How to Thrive as an Introvert in an Extroverted Workplace

An introvert with her coworkers

If you’re an introvert, you may struggle to fit into an extroverted culture that is conditioned to overlook you.

We live in a society that seems — on the surface, at least — to love extroverts. The preferences for qualities in individuals like “sociability,” “chattiness,” “easygoing,” and “social butterfly” are all qualities associated with extroversion. 

This preference is also built into the culture of many workplaces, where extroverts are seen as better employees than their introverted counterparts.

As a result, introverts may struggle to fit into a culture that is conditioned to overlook them. They are often seen as “hard to read,” “aloof,” “shy,” and “too quiet.” And, in many workplaces that prioritize visibility and making an impression on others, introverts can be passed over for promotions or key assignments. 

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Does This Mean Introverts Are Forever Doomed in the Workplace?

Not at all! 

Apparently, some of the most visible business leaders out there, like Steve Wozniack of Apple and Bill Gates of Microsoft, are introverts. History also has its own share of introverts who were leaders in their own right, like Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks… and even Oprah!

I, too, am an introvert who has mostly worked in organizations that leaned in favor of extroverted qualities, like speaking up during meetings. I struggled with people misunderstanding me and was constantly asked the one question we introverts find especially annoying: “Why are you so quiet?” I also disliked socializing and struggled with the mandatory team-building sessions. Above all, I yearned to be myself and to still have a thriving career, without having to fake being an extrovert. 

Is that possible? Absolutely! 

It took some time, navigating the treacherous extroverted-leaning terrains of various workplaces, but I’ve figured out something that works for me. If you’re wondering how to thrive in an extroverted workplace, keep reading…

How Thrive as an Introvert in an Extroverted Workplace

1. Get a feel for the workplace culture during the interview.

While I do not think this is a foolproof method — as you can never truly know what the culture of a place is like until you’ve experienced it — asking pointed questions during the interview can clue you in to the workplace culture.. 

Ask questions like: 

  • How often do you organize bonding activities? 
  • What are the expectations of an employee when it comes to socializing?
  • How would you describe the culture? Is it laid-back or dynamic?

Many interviewers these days tend to describe their workplaces as “vibrant” and “fun.” I’ve found that these places tend to have a high-energy, fast-paced environment… which may be unsuitable for introverts. Employees may also be expected to participate frequently in social events, which can leave introverts feeling drained.   

Looking out for a place that is a good personality-values-culture fit is important if you want to thrive and stay true to yourself. But… even if a place is fast-paced and high-energy, they may not make you participate in events. So ask!

2. Prepare for meetings — and water cooler talk — ahead of time.

Introverts may struggle with thinking and speaking on our feet, because we prefer to process our thoughts in private rather than out loud with others.    

What has helped me over the years to be less tongue-tied in group meetings is to prepare ahead of time — read up on the topic and think of questions to ask. Going to a meeting prepared makes you feel more confident and more likely to participate, in spite of your introverted nature.   

The same goes for the break room and water cooler talk. Think up some topics in advance so you’re not caught off-guard when you get more coffee.

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.

3. Identify allies and form close bonds with them. 

I’ve always managed to forge close relationships with people in the workplace who were not judgmental and accepted me for who I am. This includes senior colleagues, who acted as mentors and stood up for me, as well as peers whose presence made my life infinitely more bearable at work. 

Forming social connections with people who understand you gives you an outlet to rant or lean on when things get tough. These colleagues could be your wingman or wingwoman when attending social gatherings, too. They can introduce you to other like-minded people or carry on a conversation with others when you don’t feel like chatting.

What worked for me at times was looking out for fellow introverts — they’d usually be alone or hanging out quietly at the fringes of a gathering. I’ve made a lot of friends in life using this method!  

4. At social gatherings, participate within your boundaries.

Setting boundaries is extremely important for introverts. As I am easily drained by intense and stimulating environments, I’d usually give myself a window of time that I’d be there for. Perhaps I’d have a meal, speak to a few people, and leave after two hours (max). 

Having a timeframe to work with allows you to make the most out of the situation and gives you a “deadline” to look forward to. You are then able to go home and recharge your batteries

5. Don’t be afraid to be yourself — there’s nothing wrong with your introversion.

Ultimately, I think it is incredibly important to be ourselves and stay true to our core personality and values. While certain societal circles have a preference for extroversion, and it may be helpful to fit in at times, I’ve learned that we do not have to overextend ourselves and be someone we are not just to be accepted. There is nothing wrong with you.

As someone who used to be a huge people-pleaser and always wanted to be liked, I went out of my way to bend over backwards in order to be seen as fun, lively, and extroverted. 

Deep down, though, I felt unhappy, inauthentic, and resentful. In trying to be someone I was not, I ended up rejecting myself and constantly felt ashamed of my introverted personality. 

At times, it can be tempting to act like someone we are not in order to fit in. But if there’s anything I’ve learned about being an introvert in an extroverted workplace, it always helps to be yourself and be proud of it. It is what makes you uniquely you. 

Yes, sometimes you may not be able to find a workplace that is a picture-perfect fit for your introverted personality. However, there are strategies we can employ at work in order to participate in the culture while still being true to our introverted selves. Above all, staying true to ourselves will help us to thrive in our careers. You’ll see!

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