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How to Thrive at Work as an Introvert

How to Thrive at Work as an Introvert

You’ll be pleased to know that a tweet (yes, 140 characters or less) inspired this article, and it read:

Black women are not allowed to be introverts in professional settings and that sh*t is draining.

Well, this is not only true for black women; it’s true for all women who aren’t considered extroverts. That one post in my feed took me back to so many leadership memories of:

Ericka, do you have something to say?
Ericka, why are you so quiet?
Ericka, is everything okay?

Dear ma’am and sir: No, I don’t have anything to say, and yes, everything is okay.

During those years, I understood that some people were curious about who I was personally and professionally, while others were genuinely concerned.

However, I at no point in time felt the need to be anyone other than myself, which is definitely rooted in confidence, clarity, and awareness. I made the decision early in my career that the solution was to teach others the best way to engage me, not to sacrifice my authenticity.

Even now, as someone who is visible both locally and nationally, people are eager to share their opinions of who I am. Many assume that, because public speaking is a component of what I do, I don’t prefer to be behind the scenes.

It’s simply not true. The perspectives and penalties for being an introvert woman at work must be confronted, because when done so effectively, individuals and organizations both win.

According to a Psychology Today article:

Researchers estimate extroverts make up 50–74% of the population. These 'social butterflies' thrive under social stimulation, focus on their external environment, the people and activities around them. Extroverts thrive in active, fast-paced jobs where quick decisions are commonplace. They also learn by doing and enjoy talking through ideas and problems.

After reading the specifics about how extroverts thrive and what they enjoy doing, I couldn’t wait to read about those of us who are introverts! Needless to say, I wasn’t happy:

16-50% of the population consists of introverts, who get their energy from having 'alone time.'
Introverts enjoy spending time alone or in small groups of people, but may get overwhelmed in new situations or in large groups of people.
Introverts prefer to focus on one task at a time and observe a situation before jumping in.

Nothing to add about how we thrive? Any information about how we process information that allows us to exceed performance expectations?

This Psychology Today article reminded me of the bias that surrounds introversion - the perpetual myths that show up in organizational cultures that pride themselves on diversity and inclusion, yet allow feedback to include: “She’s not aggressive enough; I don’t think she’ll do well in the role” or, “I don’t know if she has what it takes…I can’t get a read on her.”

As long as women are expected to change who they are and adjust, culture doesn’t have to shift, and the communicator questioning our greatness...well, he or she may not understand that different doesn’t mean better or worse. It’s simply different.

This speaks to an opportunity to understand who a person is before disregarding them for promotion and professional progress.

If you’re an introverted woman, here’s my advice on how to thrive at work.

Authenticity is attractive.

Since I shaved my head last year, I’ve been approached more often than I have in years past. I believe this happens because I simply show up - true to myself, in the absence of perfection.

Be true to your introverted self; don’t make the mistake of losing who you are to accommodate the perspective and opinions of others. For those who think introverts can’t be successful, they should probably research Michael Jordan, Barbara Walters, Gandhi, and Warren Buffet.

[Related: Authenticity Might be the Key Ingredient for Career Success]

Awareness.

Understand that while you may loathe office politics, there is a game in play. You must know the written and unwritten rules of your organization. You must strategically position yourself by leveraging your relationships and strengths. You must do more than observe from the sidelines; you must insert yourself into the game at the right time so you can experience your win.

I must warn you, though - not having the right information typically results in a loss. Let me be clear: What your job description states, what your leader expects, and what your performance evaluation guidelines state are typically not one in the same.

Ask questions.

When someone would say, “You’re so quiet,” I’d smile, followed by: “I get that a lot. Do you have a question or is there something you’d like to discuss?” If they did, we talked, and if not, I left the interaction on a positive note so I could finish my work.

Asking the right questions allowed me to invite others to join me in conversation while helping them better understand how to engage me and how we should collaborate, if need be.

[Related: Five Reasons Strategic Leaders Need to Ask Good Questions]

Acknowledge your limitations while incorporating boundaries.

I call this the professional version of “save yourself.”

You can’t be all things to all people. You can’t do everything well, so why try? Consider excellence over perfection. Understanding prioritization of what’s urgent vs. what’s important will save you time as well as energy.

Authority is your advantage.

As an introvert, I knew the business; I spoke with authority and confidence - not necessarily when people wanted me to, but when it mattered most. I was an expert at something and you should be, too!

My performance was never an issue; the perspective of others was the issue. When this happens, consider how and when to leverage your influence to ensure your leader, colleagues, and decision makers are aware of who you are, how you work best, and the value you bring to the department, as well as the organization.

For those of you who are introverts, I challenge you to consider how being introverted is of tremendous value. It takes both introverts and extroverts to sustain organizations; therefore, you don’t have to sacrifice yourself to thrive in the workplace and experience career success.

[Related: Why Every Organization Needs a Charismatic Introvert]

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Ericka Spradley is the Chief PowHer Officer/Founder of Confident Career Woman, which is the premier consulting firm for corporations and the mid-career professional woman who wants to advance, better manage her career, and go further faster.


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Qiana Harps

This article on Introverts by Ericka Spradley was wonderful. I've seen introvert and extrovert comparisons as it pertains to social society, but I've never seen them being compared and/or addressed in the business world. Thank you for sharing this take on Introverts. I'm an Introvert with Extrovert tendencies and I appreciate the relational wealth achieved in this article.

August 6, 2019

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