4 Tips for Introverts to Connect With Coworkers (While Staying Sane)

An introvert connects with his coworker.

Modern offices with their open, collaborative work spaces can be a bit of a nightmare for introverts. Not only do these layouts increase noise levels, but they also facilitate “teamwork” — that is, they encourage your extroverted coworkers to invade your space for a friendly chat multiple times a day. Depending on your level of focus, this can be either an annoying distraction or a welcome interaction. Most of time, for us introverts, it’s the former rather than the latter.

Unfortunately, the constant stream of interruptions, talkative meetings, brainstorming sessions, and general sensory overload can have a detrimental effect on introverted employees’ ability to form connections with their coworkers. In other words, when they’re desperately doing all they can just to make it through the work day, they’re not focusing on building meaningful relationships with their colleagues. And for introverts who want friends at work, that’s a problem.

Why Connecting With Coworkers Is Difficult But Important

There’s a common misconception that introverts hate people, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Many of us “quiet ones” love engaging in social situations in our personal lives — under the right circumstances. And we also crave meaningful companionship at work — although one or two close “work friends” is probably enough to fill an introvert’s social quota. For introverts and extroverts alike, the desire to bond with our coworkers is one of the four major drives behind employee motivation.

Sadly, that bonding comes at a price for introverts. For us, spending a significant amount of time with chatty colleagues drains our battery, so we’re forced to withdraw in order to recharge. And it’s pretty natural for introverts to want to shut down after being put on the spot or inundated with the chatter of our colleagues for hours on end. What’s more, many introverts find it almost impossible to be productive at work if their environment is too loud.

Extroverts, on the other hand, thrive in rambunctious settings — often needing to talk out loud in order to think clearly — and have much longer “social batteries” than introverts.

These different productivity needs often clash with our shared desire for connection. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can connect with our coworkers and maintain our sanity as introverts at the same time. Here are four tips to do just that.

How to Connect With Coworkers the Introverted Way

1. Let them know you’re an introvert — and what you need.

It’s easy for people to keep overstepping your boundaries if you don’t indicate what they are in the first place. When introducing yourself to new coworkers — or rehashing things with old ones — let them know that you’re an introvert. And as such, you need quiet to focus, time to process your thoughts before responding to a question, and periods of solitude to maintain your energy. This lets your colleagues know that you value your relationship with them because you wish to establish a connection that continues to work. It also sets easy expectations for them to meet.

2. Don’t feel bad about asking for an email instead of chatting face-to-face.

Again, this is about setting expectations. You remain open to communicating with your coworkers but in a way that’s less draining. Let your colleagues know what your preferred method of communication is. For most introverts, it’s likely to be something written (e.g. email, text messaging, instant messaging), as we like time to formulate our thoughts and carefully write them out. Fortunately for us, text-based communication is gaining a stronghold in the business world. According to Arizona State  University, 68 percent of millennials like to communicate via text messaging at work, while 42 percent use instant messaging.

If a coworker stops you in the hall to ask questions or make requests, you can politely emphasize your preferred method of communication by explaining that an email or instant message will give you both a reminder and all of the details in one place. It will also give you the option of getting to a good stopping place on whatever you’re working on so you can better focus on their request.

3. Plan one-on-one meetings.

One way to get to know your coworkers better — and to do so without derailing your productivity — is to regularly schedule one-on-one meetings with them. This could be as casual as dropping by a coworker’s desk before heading out for the day, or you could schedule something more “official” to discuss a work-related matter. This keeps the group dynamic easy to control so you don’t end up getting steam-rolled in the conversation. Instead of lots of painful “how was your weekend” small talk, try kicking off your visit by asking for their input on a work-related matter. Most people (especially extroverts) love to be asked for their opinion; it’s often interpreted as a sign of respect.

4. Harness your introverted superpowers to show kindness.

It goes without saying that you should be kind to your coworkers (you know, the golden rule and all that), but there are ways you can go above and beyond to really cement your relationships with your colleagues. Thank you notes or “get well” and sympathy cards, small gifts on their birthday, a sympathetic ear or shoulder to cry on when they need it — these warm gestures are not only welcome and appreciated, but they also highlight some of our biggest strengths as introverts (e.g. perception, loyalty, listening skills, communicating well in writing).

You don’t have to be friends with every single colleague — there are bound to be people you don’t like or who don’t like you (that’s just the way the world works). Besides, that many social connections can be a tad overwhelming — and probably completely unnecessary for introverts, who value quality over quantity. Focus instead on forming deep and meaningful relationships with a few coworkers. Doing so is a great way to earn yourself some cheerleaders who are willing to hype you up when the need arises — and create the meaningful interactions you crave. 

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