Q: I am having difficulty finding my voice in the workplace. Running my teams is not difficult, and I have strong opinions, but I sit through meeting after meeting with my peers and superiors without saying a word. I am fading into the background, and people must wonder why I am even there. What can I do?
From your description, it sounds like you are a natural introvert – an oft-misunderstood, but extremely valuable, personality type. Those who remain uneducated about personality types may be unsure what to make of your approach. They may not realise that everything they display externally is also happening within you – and then some!
You probably run your teams through one-to-ones and smaller meetings, perfectly suited to an introverted style. You have strong opinions, suggesting that your silence at meetings is not due to disengagement or disinterest, which is a great starting position.
BENEFITS OF INTROVERSION
Rest assured, introverts are great! In a world that’s gone a little team-crazy, why should others treasure you and your kind?
You work well on your own. You know how to calm yourself and have a calming effect on others. You probably have strong listening skills, and hear things that the extroverts miss as they consider which of their ideas to broadcast next (or as they simply talk over the speaker!). Introverts tend to display lots of common sense, are very conscientious and excel at conflict-quelling. You will tend to notice the feeling of burn-out early, and pause to recharge your batteries.
You will have deeper relationships than the extroverts. In the workplace, you’re likely the equivalent of a “150 Facebook friends” person more so than a “1,500 Facebook friends” person. When it comes to the crunch, you will have invested enough time with that colleague, client, or business partner to get the dig-out you need.
Introversion often has a connection to perfectionism. Are you trying too hard to provide a 100% perfect solution or statement, while others throw ideas onto the table to be polished and finalised by the group? That’s a lot of pressure!
As an introvert, you may tend towards more abstract thinking – which, in turns, adds to the difficulty of expressing yourself. While others think in straight lines, you are weaving and unravelling an intricate tapestry of all information available to you. The resulting ideas can be creative, unique, and wonderfully strategic, but difficult to quickly verbalise. Could you offer even a few keywords from your thoughts for others to ‘play with’ at meetings?
Just as you can see the benefits of extroversion, it is necessary for your colleagues to take the time to understand the joys of introversion. Everyone in the workplace should be educated as to how to work with everyone else. Raise this with your manager or HR team.
Can you list in advance the Top 3 things that you really want to mention? Develop a subtle code with your manager, or a friendly peer, to indicate if you have something to say. Ask them to consciously invite you in on a topic you have already discussed between you, for natural flow.
It is the responsibly of the meeting-owner to ensure that people are given the opportunity to speak. Difficulties are for the Chair to notice and resolve. This will open the door for you, but I would suggest that there is still some work to do to give you the skill to push through such barriers yourself. So…
Use your manager, or coach, to help you find a happy balance. End the cycle of seeing this as a negative; it is simply a personality type. Learn about it. Appreciate its many upsides, and have a strategy for the downsides you perceive. And remember: your work will always speak for itself, regardless of the volume at which you carry it out.
This Q&A was first published in Irish Tatler magazines.
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