By the time I started working in a corporate office job, just shy of my thirtieth birthday, I had no illusions about the cultural bias towards extroverts.
In elementary school, I was the quiet one who preferred story time to a packed playground, and teachers warned my parents that I was “too shy.” As a bookish teenager, I excelled at specific things instead of being an all-rounder. I was witty and wry, but intense and serious, and somehow as scatterbrained as I was astute. I felt like my contradictory personality made people wary of me, so I withdrew into books.
While some teenagers identify with pop or sports stars, I was all about Meursault from Albert Camus’ novel The Outsider. As the introverted, central character, Meursault is described as “not one to waste words.” Reading that description as a 14-year-old, I felt like I’d found the missing puzzle piece.
That’s me! I’d thought. I’m not one to waste words. It’s tricky to explain the significance, but that line became my self-validating mantra whenever people looked at me warily and said, “You’re very quiet.”
In my twenties, I created a life that suited me. In my group of friends and in my job as a disability support worker, I was social and at ease. People told me how funny I was, and when I explained to friends that I was actually quite shy, they’d scoff and say, “You are not.”
So I started to think I’d outgrown my quiet girl days. Yes, I still chose my words carefully, and I was far from being the life of the party, but I didn’t feel like an outsider anymore.
My First Corporate Job
That was until, just before my thirtieth birthday, I decided to move states, change career paths, and start my first proper office job as a junior policy analyst in a large, conservative organization.
And there I was — at my desk on the sprawling, open-plan sixteenth floor under fluorescent lights with two hundred other people also hemmed into their small square of personal space. The lack of privacy was claustrophobic, I felt stiff and awkward sitting at my desk, I could hear the people around me swallowing and sipping and their stomachs gurgling, and when someone started sucking and crunching into a cough, I seriously considered spontaneously rappelling down the side of the building.
I felt super self-conscious using the phone in such a public setting, and my fingers moved awkwardly over the keyboard when anyone stood too close behind me. I also learned the hard way to always have an arsenal of memorized responses prepared for impromptu meetings or debriefs because extemporaneous speaking was not my thing.
As an Introvert, I Had an Advantage
Despite these challenges, I discovered I had an edge over my more extroverted colleagues. Yes, my introversion and sensitivity meant I was hyper-aware of my lack of personal space and privacy, and I was never going to be a water cooler networker, but my strengths were significant. I was an excellent listener, paid close attention to detail, chose my words carefully, picked up on subtle cues, easily immersed myself in tasks, and didn’t get wrapped up in office gossip or drama.
These strengths quickly proved their worth through successive promotions and pay increases. Much to my surprise, my introversion gave me a competitive edge in an environment that initially seemed like an extrovert’s playground.
Some of my introvert traits may be more nuanced to my INFJ personality. But if you work in a corporate environment, or aspire to do so, and you’re on the quiet or sensitive side, I encourage you to reframe the following five qualities and leverage them to your advantage.
(What’s your personality type? Take a free personality assessment.)
How Introverts Have an Edge Over Extroverts
1. You think carefully before speaking.
Not everybody thinks before they speak like you do. You might look at your more extroverted colleagues and envy their capacity for spontaneous monologues, but don’t underestimate the power of silence.
In my experience, the less you speak, the more people listen when you do share your thoughts. You talk to communicate something specific, and people appreciate your discernment. Every team needs a slick orator, but people who think before taking strategic action are essential.
2. Silence is your comfort zone.
Have you ever wondered why your extroverted desk buddies tell you they’re swamped with tasks but then repeatedly stop working to chat with a passerby about the latest episode of The Bachelor? I admit I used to judge this behavior negatively until I realized my extroverted colleagues needed conversation the way I craved quiet time.
This is where the introvert shines. You can sink into the silence and give the task at hand your full attention. When your boss walks by and your more chatty colleagues are mapping out their weekend, you’re in the zone working.
3. You don’t need to be the center of attention.
Although it may seem like the outgoing people in the office are more celebrated by the boss simply because they talk more about their achievements, take a moment to see this from another angle. Maybe your boss gives you less attention because you don’t need it and really appreciates that you’re a savvy, independent operator who doesn’t demand a lot of their time.
Low maintenance, high-performing staff members are everyone’s dream. As a quietly achieving introvert, you have a definite edge in this department.
4. You’re low drama and gossip isn’t your thing.
Just like some people zone out when they’re exposed to politics, policy frameworks, or how to master a Rubik’s cube, I find gossip a bit on the boring side. There’s the initial rush of hearing something salacious, but within a few minutes, my mind starts to wander.
In an office context, a no-gossip policy definitely works to your advantage. Colleagues, staff, and supervisors know they can trust you. No gossip also means there’s less drama so you can get on with delivering outcomes.
5. You’re sensitive to subtle cues.
I used to think everyone picked up on other people’s energy and subtle indications of mood. But they don’t. While sensitivity can be incredibly taxing, it also means you’re perceptive. It never ceased to amaze me how my colleagues didn’t notice when people were sad or angry or nervous when it seemed to me like the person was just short of carrying a neon sign announcement.
Insight is your advantage. You recognize when people are genuine, and you sense what’s really going on behind their social mask. Use this gift to recruit good people, advocate for your staff or team members, and to know when clear boundaries are needed for your more challenging colleagues.
Corporate or not, there are lots of jobs where introverts can thrive. I’ve thrived in a corporate environment by being true to my Camus-obsessed teenage self. I don’t waste words, and neither should you. Reframe your introversion and sensitivity, and leverage these qualities as your primary strengths.
You might like:
- For Introverts, the Open Office Concept Is Hell on Earth
- 15 Signs That You’re an Introvert With High-Functioning Anxiety
- Why Introverts Absolutely Loathe Talking on the Phone
- Why Are Words So Hard for Introverts? Here’s the Science
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