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Caring for Your Office Introvert
Caring for Your Office Introvert

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a nervous breakdown in the middle of a crowded IKEA!

Social situations in which there are too many people, noises, and lack of structure are too overwhelming for my sensitive little soul and leave me feeling anxious and emotionally drained.

Why? I have a dirty secret: I’m an introvert. Maybe I’m not shy, but my social interactions have high transaction cost: it takes me time and energy just to start chatting with someone. If I have to chat with dozens of people in a day, I end up exhausted.

Susan Cain, a former corporate lawyer and negotiations consultant (and a self-described introvert) brings up great points about the bias that exists in our society, with our schools and workplaces set up in ways that favor extroverts.

The terms “introvert” and “extrovert” were first made popular by psychologist Carl Jung in the 1920s and then later by the Myers-Briggs personality test, used in major universities and corporations. Introverts prefer less stimulating environments and tend to enjoy quiet concentration, listen more than they talk, and think before they speak. Conversely, extroverts are energized by social situations and tend to be assertive multi-taskers who think out loud and on their feet.

So what does that mean for a girl like me, working at an open-space, high-energy, uber-collaborative ad agency like Pivot?

Somehow I’ve always taken paths that thrust me into the spotlight: theater, broadcast journalism, PR— careers that require major social skills. (AOL Jobs, by the way, thinks I’m in the wrong line of work.) I can hang, but I do notice differences between me and my outgoing peers. I crave time alone, whether during my lunch break or a quick walk around the block. I don’t say much in meetings. I have a hard time articulating my opinions on the spot.

I used to feel guilty, describing myself as “shy” even though I’m not, or “just a really good listener,” apologizing for my quiet, reflective nature. Nearly every boss I’ve ever had has said, “You have good things to say. Why don’t you speak up more?”

Unfortunately, my brain just doesn’t work that way. But that’s okay.

In a world that lauds extroversion, recognizing that I’m an introvert has helped me to figure out what works best for me, especially in the workplace. I’m aware of my tight-lipped tendencies and push myself to be more vocal. I also know that sometimes I just need a little solitude to focus and recharge. In fact, at this very moment, I’m working from home. How fitting. I’m lucky to have that flexibility.

Even if you’re not an introvert, you probably work with someone who is– as many as one in three people are introverts. It’s critical to acknowledge how important it is for introverts and extroverts to learn from each other, according to Forbes contributor, Karl Moore.

“Just because a person has introverted or extroverted tendencies doesn’t mean they can’t learn from and utilize traits from the other end of the spectrum,” says Moore.

Often introverts will need to take on the traits of an extrovert to accomplish certain goals. On the flip side, extroverts can learn to slow down a little in order to reflect.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How does it affect your workplace or social interactions?