“Figure out what you are meant to contribute to the world and make sure you contribute it. If this requires public speaking or networking or other activities that make you uncomfortable, do them anyway. But accept that they’re difficult, get the training you need to make them easier, and reward yourself when you’re done.”
~Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking~
Kevin works as a compliance officer for an insurance company. “I have always been an introvert,” Kevin said. “I really enjoy quiet, alone time.”
He looked for careers that would be suitable to his introverted personality. “They say that engineers, scientists, accounting are all great jobs for introverts. But I hated math,” he said.
Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World says, “What careers are good for introverts? Whatever interests them.”
Kevin realized he couldn’t be in tech fields, because they just didn’t interest him. Rather, he chose a field he loved and then figured out how to adjust to it.
Every job has a mix of skills that require both quiet time and time with others. Introverts can adjust and balance those times.
Use Your Strengths
Introverts are good listeners. They can be quiet and give others the opportunity to share. They can think and ponder.
“When I talk with others on compliance issues, I find they are much more amenable to doing things the necessary way after I’ve given them a chance to talk and explain their position,” Kevin said. “Sometimes they bring up valid points. But in any case, they feel like they’ve been heard and understood. It makes my job easier.”
Introverts can use quiet time efficiently.
“I have a program or a pattern I use that works for me,” Kevin says. “When I get to my office, and it’s quiet, I accomplish a lot.”
Structure Your Work to Suit You
There are times when things get very busy and Kevin needs to interact with people… sometimes with high emotional content. He organizes and balances his work time to regenerate.
1. Take a Break. There may be times introverts just need to step out and take a break. Lunch time may be taken in the car, at a quiet park or even in the library.
You may schedule breaks to take a rest from the din. You know your capacity. You know your work location. Find quiet spots to restore your equilibrium.
2. Turn it off. When Kevin comes back to the office after stressful meetings, he turns off the phone. He hangs a sign on the door that says, “Focusing. If you’re not dead or dying, please don’t disturb.”
He has trained his colleagues to respect his time for silence and thought.
“It’s not just introverts that need quiet to focus,” Kevin said. “In our office many others have taken to scheduling blocks of time for focused work. They tell me they are amazed at how much they accomplish.”
Kevin said he’s learned that as he understands and takes care of himself, he’s more successful. “Introverts can succeed at any job,” Kevin says. “Who’s to label these jobs introvert jobs and those extrovert jobs? Steve Martin, the actor, is an introvert. Warren Buffet’s an introvert. People in sales can be introverts and still be very successful.”
Kevin’s advice: Choose the job you love and you’ll figure out how to make it work for you.
Need help figuring out how to adjust your job to your introvert tendencies? Contact Joel for individualized assistance.
Talkback: How have you adjusted or arranged your job to support you as an introvert?
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“You know you’re an introvert when you get excited about cancelled plans.”
~ Anonymous ~
Ryan is at a crossroads in his career. He’s been with the same company for five years, working in IT as a programmer. He gets along well with his co-workers and his manager thinks he’s doing a great job. Lately, however, he’s started to wonder if he should look for a change. He’d like to move up in the company, but all the hot jobs with great prospects are in sales. There’s a sales job that’s just been posted and he’s thinking of applying. But he feels uncomfortable every time he thinks about it. His brain is going in circles so he decides to call his business coach and run the idea by her.
Ryan’s coach asks him a number of questions about what the new job would look like. Would he be spending a lot of time on the phone, making calls and setting up appointments? Would he have a lot of tight deadlines and pressure to meet sales targets? Would he be working independently or would he be part of a team? Would he be in a position to do a lot of networking, attending meetings and public events? Ryan answers “yes” to all her questions.
“Clearly you have an introvert personality,” she told him. “All these activities that you’re describing generally make introverts very uncomfortable. It’s certainly possible for an introvert to succeed in some types of sales jobs. But before you decide to take your career in a whole new direction, I think there are three things you need to do:
- Be yourself
- Find your niche
- Learn to compensate.
Ryan decides to do some further research and self-analysis before he makes a decision. If you’re contemplating a job change, you might want to follow these steps as well.
1. Be yourself. When you’re interviewing for a new job, whether it’s with your present company or a brand new management job, don’t be tempted to fake it. A job interview is where a potential boss or employer gets to know the “real you.” It’s his or her opportunity to see if you’re right for the job. But it’s not a one-sided deal. It’s also your opportunity to be who you are and see if the job is right for you. If you like to work independently, with little or no supervision, don’t brag about your teamwork skills!
2. Find your niche. A recent study conducted by CareerBuilder found that extroverts were more likely to rise higher in management ranks, by 22 percent compared with 18 percent of introverts. “The data does indicate that extroverts may be better suited for higher-level positions, many of which involve a lot of collaboration and public speaking,” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder. “But that doesn’t mean an introvert can’t still rise high in a company. It may be the case that many of the respondents began as introverts and gradually became more extroverted as the situation demanded.”
Here’s the key question to ask yourself: How comfortable will I be as an introvert in extrovert’s clothing? Can I play that role for an hour a day? Eight hours a day? Every day? Is this a skill I want to learn or am I going too much against the grain?
3. Learn to compensate. If you’re already in a job that’s not exactly your cup of tea, or if you’re contemplating a new opportunity that may take you outside your comfort zone, develop a game plan. First of all, be honest with your boss and your co-workers. If you’d enjoy setting up the trade show exhibit, volunteer to take that on if someone else will make the follow-up calls.
Pace yourself and don’t get into stimulation overload. That’s a sure loser for any introvert personality. If you’ve spent all day meeting with clients, skip the happy hour festivities with the gang and take a solo walk or do some yoga instead. If you’ve had a week of high-pressure deadlines, spend your weekend in low-key activities rather than shopping and socializing.
After some soul-searching and in-depth conversations with his boss and his human resources department, Ryan decides to develop an upward mobility plan in IT. He takes on some new projects and starts to develop his management skills so he’ll be ready to move up when the opportunity occurs.
Knowledge is power. Know yourself. Know your strengths and your weaknesses. Know what you want and how much you’re willing to change to get it. As Ricky Nelson crooned in his hit song, Garden Party, “You can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.”
Are you wondering if a job or career change is right for you? Contact Joel today. He can help you sort through your options and make the right decision.
Talkback: Are you an introvert in an extrovert world? Have you developed some coping strategies that work? Share your ideas here.
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“From the backstabbing co-worker to the meddling sister-in-law, you are in charge of how you react to the people and events in your life. . . Take control and choose to focus on what is important.”
~ Anais Nin ~
Mary Ann is caught in a downward spiral. She manages a department for a mid-sized manufacturing company and the atmosphere at work has gotten so negative lately that she hates going to work—at a job she used to love. She knows it’s time to confront the office politics. However, as an introvert she would rather avoid any conflict or confrontation necessary to resolve these issues.
Office politics leads to negative behavior. Left unchecked, this can have dangerous consequences. According to Gordon Davidson, writing in the Kamloops Daily News, “Workplace politics is a broad term for many events at work such as passive-aggressive sabotage, gossip, turf wars, scapegoating, power struggles, sibling rivalries, office romances, favoritism, dysfunctional decision making: all kinds of things that cause stress, burnout and eventually depression,” says Davidson. “It’s one of the leading causes for disability claims, absenteeism and family distress.”
Exactly what Mary Ann has been experiencing. She could just shrug it off or blame it on a bad economy or bad weather. Instead she decides it’s up to her to turn things around. She embarks on a mission to figure out what’s happening and why. This is a difficult step for her and most introverts handling office politics. If you’re experiencing a similar syndrome, you may want to follow these three simple steps:
• Isolate trouble spots
• Take it public
• Accentuate the positive
1. Isolate trouble spots. Mary Ann began to observe her environment more closely so she could see where the negative sentiments were coming from. If you’re in a similar situation, ask yourself: Is top management modeling this negative vibe? Are people only focusing on what hasn’t been done, instead of appreciating what has? Is the negative sentiment coming from a single source or multiple sources? Mary Ann determined that hers was a departmental issue, based on demands of a fast-growing business, plus the volume and pace of work.
2. Take it public. Mary Ann’s next move was to bring the problem out in the open. She first discussed what she was experiencing with her boss. If trouble is brewing, management needs to be aware and know that you’re working on the problem. Next, call an all-hands meeting. Share your observations and ask people to express their feelings. Whatever is bringing people down, whether it’s a disagreement between two team members or a mini-rebellion against work overload, a frank discussion of the situation is the first step toward resolving it.
3. Accentuate the positive. To quote Mahatma Ghandi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Your team may not experience an overnight attitude adjustment, but you can. Every person you meet with, from one-on-ones to team meetings, find out what’s going well. Focus on that. Every time you share about the company or your situation with others, focus on the positive first. Notice what the team and individuals are doing well and talk it up. Most importantly, take five minutes a day and write down all the things that you personally are doing well, all the areas that feel positive to you. When you begin to feel positive, you’ll act positive and the feeling will spread.
Mary Ann’s department didn’t change overnight and yours won’t either. The negative attitudes brought on by office politics can spread faster than the common cold. The sooner you start treatment, the sooner you, and everyone else, will begin to feel better.
If office politics is creating a bad environment in your workplace, Joel has some suggestions for you. Contact him and start solving your problem today.
Talkback: What’s your office politics story? Share your problems and solutions here. If your an introvert how have you dealt with difficult office politics at work?
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“Telling an introvert to go to a party is like telling a saint to go to Hell.”
~ Criss Jami ~
Client Emily Asks: I feel totally out of place and uncomfortable in my job. I’m a marketing manager for a major entertainment company and I’m surrounded by people who are constantly running in high gear and bouncing off the walls. I get so stressed out, some days I just want to crawl into a hole. I know I’m an introvert and I think I need a total career makeover. But I’ve invested a lot of myself in getting ahead with this company and I hate to blow it off. What should I do?
Coach Joel Answers: Taking a close look at your level of job satisfaction is never a bad thing to do. Based on your description, I’d say you’re probably an introvert in a career that’s populated by extroverts. Statistics tell us that 12-25% of people in the general population are true introverts. The rest are either partial or total extroverts. If that’s true, then it’s easy to see why you feel like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. Here are three things you could start doing immediately to change your situation.
1. Evaluate. Take a close look at who you are vs. where you are. Think about your strengths, passions, interests, and hobbies. Perhaps you love to read, write in your journal, listen to music, take walks, and play with your dog or cat. You probably thrive on solitude and feel drained if you spend too much time with other people. If you’re in a high pressure, hyperactive job, you should determine if your “quiet” needs can be met on that job or if you can get enough alone time off the job to feel satisfied. For example, can you close your office door and work on your own a good share of the time? Can you eat lunch away from the crowd, spend an hour alone at the gym or taking a solo walk?
Evaluate your company as well. Since you’ve put in a lot of time and energy there, see if there’s a way to stay with the company in a position that allows you to work more on your own and less with other people. You may want to talk to your boss or someone in HR to lay the groundwork for a possible job change, even if it’s a lateral move.
2. Plan. Changing careers or even jobs is not like buying a new pair of socks. You need a solid plan, a step-by-step process to get you from Point A to Point B. The first step is to look at your career thus far (marketing) and see what jobs within that field might be a better fit. For example, could you shift into graphic design or market research—both careers that allow you to spend a lot of time flying solo.
If you feel that a job change within your current field is not possible or practical, then you may want to plan for a complete career change. Test yourself, first of all, to get a clearer picture of what specific career fields might be a good fit. There are many internet sites that offer free self-analysis tests and career recommendations. You may want to work with a career coach who can help you cut through some of the clutter and develop a solid plan. You could also invest in one or more career guides or workbooks that could provide valuable insights.
3. Train. You may choose a short term solution, such as staying in the same company or field but in a new job. If that is your choice, see what training opportunities the company might offer, either in-house, on line, or perhaps even a subsidized degree program. If you design a longer-term plan that involves a complete career change, what will it be? People on the introvert side of the spectrum lean toward professions such as law, accounting, research, or technology.
The bottom line is this: what will make YOU happy? What can you do now to feel more fulfilled, more excited, and more of who you really are? When you have answers to those questions, you’ll be on the right path toward a fulfilling career.
If you’re feeling stressed or out of place in your current career, Joel can provide you with helpful advice and direction. Contact him today.
Talkback: Have you made a career change that worked for you? Or have you found ways to get more of what you need in your current job? Share your experience here.
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When it came to programming complicated scripts, Anita’s manager, David, knew that she understood Java like the back of her hand. Anita was a hard-working, diligent worker but she was awfully quiet. She would sit in meetings and not say a word. It almost seemed as if she wasn’t engaged at all, yet her work was at par or above her peers who beamed confidence and shared their ideas for new scripts and software improvements with passion and assertiveness.
David recognized Anita’s potential and knew that if Anita spoke up in meetings, her ideas and contributions could be very valuable to the rest of the team.
Here are three things you can learn from how David helped Anita feel comfortable and confident enough to contribute, share her ideas, speak up in meetings, and eventually overcome her shyness:
- Use their names. Calling on an employee by name is a great way to get them to participate. Make the employee feel comfortable by asking a simple question. Asking them to share their opinion rather than come up with an idea is a great start. For example, David encouraged Anita’s involvement by asking, “Anita, we’ve discussed two possible options; is there one you’re more inclined toward and why?”
- Take the employee aside. David quietly took Anita aside after one meeting and expressed his desire for group participation. He then casually inquired about what was holding her back from speaking up in meetings. David discovered that Anita lacked self-confidence and felt she didn’t really have anything important worth sharing. David reinforced Anita’s self-esteem by telling her that she was smart and had excellent insight and was doing herself and her team a disservice by not participating.
- Encourage mentorship. Pairing a shy employee with a fellow co-worker or mentor can help them to build positive relationships at work and actually elevate their confidence and comfort levels at meetings. But David decided to try something a little more outside the box. In an attempt to push Anita out of her comfort zone, David paired Anita with a new employee to train him and get him up to speed with everything the current project entailed.
In a few short months David noticed Anita getting more involved in meetings. In a private consultation, David asked Anita to share what had made a difference. Anita pointed out that training another employee had helped her to discover her own strengths and abilities, many of which she had taken for granted or never even known she had. This helped develop and build her confidence.
This boost of confidence in turn helped her to proactively offer her input at meetings. When she observed that her ideas were getting noticed and praised, she built up even more confidence to share more. This eventually led to taking initiative and assuming more responsibilities.
A year later, Anita became the new team leader for a million-dollar software program. David has advanced to another firm but Anita still remembers him for helping her to develop her true potential and thinks of him fondly as the manager who taught her how to speak up in meetings.
Do you want to get ahead at work but don’t know how and your manager’s not helping? Enlist the services of an executive coach or read my book to build perception, increase your visibility and exert influence in the workplace today.
Talkback: How have you learned to overcome shyness to be an active and engaged participant at meetings? Share your ideas and stories below.