When faced with an uncomfortable work situation as an introvert, look for coworkers who feel the same way you do to become your allies.
As an introvert, it is very likely that your workplace is not like the cozy, low-stimulant environment you’d prefer to have around you. For instance, if you work in an open-plan office with people constantly walking by or wanting to make small talk, it may be a nightmare.
As a product manager for consumer goods, one of my responsibilities is the design of our products. We work with a design agency and meet once a month for a big meeting. Over the years, I’ve managed to get through these meetings — but one part of it was just plain uncomfortable: Presenting first drafts of new products. It’s exciting, yet terrifying (like being forced to do group projects in school). There was a more or less an unspoken rule that the responsible product manager (in some cases, me) had to speak and evaluate the drafts first. Literally seconds after I saw the drafts for the first time, 20 people would be looking at me. An introvert in the spotlight? No thanks.
The next time the meeting popped up in my calendar, I grew nervous and self-conscious (as usual). I decided I’d find a good excuse to skip or delay it — and eventually called in sick. But the next time, I knew I’d have to attend and thought of some ways to make it more manageable. If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are some ways to survive uncomfortable work situations as an introvert.
5 Ways to Survive Uncomfortable Work Situations as an Introvert
1. Look for allies, fellow work colleagues who feel the same way you do.
The first step is to look for allies, work colleagues who feel the same way you do about the uncomfortable work situation and who agree that something needs to change. You may wonder how and where to find these allies, but it’s easier than you may think. Just use your introvert superpower of observing others.
When the thing that needs to change happens (in my case, that particular part of the meeting), observe others around you. You’ll probably notice you’re not the only one struggling with it (i.e., having to speak up and present in front of the group). Introverts are pros at reading body language, so watch how people behave, how they move, and listen to not just what they say, but also how they say it. There are a lot of indicators that someone feels uncomfortable. These people, struggling with the same issue you’re struggling with, can become your allies in creating change.
Plus, you probably already have close connections with certain work colleagues — and deep connections, not just ones based on idle chit-chat and small talk. So talk to them about your struggle. They will likely understand and support you.
2. Prepare in advance, which is an introvert superpower.
Before the day comes to change whatever you are struggling with, you have to be prepared. Luckily, preparation is another introvert superpower which will come in handy now. Have you ever imagined the absolute worst outcome about a situation? Will everyone laugh at you? Will they ignore you and move on to another person? Will you get kicked out of the meeting or your boss’ office? Yep, that’s the second-guessing and overthinking mind of an introvert.
You may want to skip the preparation step and just give up, but don’t do that. Again, since we introverts are so good at planning and preparing, use this to your advantage. Have some well-thought-out answers and ideas planned. After all, we’re much better with putting our thoughts in writing. Plus, this way, you won’t get lost in your inner turmoil of “What do I want to say and how do I say it?” because you prepared for the worst-case scenarios in advance. You can also talk to your allies beforehand so they’ll help “save” you and chime in, too, if necessary. Being prepared really boosted my confidence.
3. Play fair — give work managers a heads-up if you want a meeting with them.
There is one more thing I want you to consider. Please, be fair. We introverts don’t like to get surprised by things that require an immediate action or response. So return the favor and give your colleagues, boss, or whomever you want to talk with a heads-up. Give them a chance to prepare, too.
This way, it can help inspire a more “open atmosphere” toward your topic and you speaking up. And furthermore, any following discussion will be more balanced and will (hopefully) result in a fair and long-lasting outcome.
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4. Be authentic — the more passionate you are about the topic, the more people will listen.
The day has come — you are prepared for your work meeting or presentation, and your allies are ready, too. There is only one thing left to do: Say what you need to say. This is by far the hardest part, but another introvert superpower comes in handy here, too. You like to have meaningful and deep conversations, right? You like to speak from your heart about topics you really care about, yes? So do it at this exact moment. I know, it sounds like it’ll be difficult, but trust me: Your colleagues will immediately connect with you on a level of true understanding — they won’t just hear you, but feel you. The more passionate you are about the topic, the more they will listen.
And don’t be afraid to stumble on your words. I know we introverts struggle to speak sometimes, but you know what to say. No one expects you to give a perfect speech. If you get nervous or off track, take a deep breath, make eye contact with your allies, and keep on going.
For me, it worked out better than I could have imagined. While I was talking about how I felt in the meeting, how I struggled with the demand of being the first to say something, everyone listened. There was no side chatter, no yawning. Instead, a lot of people nodded, as though they were relieved that someone (finally) said something. And after I finished? There was applause.
5. Reward yourself, whether it’s getting your favorite cup of coffee or meal.
Speaking up and letting my work colleagues know what was bothering me wasn’t easy, but it was so worth it. Maybe whatever you do will elicit change — or maybe not. But the important thing is you taking action and trying, even if you question yourself along the way.
So be proud of yourself. This might cause you to say, “Nah, it was just a little thing — that’s what people do. No need to be proud.” Wrong! Be proud of yourself for leaving your comfort zone and for trying to create change. Be proud of yourself for doing something others did not. (Who knows? Maybe you inadvertently inspired your fellow introverts to do something similar down the line.)
Then take some time to reflect on the process and smile (or at least give yourself a high-five and reward yourself somehow, whether it’s getting your favorite cup of coffee or meal). You earned it.