Which sounds like a dream job to you?
- Spending your day brainstorming and chatting with co-workers in an open-plan office?
- A day with no meetings and plenty of time to dive into a creative project by yourself?
If you picked option 2, you might be an introvert.
Who is an introvert, actually?
Put simply, being introverted means you’re someone who is more sensitive to stimulation. Many introverts cherish deep thinking and reflection. Most of all, introverts often need periods of rest and recharging in order to do their best work.
It’s easy to imagine that introverts might see their qualities as a liability in their careers, especially when our culture glorifies hustle and charisma. (Don’t tell that to Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Marissa Mayer, and Michael Jordan, who are among history’s most successful introverts alongside Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt.)
The rise of the introverts
But take heart, dear introverts, because your time to shine is here. Growing recognition for the introvert movement, sparked by leaders like Susan Cain, means that different working styles are being embraced now more than ever.
You can bring your whole self to work, quiet qualities and all. Here’s how to leverage sensitivity to your advantage and thrive in the workplace:
1. Play to your strengths
Your emotional intelligence, empathy, and communication savvy are skills that make you a loyal, valued team player (even if group work isn’t your favorite). Plus, your curiosity perfectly positions you to lead, so look for opportunities to exercise this creativity. Be the one to ask thoughtful questions that inspire people to think differently. You’ll soon be regarded as an innovator.
Believe it or not, introverts can be great salespeople precisely because they tend to be so skilled at building rapport, listening, and empathizing with customer needs. But be mindful when choosing a career that a job requiring lots of travel, excess noise, or distraction may not the best fit for you.
2. Focus on energy management, not time management
Work is infinite, but your energy isn’t. The secret to high performance as an introvert, then, is to optimize around your natural ebbs and flows.
For one week keep track of your workday activities. Rate how much each energizes you. Look for patterns in the times of day you feel most alert. Limit or eliminate tasks that drain you. Do more of what sustains you.
If you notice you’re more focused in the mornings, for example, start the day with writing or creative work that requires concentration before you even open your email.
I suggest to introverted clients that they leave a 15-minute buffer in between all appointments in order to give them wiggle room to decompress and replenish if needed. One of my clients created “office hours” to limit people dropping by during the day. It helped limit the number of interruptions to her work, and gave her employees the confidence to know when to pop by to talk to her.
Also, don’t forget to make self-care part of your daily to-do list. For introverts, recharging is an important part to thriving in your job. Build in plenty of time for self-reflection about what you want in your career over the long-term.
When your motivation is missing
Unstuck’s Spark Your Motivation course includes videos, worksheets, and exercises, where you’ll find new ways to tap into and develop your motivation habit. We’ll help you create a new, fresh perspective and guide you to get through what keeps you stuck.
3. Create the right conditions for success
Introverts are more sensitive to the environment around them. Curate a workspace that feels comfortable and calming to you. Small changes like natural lighting and using noise cancelling headphones can make a big difference in your mood and well-being.
4. Do speak up
Introverts have a bad habit of living in their own heads. That rich inner-life is a wonderful thing, but unfortunately people can’t read your mind which is why it’s critical you communicate your preferences to others. Whether that’s requesting extra time to digest feedback or asking to write up a report instead of presenting it, speak up about what you need and want.
5. Prepare for stimulating situations
Introverts often don’t fare well when they are caught off-guard or put on the spot. Have go-to practices such as stretching or deep breathing to use to center yourself before heading into overwhelming situations.
To the extent possible, try to prepare in advance for meetings, which can be an introvert’s worst nightmare. Ask for the agenda ahead of time so you get a chance to gather your thoughts and questions.
6. Be social in a way that fits your style
It’s a myth that introverts are antisocial or shy. They simply prefer to build relationships differently. Satisfy your fundamental human need to belong by connecting with others one-on-one. Invite a coworker to lunch or focus on meeting one new person at a conference. When it comes networking, focus on quality of relationships over quantity.
Introverts aren’t the rare freaks of nature they were once made out to be. In fact, studies show introverts make up over half of people in the U.S. today. You’re in good company, too: many of the world’s most successful people — from J.K. Rowling to David Letterman — also love solitude.
It’s time to let your sensitivity shine and use your quiet strengths as they superpowers they are.
Melody Wilding is a coach and licensed social worker who helps ambitious high-achievers manage the emotional aspects of having a successful career. She also teaches Human Behavior at Hunter College in NYC. A popular speaker, Melody has delivered talks for TedX and others.
Top image by Unstuck artist-in-residence Bridgette Zou (This Feels Nice Series, 2017, © Bridgette Zou)