alone? When do colleagues inspire you and when do you just need to be alone?
- If you could design your ideal week, what would your schedule look like?
- What other things about your work environment send you over the edge?
Now that you know your limits, you can work to create boundaries that you ensure you don’t constantly test them. One of the most effective ways of doing this is what is called “Pace, Place, Space.” It goes like this:
- Adjust your pace
There is no law that says we have to work eight hours straight every day. Maybe you can “chunk” your time. An ideal week would have you tightly scheduled for two days, followed by a quiet day with less face-to-face time or you may prefer an intense 9-5 day, with no logging on at night. Think strategically about your schedule and how you can make it work for you. Can you limit your interaction with slack to a few minutes a day? Block out time in your calendar for quiet work?
- Rethink your place
It may be possible to move around throughout the day in search of quiet. Could you adapt your desk or sit in a different spot so you feel you have more privacy? Can you take a walk, head to a favourite coffee shop or even hide in the bathroom for a few minutes to catch your breath? You can also think about reducing noise, light and overstimulation. Many people use noise-cancelling headphones as a way of creating some separation from their present space. Lighting is also important. Can you turn off the fluorescent lights in your area or adjust the lighting so that it is less jarring? If a messaging service begins to overwhelm you, turn it off or snooze your notifications for extended periods. For many of us, these things might require a conversation with a manager.
- Create personal space
Many introverts don’t mind being accessible by email or messages as long as they can control where they are when responding in their off time. Others find off-hours communication and an expectation of instant responsiveness extremely jarring. Setting limits is the key here – whether it be limiting in-person interaction by reminding your colleagues of your off hours, telling someone you need personal space or discouraging co-workers from dropping by to chat by wearing headphones.
Make the most of meetings
Whether you’re a waiter or an office manager, you’ll likely have to attend a meeting or two. Meetings can be challenging for introverts, who may struggle to get their points heard or find it draining to sit in brainstorming sessions dominated by a loud few. The good news is that there are tricks that can make meetings work for you.
- Sit at the table
Establish that you’re in the room and resist the urge to shrink into the background. I like Jill Flynn’s advice: Arrive early, take a prominent seat and lean into the table talk, even if it is painful. It is only for a few minutes.
When the meeting is in full swing, offer your thoughts in a succinct and pointed way and deliver the words with authority. Here’s the key: Practise delivering an observation that sounds casual and impromptu. Even processing the conversation and offering a verbal summary to the room is a powerful way of being heard.
- Follow up
If you feel put on the spot to speak and you’re not ready to offer an opinion, say: “I need to think that over. Can I get back to you?” Then write something brilliant to email later. You’ll get the last word.
- Talk early, not often
Speaking early in a meeting. Even by offering a fairly banal statement establishes your presence in the room.
It can also take the pressure off so you can listen to the discussion without worrying about trying to say something smart.
Flynn recommends mastering “the meeting before the meeting.” Be prepared and check in with stakeholders so you know the agenda and the expected outcomes. Make your opinion known to the meeting leader beforehand, so it is easier to get heard in the actual meeting. It is tough to be an introvert in a world that equates success with performing. But if you consider the leaders who have made an impression on you, I’d bet they don’t have a single character trait in common. Except, perhaps by embracing their own authentic style. Through trial and error, I’ve learnt to play to my strengths and nourish my introverted nature, focusing less on the long-term outcome of “success” and more on the everyday. Remember, it is okay to own your boundaries and claim your personal style. Leave the party early. Turn off the lights. Be alone and be happy.
This article was first published in The New York Times.