This is part two of my article on leading as an introvert. Last week I discussed introversion and how it can be a great asset if managed properly (read post here). This week, I thought I would offer some tips to navigate work life for the person who considers themselves introverted or highly sensitive. Once I got writing, I had many tips and decided to break up the posts. Next Wednesday I will post about managing introversion in your personal life.
It is important to realise that this is a result of your brain physiology – it is a gift that you have been given that your brain works this way. It can make you very observant, often analytical and able to understand concepts. You have a rich inner world you can retreat to and an excellent imagination for creation. However, you live in a world that isn’t always easy to tolerate and introverts can get bogged down and distracted by the constant noise. There is no place that can be more exhausting for an introvert, than work.
Below are the tried and true ways I take care of myself and shine at work as an introvert:
Block them all out
Mention to your boss that you work better without distraction and would prefer a quiet space to ensure your productivity is high. If this is not possible, keep headphones in your bag at all times. I keep calming music on my phone – you can download heaps of meditation tracks or study music. This means, if you ever need to block out your obnoxious co-worker, you can do it whilst drifting away on ocean sounds or rain on a forest floor. I also keep audio books on my phone through my Audible app. If I’m on the bus and it’s peak hour and intense, I often put an audio book on. By listening to one voice, your brain has a single input to focus on and becomes less overwhelmed. You may also like to try noise cancelling headphones – this way, even if you don’t want to be distracted by music or a book, you can block some of the stimulation out and nobody will know any different.
What are your strengths?
One of the most valuable things I ever did for my career was a strengths test. I believe the test I did was the Clifton Strengthsfinder. I paid $15US and was given my five top strengths – the way the test is structured ensures that it is quite difficult to introduce bias. The testing brought my attention to my strength of relationship management – it also helped me to see that I was a bigger picture thinker and good at joining dots e.g., strategy and deep thought over processes. As I read the report, it was as if a light bulb went off in my head. It seemed so obvious, but these attributes had never really been laid out before me. Once I knew this, I was able to ensure that certain job roles aligned with my strengths. My previous role was very process driven which made me feel exhausted just thinking about it on my walk to the office. In my current role, I am paid to manage relationships, research, think, analyse and predict. A space in which I feel very at home.
If we are doing work that aligns with our strengths we can churn out more deliverables with less energy used in the process. This is even more important for an introvert – for whom just the act of working in a busy office can be tiring.
Take small steps to speak up
As someone who is more introverted, speaking up hasn’t always come easily to me in all situations. I have had to train myself to do it. In a small idea-sharing setting, you can’t shut me up. In a large group, I will get nervous when it comes time to say my name and job title out loud – fearing that by some form of witchcraft, I have forgotten it. However, I decided to view all chances to speak up as practice. In large team meetings, if I had a question I would be sure to raise my hand and ask, or make suggestions. Each time, I realised that nobody cared if I messed up my words and by the afternoon, nobody would even remember I had spoken. What seems like a big deal to us, really means nothing to anyone else – because they are too busy focusing on and worrying about themselves. If there are opportunities to present to small groups and increase from there, take those opportunities and look at them as your chance to grow yourself. As an introvert, you have some incredible ideas, if you build your confidence to share those ideas, you will develop into a huge asset to your employer.
When I walked into academia, I would have preferred cleaning the hospital toilets to presenting to a large group. Especially a group of leaders in their field who were ready to put me on the spot. Before one particular presentation, in which I knew I was going to be grilled, I had to take half an anti-anxiety tablet! But I had no choice, if I wanted to pass, I had to speak up. These days I am less afraid of giving presentations, but it still isn’t up there on my list of favourite things to do. Introverts are often people who like to think carefully through things so that they can speak eloquently. But giving a presentation often means there is no time to form our sentences carefully in our head before speaking (hence why I like writing). But, the higher up you move in any business, the more likely it is that you will need to speak to a group. Showing an employer that you have the confidence and ability to lead in this way is a powerful tool to have in your belt, when so many will shy away from it. So my tips are:
Be prepared and practice. I walk in and appear like it is just something I tossed together, but in actual fact, I have practiced it several times. This allows me to find what I call my sticky words. These are the words I would get stuck on and couldn’t remember in a tense moment. This pause would cause me to panic and then my mind would turn to white noise – otherwise known as brain freeze (even well-practiced speakers have them – see video here of Rick Perry having a mare).
I have always kept a print-out of my slides beside me whilst presenting. I wouldn’t read from them, but I would write and highlight my sticky words, or points I tended to forget on each slide. Then, if I had a pause and my brain went blank, I would glance down at my sheet, see the word and this would trigger me and get me back on track. Research has actually shown that when we get nervous, our ability to retrieve information is reduced. By having a practiced script, you are more confident, appear less nervous and even when your brain goes blank, your mouth keeps talking. When you have practiced what you want to say, you have already created a little circuit in the brain. And even when your conscious mind feels as though it is shutting down, often your subconscious will take over. I have given a few presentations in which there are whole chunks I can’t recall.
I also try to remember that everybody in the room wants to see me nail it. They are not focused on my slips – only I am. While I may notice six mistakes, an audience member may only remember one or none.
Being an introvert means you are probably gifted at going inside your head and using your imagination. Lie in bed and visualise the presentation going amazingly. Imagine people coming up to you afterward and telling you what a great job you did. This may be enough to turn those nerves into a little bit of excitement. As my Dad used to say: “Don’t be nervous to sit an exam, be excited that you get to show the world your knowledge.”
I used to say that I wasn’t a fan of networking. But, I have realised that networking is as important as I hoped it wasn’t. In a city like Auckland, many opportunities can come from meeting the right person at the right time. People here are more than happy to stick their neck out for someone they like. However, for the introvert, it can be hard to get ourselves to networking events when we could put track pants on and watch Youtube whilst eating ravioli instead.
Too many gigs can lead to a form of fatigue. This is the person who goes to allllll of the events and then falls off the social calendar for two months, leading everyone to think something is wrong (I’m guilty of this). Networking will help your career, but don’t be afraid to say no more than you say yes. Know your limits; however, when you are networking, make the most of it. There is no point showing face and not expanding out of your social circle. If you need some tips on how to connect, watch 7 Ways to Make Conversation with Anyone or read Learn to Love Networking . Make efforts to talk to just one new person in a group setting. Alternatively, if you have the power to do so, create networking events with fewer people, more often. When I go into a work social situation, I tend to flick on like a light-bulb. I have adapted to be this way. Take a deep breath, dig deep and switch your charm on. Be a glowing butterfly – then go home, put your sweat pants back on and hide under the covers.
Set work goals for yourself, not others
As introverts, we can be perfectionists and also overly concerned with what our boss thinks of us. Those who are worried about slipping off the rung of the corporate ladder can become focused on gaining approval, losing sight of the vision of the team. But this leads to fatigue and burnout for any person, introvert or extrovert. While it is important to be strategic about our work tasks, ensuring that we are making ourselves indispensable, working to seek approval from a manager can suck all the joy out of work and lead to a scarcity mindset. We have probably all come into contact with the toxic employee who hides opportunities, plots against those seen as a threat and is more focused on outdoing a colleague than the ultimate goal of the company. I decided in my new job I would focus on the strategy, the goal and the vision and how I could help us to meet this as a team. I also decided that I would set myself personal goals that I wanted to meet for my own satisfaction. Don’t think that these acts will go unnoticed. There is nothing more attractive to a boss than passion and initiative.
Next post: How to increase your savings – put down the marshmallow
Much love xx
Photo: My Own