How Introverts Can Thrive in an Office Full of Extraverts26 May 2019 / By Kat Boogaard Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on May 26, 2019
Like clockwork, your coworkers grab lunch together every day at noon on the dot. They vent over the morning’s challenges, connect about shared interests, and laugh about the ridiculous typo in that recent email.
Their camaraderie doesn’t stop there. They’re constantly planning happy hours and after-work social events, and they’re notorious for talking over each other in team meetings.
You? You’re always invited—they aren’t intentionally excluding you by any stretch of the imagination. But you consider yourself to be far more introverted than the majority of your colleagues, which often leaves you feeling like the odd person out.
You aren’t alone. In fact, studies estimate that Introverts make up one-third to half of the U.S. population.
Even so, it often feels like the modern workplace is geared specifically toward Extraverts. We champion collaboration, praise those who are outspoken, and admire quick thinking.
That means introverts are often misunderstood. They’re quickly mislabeled as shy, antisocial, or aloof. But that’s not the whole picture. While Introverts do tend to be more reserved than their extraverted counterparts, what really sets them apart are characteristics like:
- They recharge alone, rather than in social settings
- They’re more focused on internal thoughts and feelings than external stimuli
- They prefer more time to think independently
None of those characteristics are things that should inhibit an Introvert’s success in the workplace—in fact, in many cases, they can actually be a benefit.
However, there’s no denying that it can be tough to find your place and foster a positive reputation when you’re an introvert surrounded by an office full of extroverts. You don’t want to seem disconnected or disinterested, but you also don’t want to constantly be making yourself uncomfortable.
Here’s the good news: There are some strategies you can put into place to thrive in your career—even if you’re one of only a few Introverts in your workplace. Here’s what you need to know.
Make Connections in Other Ways
Where Introverts really sell themselves short is by assuming that being introverted means they can’t form any valuable bonds with their coworkers. Sure, maybe you won’t be heading out to all of those frequent happy hours, but that doesn’t mean you can’t connect in other ways.
Even small behaviors—like dropping the occasional funny message in your company’s instant messaging channel or offering some assistance to a colleague who’s obviously swamped—help you forge those valuable relationships in ways that don’t involve a draining group setting.
You might also find it easier to engage with people one-on-one. A brief lunchtime walk or a cup of coffee with just one colleague at a time will drive the point home that you aren’t at all antisocial and are still eager to know and relate to your coworkers—even if you don’t make an appearance at all of those social events. And arguably, you’ll form even deeper, more valuable connections that way.
Get What You Need to Adequately Prepare
Your team meetings are your nightmare. Your colleagues love to spitball ideas—they think on the fly and toss suggestions out there on a whim.
You, on the other hand, have never been one to think on your feet. You prefer some time to chew on some ideas ahead of time, and then come to that conversation prepared. There’s only one problem: It’s impossible for you to prepare if you don’t know what’s going to be talked about.
Well, have you ever asked? When you see a meeting dropped on your calendar, send a short and friendly email to the meeting organizer to get a better idea of what the intention of that conversation is. Here’s a simple template you can use:
Hope you’re having a great day!
I’m looking forward to our meeting about [topic] coming up on [date]. One question for you: Is there an agenda or a general plan for what topics we plan to cover during that conversation?
I’d love to have some time to prepare ahead of our discussion, so I’m ready to attend that meeting with some valuable contributions.
Thanks so much,
Doing so actually demonstrates an increased level of engagement and professionalism—and it’ll give you the time you need to internally reflect and process before joining a larger group conversation.
Lay Some Ground Rules
Imagine how much more effectively we’d all be able to work together if we were more explicit about important things like our preferences and our communication styles. That’s valuable information for us to know about each other, yet we’re all so hesitant to assert what we need.
Making this information known to all of your colleagues can be challenging—particularly if you consider yourself to be introverted.
One great (and less-assertive way) to do so is to approach your supervisor and suggest this as an exercise for your entire team. It’s a chance for all of you to fill out some sort of questionnaire and create rough “user guides” for working with each of you.
As part of this exercise, you can each answer important questions like:
- What’s your preferred communication method? Why?
- How do you prefer to receive feedback?
- What’s your biggest work-related pet peeve?
- What’s the most important thing your colleagues should know to work effectively with you?
Those answers should be stored somewhere that you can all access and refer to them when needed.
By doing this with your whole team, you’ll have the opportunity to loop them in on important information about you—like the fact that you favor email over in-person meetings or you want to receive an agenda before a meeting—while still seeming collaborative and supportive. Plus, you’re bound to learn some enlightening tidbits about your own colleagues too.
Reserve Some Quiet Time for Yourself
Another example that the modern workplace is much more suited to Extraverts? The fact that there isn’t always a lot of time for quiet, heads-down work. There are seemingly endless meetings and distractions that derail your focus. In fact, studies estimate that out of a standard eight-hour workday, we’re all only productive for an average of two hours and 53 minutes.
That can be draining when you’re introverted, and you’ll likely find yourself craving some time when you can reflect and think independently.
If you work in an office where everyone has access to each other’s calendars, block off some time each day or week that you can reserve for your solo work—and then honor it like you would any other commitment.
Working with headphones on can also tune out some of the background noise while also subtly indicating that you’re not to be bothered at the moment.
Finally, it can be worth having a conversation with your boss about increased flexibility and the option to work remotely every now and then. While that might make you concerned about appearing like you aren’t willing to collaborate, that doesn’t have to be the case. Present this as a way for you to be your most productive and effective self, rather than an opportunity for you to get some much-needed solitude, and your supervisor will be far more receptive to the suggestion.
You Don’t Need to Be Extroverted to Excel at Work
When’s the last time you heard someone apologize for being extraverted in the office? Probably not very often. Yet, so many introverts feel the need to justify their own working styles and preferences.
While working in an office full of extraverts can be a challenge, it’s nothing you need to feel sorry about—you’re equally as valuable as your more socially-oriented colleagues.
But you also owe it to yourself to control what you can and craft a work environment where you can excel. Fortunately, the above tips should help you do just that.
Luke Sheridan (not verified) says...
Hi there, very interesting article.
I'm a chronic extravert in an office full of introverts. What are some tips to survive when it is the other way around?
Linda Schafran (not verified) says...
Good point, Luke, because I too, as an extravert, oftentimes feel I am drained with trying to make an inroad, or break the ice--over and over again--with an introvert with whom I share a department. It feels draining when you don't know how to approach the person, and seems like you are walking on eggshells, not wanting to come across as bombarding, or whatever the case may be.
Linda Schafran (not verified) says...
....And it feels like pulling teeth EVERYTIME you try to talk to the person, or just open up a sometimes light and friendly conversation. I like friendly, open conversations with people of every type, but knowing how to break through with some is a chore, at times. I wind up just spending the "down" time (outside at P.E. with the children, as I'm a teacher) in quiet, to myself. It's not as though I don't like the person, because I do--to a point, and have even communicated that to her.
Mayette (not verified) says...
I think the first thing I should emphasize is that every interpersonal interaction an introvert has on a daily basis drains their energy level. There's only so much energy we come to work with every day before we can recharge at lunch so we spend that energy wisely. Extroverts are lucky: they get more energy the more they interact. For introverts, every time we smile or say good morning to someone, we are one notch down from a full tank. Personally, as an introvert, I need time to get to know someone before I open up and start talking to them. Little interactions every day are helpful: I want to feel like my future conversations with the person trying to engage me are going to be meaningful and not just small talk all the time. For example, I had an co-worker who I didn't like right off the bat. I got a weird vibe from him. But I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt so with every interaction, I tried to get to know him a little better. What I realized after a few weeks was that he was about as deep as puddle. Every question I asked him was answered with either a joke or a one-liner. In a 2 minute conversation, he'd say at least three times, " So, how are you? Work's good? things are good?" But he didn't care what my answer was - he was just making noise. Not worth the energy so I stopped trying. He didn't notice.
I can't speak for every introvert but I know that people who give me time to open up snd don't rush me are people that I can trust in the long run. And you may need to consider that there are those on the deeper end of the introvert spectrum that simply don't want to engage, but do so because that is what is expected in polite society. They may be giving you brief answers without follow up because they are hoping you'll leave them alone once they answer. If that's the case, move on to the next because you're effectively just beating your head against an introvert wall!