When it comes to career advancement, it would seem that fortune favors the boisterous: those people (you know the ones!) who can come up with ideas and talk them out quickly, dive into new projects without hesitation, and hold court at every party as if it’s a valuable networking opportunity.
While there are absolutely benefits to projecting confidence and assertiveness at work, that doesn’t mean those who are more introverted (somewhere between 16 and 50 percent of the population) don’t have a particular set of valuable skills to offer. Skills that, while perhaps exhibited in a quieter fashion, can be leveraged just as successfully for career success.
For introverted employees, the key is understanding what you have to offer.
Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking explores the particular benefit of being an introvert in the digital age. Sure, the advent of technologies that make work something that happens everywhere we go. And slow-burn thoughts and honest self-perception sometimes seem to be evaporating. That’s why having these skills can give you a leg up on career competition. Assuming you, as an introverted employee, even see success as a competitive landscape, of course.
The Workplace Strengths of Introverted Employees
Dr. Michael Alcee, a clinical psychologist based in Tarrytown, NY, emphasizes introverts’ unique abilities to think carefully — and differently — in the workplace. “Introverts think deeply, are highly perceptive, and have an uncanny ability to make creative connections. While they may be quiet on the outside, they are buzzing on the inside. They are synthesizing an enormous amount of material that can bring a work project to a whole new level.”
While verbal processing may capture the excitement of your coworkers in the midst of project planning, introverts often have an intuition for hurdles in execution and can foresee the logistical complications of putting a plan into action. That means you can be the invaluable person who troubleshoots a plan even while it’s still in its nascent phases. And when the rapid-fire energy of a conference-room planning session has everyone else in a frenzy? Quietly taking notes that support the nuts and bolts of new ideas can make you a standout contributor.
Being the Outsider
Beyond being the de facto troubleshooters in group projects, introverted employees can also tap into their capacity to understand the nature of workplace relationships from an outside perspective. By becoming a universal ally who doesn’t seek to undercut other people’s ideas or steal attention from other coworkers, you’re playing for keeps. Loyalty, trust, and thoughtfulness aren’t just qualities of a wonderful friend. They are the building blocks of team players who can pivot into leadership roles.
You might not be the one people go to for water-cooler conversation or the latest office gossip. In the long term, though, that’s a good thing. According to Dr. Alcee, introverted employees hate small talk. Mostly because it doesn’t get deep enough for them. Introverts love to swim in the depths and engage ideas on a really substantial level.
This is an amazing strength. It can help support a group with digging in deeper, whether it’s a work group or in a relationship. Yes, it can be exhausting to be constantly cheering on the other people that you interact with. And yet, offering positive feedback and a noncritical acceptance of your coworkers will pay off when it’s promotion time.
Embracing Who You Are
Instead of trying to exchange naturally introverted personality traits for bigger, louder, more attention-getting tactics, get comfortable with your tendencies. Nurture and protect them. By embracing the person you already are, you’ll be able to better address your needs and enjoy yourself at work.
Whether you’re in a profession more suited to introversion or practicing in a more traditionally “extroverted” field, you can lean in to what you have to offer. Protecting your personal space for fledgling ideas, for example. Or skipping out on work events when you’re feeling drained. Or perhaps making sure that not all of your projects involve other people. These are all ways you can feel good about the way that you work.
Setting boundaries with coworkers so that you don’t feel “bossed around” or controlled can be difficult. This is especially true if your introversion manifests as meekness around more gregarious people. Remember that there’s nothing wrong with needing space — and that making more room for who you are makes the workplace better for everybody. Start by cutting back on your apologies. Then move toward setting real boundaries through firm, clear, and documented written cues. An introvert’s tendency to fall into passive-aggressive habits in workplace interactions is one pitfall best to avoid.
“In a fast-paced and frenetic culture plagued by technological distractions, introverted employees remind all of us to slow down and take time to renew ourselves by going inward,” Dr. Alcee points out. Introverted employees are fully capable of great accomplishment and significant leadership, and the world is catching on.
Sure, it may seem counterintuitive to parlay your quieter side into career success. But what seems like a weakness may actually be one of the strongest things you have to offer!
For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Levo League.