10 Tips to Survive Working With the Public When You’re an Introvert

An introvert works in a people-y job

When you work with the public, you have to be “on,” which can be a draining experience for introverts.

Working with the public is never easy — for anyone — but it can be especially challenging if you are an introvert. Whether you’re working in retail or social work, or at a restaurant or library, in these kinds of roles, you have to be “on” and ready to help someone. You need to be able to make small talk. You need to be able to answer the phone. 

Of course, these things can be draining for an introvert — in essence, you’re an introvert with an “extrovert” job.  

I work as a Youth Services Librarian in a public library. Most of the time, I love my job. I love working in a place surrounded by books. I love sharing my love of reading with the kids who come to the library. I love the ample opportunities to be creative through programming and decorating. 

What is challenging, though, are things like helping out at the circulation desk, answering the phone, or doing a Story Time in front of several parents and kids. 

Any People-y Encounters Are Draining for Introverts 

I’ve had many positive, and occasional negative, encounters throughout my career. Both kinds are draining to me. That’s something people don’t always understand about introverts, I’ve found. Just because a social encounter is positive doesn’t mean it’s not also draining. 

Over the years, however, I’ve learned some ways to help cope with the challenges that working with the public can bring for an introvert like me — and perhaps for you, too. Here are some of them.

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10 Tips for Working With the Public as an Introvert

1. Remember to breathe, whether it’s through a breathing exercise or meditating.

Before reading for a Story Time or assisting a library patron, doing a few deep belly breaths always makes a difference in how calm I feel navigating the situation. There aren’t a lot of ways we can lower our fight-or-flight response, but deep breathing is one of them. (For you, breathing may be in the form of meditating — do whatever works.)

By taking a few deep breaths, we can slow our heart rate and remind our body that there’s no immediate threat. I remember that the patrons aren’t saber-toothed tigers ready to pounce on me. They’re simply human… just like me. 

2. Be gentle with yourself and remind yourself you’re doing the best you can. 

Give yourself praise for taking on people-centric challenges daily. You are capable of anything, and can handle whatever happens (even if it may not seem like it in the moment). 

Write mantras for yourself on Post-it notes or on your phone, like “I can do this” or “I will be fine.” These will help serve as a tangible reminder that you are more than capable of getting the job or task done. 

3. Treat each interaction as a learning experience. 

Each time you interact with someone, regardless whether the outcome is positive or negative, take note of it. Write down what happened, as well as how you handled it. 

Then, when you need a reminder that you are capable of doing your job, go back and read through your encounters. Even the negative ones will give you strength — because as bad as they may have been, you handled it and survived it. 

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

I know — we introverts don’t love asking for help. But, sometimes, it’s necessary (not to mention an important part of self-care).

For example, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, don’t be afraid to take a break. Ask someone to cover the desk while you take a time-out to do some deep breathing or step outside for a few minutes. (After all, nature is an elixir for introverts.) 

Also, be honest to your boss or colleagues about why you feel overwhelmed. You can tell them that, as an introvert, you need moments of alone time now and then. Remember: Being an introvert is nothing to be ashamed of. People will probably be more understanding than you might think. You could possibly even meet a fellow introvert by being vulnerable and honest. Maybe they’ve been craving more alone time, too, but were hesitant to speak up.

5. Have talking points prepared (since you probably don’t love spontaneous conversations). 

One of the hardest challenges for introverts can be small talk. In a situation where you’re working with the public, though, it is a necessary skill. To help hone it, write down some possible talking points in advance to help make yourself — and the other person — feel more at ease. 

For example, in the library, I often try to engage patrons by asking them what they’re currently reading. Try to pay attention to details, too. If the customer has a child with them, I’ll ask what their name is and engage with them. This leads to a positive encounter with both child and adult. 

Think about where you work and customize your talking points to that setting. If you work at a vet’s office, for instance, ask patrons about their pets — how they got their name, where they got their pet, and so on. The more specific you can be, the better.

Do you ever struggle to know what to say?

As an introvert, you actually have the ability to be an amazing conversationalist — even if you’re quiet and hate small talk. To learn how, we recommend this online course from our partner Michaela Chung. Click here to check out the Introvert Conversation Genius course.

6. Use your empathy skills as much as possible.  

Unfortunately, a consequence of working with the public is the occasional unhappy customer. It is very challenging when someone is either not in a good mood or gets frustrated — and blames you.

We introverts, though, have a superpower to deal with these kinds of situations: Empathy. Not that it is easy, by any means, but we tend to have a knack for putting ourselves in another person’s shoes

Trying to imagine what the person may be dealing with — which is causing them to act in a negative way — can help depersonalize the situation. If you are able to not take the negative actions personally, you will be able to engage better and get through the encounter. 

7. Have a couple people in your life who “get it” (and you).

Having a friend or family member who “gets it” — and you — can be a lifesaver. We all need people who we feel understand us and are in our corner. They get the challenges you face being an introvert, and you can vent to them (which is very cathartic).

It’s an added bonus if you find such a person you can talk to at work, because they will be able to better relate to the challenges you are facing and can help you come up with solutions.

8. Focus on the things you do love about your job. 

Taking a moment to focus on what you do enjoy at work, and what isn’t draining, but energizing, can help you cope with when you have to do less enjoyable tasks. 

For me, I reflect on how rewarding it is when I help a child find a book they are excited to read, or the joy on kids’ faces when I’m doing a craft program. 

Every job has things about it we don’t love, but if we can focus on the things we do enjoy about it, that will get us through the hard tasks. You can even write the positives down so that they’ll serve as a reminder on the tough days.

9. Remember: Your life isn’t work. (I’m going to repeat this: Your life isn’t your work.)

This is something many of us can forget. We work so much of our lives that it can be easy to forget there’s more to us than our jobs. We each have friends and family we like spending time with, hobbies and interests, pets we adore, and so on.

So, as drained as we might feel at any given moment, there are other things in our lives that can re-energize us and leave us feeling recharged. For me, one-on-one time with a good friend, cuddling with my dog, or watercolor painting all energize me. 

Being in nature is another great source of energy for me. There’s nothing like taking a walk through the woods, listening to the birds chirp, and hearing the crunch of leaves underfoot. Walking allows a moment for reflection, something I enjoy as an introvert. 

Brainstorm the things you enjoy outside of work. Thinking about them can help get you through the day and look forward to your non-work activities.

10. Be honest with yourself — if your job causes more stress than joy, you may need to find a new one. 

It’s important to be honest with yourself. Introverts can do any job, but if this job isn’t bringing you any joy, only stress, then consider looking for something else. We are never stuck. We always have options. However, it is easy to forget this, especially because when we are focused on making sure we have an income. 

If you are unhappy in a job, though, it can make life miserable. So don’t be afraid to think beyond what you’re doing if you are unhappy. There’s a job out there for all of us. Sometimes we just have to search for it. And I promise: There will be a better fit.

Above all, don’t let the stigma around introversion hold you back. Introverts can succeed and thrive in any job they’d like. The key is knowing the tools that will help make the challenges in a job, like working with the public, easier. 

Introverts, what tips would you add? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

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