Unashamedly asking for what you need is crucial to succeeding as an introvert in an “extroverted” workplace.
As an introverted and peace-loving person, I have always actively sought jobs where I can pop in my earphones — my “please don’t talk to me right now” sandwich board — and happily sink into a creative task. Some people were surprised at my early career hop from prop-maker to copywriter, but to me it made total sense. Being able to block out the noisy world and get on with being creative was my idea of the perfect work day, a notion which any introvert will surely relate to.
Of course, very few jobs consist of 100 percent “deep work” time, and that’s really not a bad thing. During the aforementioned copywriting role, I was required to develop many different types of communication skills, some of which were initially intimidating, but which I’m now hugely grateful to have. I know that I can lead meetings, conduct interviews, and deliver sales pitches with comfort. Though I wouldn’t like to be constantly doing these things, I love knowing that I can. I honestly thought I’d landed the jackpot: a job I could enjoy, where I would also be forced to learn, grow, and be challenged from time to time.
However, it was a shock to one day realize that, at some point, the balance had tipped from “just challenging enough” into a full-on introvert’s nightmare. The stress had been increasing so gradually I’d hardly noticed it happening, but regular copywriting — in fact, any copywriting at all — was a thing of the past. I would easily be having three or four meetings per day: catch-ups, strategizing sessions, and workshops, topped off by a good old-fashioned team meeting. Not only this, I had a daily barrage of email conversations and non-stop “urgent” curveball tasks being flung at me throughout the day. My treasured deep work time had become nonexistent, and flitting from urgent task to urgent task, meeting to meeting, email to email, had become the exhausting norm.
From Comfort Zone to Discomfort Zone
While stepping outside your comfort zone to develop new skills is a great thing, setting up camp in your discomfort zone is not. I firmly believe that nobody needs to be stuck in a job that leaves them emotionally drained at the end of every day. Whether you’re looking for more meaningful work and new opportunities, or not (most of us don’t have the luxury of quitting immediately), there is always a little room to push for better boundaries and balance in your existing workplace. Here are a few strategies that helped me take back some control in my mile-a-minute extroverted job, and prevented my quiet, introverted soul from going completely insane.
How to Survive When You’re an Introvert With an ‘Extrovert’ Job
1. Protect your quiet time by blocking off distraction-free work sessions.
It’s no secret that introverts not only crave alone time, but need it. Even if it can only be a couple of hours per week, block out times where you are able to have quiet working sessions — and then protect that time fiercely. Let your manager know (or ask, if needed), find a quieter space or cafe to work in if at all possible, and shut off those notifications.
It’s so simple, but having distraction-free work sessions written in the team schedule is an easy step toward letting everybody in your company know that this time is important to you, and it might even empower other struggling introverts to do the same. It helped me to think about the time as though it were an appointment with another coworker. You wouldn’t dream of not showing up to a planned session with a colleague without good reason, so why show yourself any less respect?
Knowing that I had a few hours booked that would be free of meetings, Slack messages, and random fires to put out gave me some anchor points throughout the week to stave off feeling constantly frazzled and overwhelmed.
2. For a more productive — and quieter — work day, communicate better and less often.
As a general rule, the stronger your communication is, the less time you will need to spend communicating (not to mention the better you will be at your job.) This is not a quick tip, but something I’m always trying to improve. As a simple example, one email that clearly itemizes everything that needs addressing with a particular person can save a frustrating back-and-forth chain, the virtual equivalent of you and your coworker constantly tapping each other on the shoulder throughout the day. (Plus, we introverts prefer written communication anyway.)
Similarly, a dedicated 10-minute catch-up call — if you’re an introvert who doesn’t mind the phone — that gets to the root of a problem can iron out a week’s worth of questions being fired at you over Slack. Sticking to a tight list of crucial discussion points can prevent rambling, soul-crushing meetings that last two hours and achieve nothing, except you learning how to subtly get on with your other work unnoticed. The list goes on. Communicating better, and less often, can unlock a more peaceful and productive work day.
3. Prepare for meetings by mapping out exactly what you’ll need to say.
In the beginning of my career, I naively thought everyone in meetings just knew exactly what to say on the fly, and that prep time wasn’t “real work.” But, especially for introverts, it can take hours to fully prepare for certain meetings and map out what you’ll need to say. Generally, we do much better when we can think before we speak.
For any particularly challenging meetings, work out exactly how much prep time you need to feel comfortable in the meeting and then actually factor that in every week. And if this time is cutting into your other work? Talk to your manager about your priorities — perhaps the meeting isn’t one you need to be in (win!), or some other tasks can be deprioritized. It’s in your company’s best interest that you are going into meetings prepared and comfortable, however long that takes.
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4. Speak to your boss if you are struggling with too many tasks, from extraneous meetings to other workplace distractions.
Perhaps most importantly of all, communicate with your boss if you are struggling with too many meetings, emails, or general workplace distractions. You might be able to come up with some strategies together to make it easier for you to do your job; after all, that is their job.
Whether you have a solid request in mind — you want to work remotely one day per week — or you’re just struggling and want to talk through your options, as long as it is framed professionally (clearly stating the facts, not whining) and constructively (communicating how your work will improve when certain barriers are removed), they should be happy to talk it through. I know this may not necessarily be easy for us “quiet ones” to bring up, but just like with doing prep before meetings, you can have talking points ready. The meeting likely won’t fix everything overnight, but your boss cannot help you if they don’t know how you feel.
Succeeding as an Introvert in the Workplace
All of the above are specific strategies that helped me as an introvert in an “extrovert” job, and they definitely won’t work for all industries. However, they can really be distilled into two underlying principles: Tease out some boundaries that will make your job easier and communicate with your team as truthfully and confidently as you can.
Flexing the muscle of unashamedly asking for what you need is crucial to succeeding as an introvert in the workplace — it’s smart both for you and for your company. And hey, once you’ve put some of these measures in place, you might find that your workplace has already taken a baby step (or few) toward becoming a little less extroverted in its culture.