You will spend a third of your life at work.
Yikes. That sounds like a lot!
Considering that office and corporate culture can be tough on introverts, thinking about those 90,000 hours can be scary.
Corporate America is fraught with challenges for the introvert.
Let’s take a look at the top five challenges introverts face at work.
Why? Because I want to normalize introverts’ interests and preferences.
I want to remove the stigma of not being the bubbly, chatty coworker in the office or on Zoom.
Plus, it always helps to know that you are not alone in not enjoying these things at work!
1. Office space (if you’re back in the office!)
The trend toward open floor plans that include low-wall cubes has created an introvert’s nightmare – nowhere to hide and get in that quiet, contemplative time that is key to work. Thankfully, the improvement in noise-canceling headphone technology offers some options to create thinking space. Just be mindful if you find yourself in your cubicle, blocked off by headphones the whole day. Always sporting headphones can appear unapproachable or uncollaborative to your coworkers. Finding a balance between the quiet you need to think and being open with others is key for getting what you need while building key work relationships.
An option – wear headphones while working at your desk, but leave them there when walking the halls to lunch, the bathroom, or meetings.
Speaking of meetings…
In many companies, work only gets done in meetings.
Meetings are an extrovert’s paradise – brainstorming, throwing ideas around, and co-creating. But meetings can be unproductive for the introvert, who feels most comfortable being prepared and doesn’t enjoy thinking on the spot.
Have you ever had a day that was back-to-back meetings, where you barely made it to the bathroom? Whether in person or attending via Teams or Zoom, the energy drain from a packed day of meetings is common. On these days, planning a quiet evening to recover can help balance your energy back out.
There are several ways networking plays out in the corporate workplace. I recently saw a survey that suggested that as many as 85% of job roles are filled based on networking alone. Or, maybe you are in a position requiring interaction with people to get your job done. If it’s not a role-based requirement, perhaps you are on a team that loves happy hours (in person or virtual!) or going to lunch. In all cases, networking can be an exhausting task for introverts.
Are you going to a conference or a seminar? Don’t feel strange if you find solace in the bathroom during breaks or other “social” times. The bathroom can be an introvert’s best friend!
In an extroverted corporate culture, it can feel like people just “talk to talk” and draw attention to themselves. It can seem as if there are excessive requirements for presentations or conversations with many different parties. These outside energy activities can be a huge drain for the introvert, especially when not in an environment that offers opportunities to recharge between sessions.
As with meetings, try to plan your high-energy activities in balance with low energy activities, even if that is after work. Another helpful part of communication is to start early – procrastinating on building communication materials, such as PowerPoint presentations, stacks the activities of content creation and content delivery on top of each other, leading to a larger energy drain.
While introverts can often display excellent leadership capabilities, there are some challenges for introverts in leadership positions.
In my own experience, I have enjoyed leading teams. The diversity of thought and the opportunity to work with very talented people is enriching. However, despite enjoying the experience, often in the day-to-day activities, I still have to consciously work to meet people where they are at versus deferring to my natural tendencies.
For me, in the office, this looks like getting out to walk around for intentional casual conversations versus hanging out in my office all day. I also have to mentally prepare for the objections that will come up just before a scheduled 1-1 or small team meeting where I will need to do a lot of talking – especially if it is a remote meeting where engagement is more complicated.
Diverse personalities make up the best teams. And while this diversity contributes significantly to our work, it creates opportunities for introverted and extroverted leaders to operate outside of their natural tendencies to build a strong team.
While Corporate America can be fraught with challenges for the introvert, knowing you aren’t alone in these feelings is half the battle.
The other half of the battle – changing your thoughts and feelings around the circumstances where operating outside your comfort zone is the best alternative. You may never love meetings, but there are ways to train your brain to not dread them.
We’ll get deeper into those mindset tips and tricks in future posts.
Do you relate to any of these struggles at work?
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P.S. Have any of these challenges at work affected you at work? Tell us in the comments below.
Jessica is an introvert with a corporate career spanning almost 20 years. With experience at both Fortune 500 companies and in Big 4 Consulting, she is passionate about helping other introverted women navigate the corporate world, and embrace their authentic selves to achieve their extraordinary goals at work.
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