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~The Simple Sophisticate, episode #68
As an introvert in the workplace, it can sometimes be difficult to navigate successfully without being labeled cold, stand-offish or supercilious. However, each of these labels are inaccurate and misunderstand an introverts needs as we are merely trying to refuel, reenergize in the brief moments we have that are quiet, often by ourselves or with a select individual that we trust.
In 2012, a post that readers revisit again and again if they too identify as an introvert, I shared the relief I found in understanding my tendencies to enjoy my own company, why I became drained after extended times of group or together time and why I prefer fewer, yet more intimate relationships rather than share all my business with casual acquaintances. Since that time, I have been curious which type of jobs would be best suited for introverts, wherever they might fall on the continuum. And what I discovered is that technically, very few jobs fit ideally with our needs unless we work on our own. Even with self-employment such as writing, designing, etc., we still at some point have to work or interact with other people who we aren’t intimately involved.
The best advice when it comes to successfully navigating our work environments regardless of the type of career is to establish a routine and a way of working that allows us to perform at our best. Today I am going to share with you 8 ways I have cultivated a teaching environment that helps me refuel so that I can be on the top of my game when the students walk in the room, as well as work with my colleagues in a manner that is helpful and respectful. However, no matter where you work, hopefully you will find inspiration to apply to your daily work routine as well.
1.Carve out Alone Time
In any career that requires you to work with crowds of people nearly all day, it is imperative that time is carved out each day to catch your breath. As a teacher, I genuinely enjoy the six periods a day I teach. After all, being an introvert doesn’t mean you are shy or can’t excel when required to be “on stage”, it simply means such situations drain you rather than energize you.
As a way to refuel regularly, I will have lunch on my own. Making sure to either pack a book, the latest issue of a magazine or catching up on the daily newspaper, I take a deep breath and slowly feel myself become re-energize for the second half of classes that will be walking through my door. However, balance is key. So I will have lunch with colleagues maybe once or twice a week to stay caught up and touch bases on their lives and the goings-on within the school, but once I communicate why I enjoy my lunches alone a majority of the time, most of them are quite understanding and respectful.
2. Establish One or Two Close Relationships
Introverts aren’t tremendous fans of small talk and rather prefer productive conversation and activities. That being said they also don’t tend to share personal information with just anybody to keep the conversation going. Silence is okay for us introverts and trust is paramount. So while you may know everyone’s name at work and are sincerely friendly as you cross paths throughout your day, fostering a few close, trusted relationships will make your workplace feel more welcoming and give you (as well as your colleague/friend) a trusted place to just talk without judgment or worry about your job. After all, sometimes we do just need to vent as not every day runs smoothly.
3. Practice Clear Communication
As I mentioned in #1 briefly, the key to working in an environment that is understanding of why you need more time to yourself is communicating clearly to your colleagues. Now by no means do you have to get on a megaphone and announce to the entire staff or department, but perhaps to your two close colleagues and then the word will slowly work its way around. Depending upon your relationships with your boss or administrator, you may feel comfortable letting them know, but it shouldn’t be something you proclaim in the interview or make a point of sharing as it may appear as an excuse (which it is not). The key is to reveal the strengths that being an introvert yields to the work environment. See #4 as an example.
4. Offer to Contribute Independently
Group work is often touted as the best way to collaborate, when in reality, studies have proven this incorrect time and time and again. Dependent upon the personalities and work that needs to be completed, the best work will be produced when the strengths of the individuals in the group are allowed to shine. Introverts tend to be most productive when they work on their own as they are comfortable working by themselves and find energy from letting their minds wander. This energizes them, and the results can be impressive.
Knowing this, offer to work on projects that allow for independent involvement. When your boss and colleagues see the proof of why you wish to work alone, more likely than not, they will respect your future requests.
5. Be Mindful of Fellow Introverts and Understanding of Extroverts
As someone who is an introvert, I try to not force my students to work in groups all of the time. It is easier for me to recognize students who have introverted tendencies, so if they want to work alone, as long as they are productive, I am usually always open to this. Conversely, extroverts thrive when they work with others, so I try to incorporate this opportunity as well. It’s a tricky balance, but being mindful of how to allow others to perform at their best will garner more respect and potentially the best outcome in production.
The same can be said of working with our co-workers. Be mindful, be open and you might just be amazed at the results when you have this conversation with those you work with.
6. Create a Sanctuary in Your Work Space
If you have an office or a space that is designated for you exclusively, take the time to surround yourself with comforts that calm you down and allow you to work at your best. I spoke about this earlier this fall when I shared 25 ways to have an efficient office space, but the key is knowing yourself.
For example, tea helps calm me down, as does having nature in proximity. I feel fortunate to have nearly floor to ceiling windows along the west wall in my classroom, so it is quite easy to spend my afternoons grading with the sun beating down on my back long after the students have gone. I cannot tell you how many times I have walked out of the building, papers graded and a bounce in my step.
7. Seek Out Restorative Activities
Maybe you have time to take a walk during your lunch, or maybe you can even shut the door to your office and meditate for 10 minutes during a break each day. Whatever the restorative activity is, get into the habit of indulging regularly. It need not be long or disrupt your work schedule, simply tap into what is available and listen to what you need. Maybe it is simply getting out of your office and walking throughout the building to see who you meet. Or maybe it is tuning in to your favorite station on Pandora. Whatever it is, give yourself this comfort without guilt, and the days at work will be much more enjoyable.
8. Establish a Consistent Schedule
Another tendency of introverts is that we don’t typically like surprise visits or drop in visitors as we do treasure our alone time and don’t want to be interrupted. As a preventative measure because most of us do have to work with others, establish clear office hours when you are available. Whether it’s in-person meeting times or expectations of your response regarding email. Make it clear that you will, for example, respond to email within 24 hours during the work week, however your weekends will be work-free.
Something that has not only helped me, but more importantly the students, is that I have posted office hours in which I make myself available to students outside of classroom time. The key is to be consistent so your customers (or students) and co-workers can depend upon you and communicate upfront and clearly. Another idea that has worked very well for me is an online presence. This allows me to communicate clearly without actually being present. Students and parents can check in when it best works for them. As we know, having an online presence is practically assumed in nearly every vocation, but it actually can save you time and build rapport as visitors will have a chance to “get to know you” on their own schedule.
Once we each recognize our personality tendencies, strengths and ways of best navigating each day, the quality of our everyday lives improve. Whether you are an introvert or not, hopefully we all will recognize that each person, upon getting to know themselves, has a way of performing at their best. Understanding each other is a crucial component to reaping the results we desire. When we assume, we do ourselves and everyone else no favors. So in an effort to help ourselves out, cultivate a work environment that helps you make the workday even more enjoyable.
~If you are a fellow introvert, please do share what works for you when it comes to thriving in the workplace.
~Susan Cain’s best-selling book Quiet
~Susan Cain’s TedTalk “The Power of Introverts”
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