Introverts at Work: 9 Ways to Take Advantage of Office Introverts
Introverts drive businesses the same way extroverts do—they just do it differently. If you don’t ‘get them’, here's a simple guide to help you understand introverted employees, and co-workers.
Understanding them is the best way to use their skills and personality to your advantage. To increase creativity and productivity in the workplace.
Beware of lumping introverts into the same group though, because they don’t fit into a stereotype. However, they do share characteristics in varying degrees that you can use to your advantage—in a productive way.
How Do I Know?
I'm an expert on this topic because I am an introvert, experienced in the office environment. Over the years, I've watched some bosses and co-workers painfully try to figure out how to communicate with me in the workplace.
In fact, I often wished I had written a “How to Work With me” guide to make the process move quicker and easier.
Below are nine ways to use an introvert's oddities to befriend them, increase productivity, and get an ego boost whenever you need one.
This article is not a comparison between introverts and extroverts at the office—it only deals with introverts. When it’s stated that introverts do this or that, I’m not implying that extroverts don’t.
1. Understand – Lack of Dialogue is Meaningless
If an introvert doesn’t join in a conversation, it’s because they don’t have value to add, the topic doesn’t interest them, or their thoughts are focused on a different matter. It's not because they’re terrified to speak.
Never take an introvert’s lack of interest in a conversation as a snub. If you’re discussing a problem, they could be working on a solution for you. As you will see later, many introverts care more about people than you think.
How Introverts Think: As introverts think about something, they reach back into their long-term memory to locate information. An introvert will often compare old and new experiences when making a decision, which slows the processing down but leads to carefully thought-out decisions. This means introverts have an active dialogue with themselves and usually walk around with many thoughts in their minds.
2. Communicate Effectively: Don’t be Clever – Be Direct
If you want to ask a question or clear up an issue, an introvert won’t run away crying if you approach them. They're just as happy to share their opinions, or defend themselves as anyone else.
Make sure you ask directly, not cleverly though. An introvert is always engaged in thought; they don’t have the mental energy to decipher what you’re really trying to say.
They even welcome questions if you’re curious why they do things a certain way. Don’t be surprised if you don’t get an instant answer—don’t think they’re ignoring you, or they're unintelligent. They'll take time to think before they speak.
Introverts don’t like unnecessary stress because it takes away from what they’re working on. So if you have an issue, they will look at it from various viewpoints to find an effective solution.
Perhaps this process may frustrate you, but because they look at events and situations thoroughly, they seek to find effective and lasting solutions.
3. Appreciate Their Chameleon Attributes
There are people in an office environment who verbalize their thoughts, and everyone at work knows what their likes and dislikes are. As well, they are often set in their ways and don’t like change—this rarely profiles an introvert.
Since introverts are analytical, observant and find fixable stress annoying, they can adapt (much like a Chameleon); and they’re often more than willing to make changes to accommodate others. Introverts don’t get their energy from their surroundings or other people, they get it from within themselves.
Chances are high if an introvert knows you’re experiencing issues that are affecting the workplace, they’ve thought of effective solutions.
Ask the workplace introvert for advice on how to solve a specific problem, even if you don’t think they’re aware of it. If they can change something to accommodate you, they probably will.
The introvert’s brain treats interactions with people at the same intensity level that it treats encounters with inanimate objects. Introverts process everything in their surroundings and pay attention to all the sensory details in the environment, not just the people.
4. Avoid the Blank Stare
Introverts are critical thinkers, observant, and they’re detail-oriented. Thus, their skills are ideal for working through critical issues.
If you present an introvert with a complicated question, you may get a blank stare—never interpret this as a lack of brain activity. They need time and quiet to work through complex, problems.
If your problem is complicated, ask their advice, or get them to brainstorm ideas. You can count on them completing tasks, and completing them on time—they love challenging opportunities, but give them time to work their magic.
Send them an email, because it isn’t intrusive; they can fit it into their schedule so it won’t affect their productivity. They can consider different options to solve the problem without feeling pressured.
A Perfect Example
Below is an excerpt of a reference I got a few years ago following a temp position at a College. I had to add it because it perfectly demonstrates many key points mentioned in my article.
Koralee has worked out very well. We got off to a rough start but I think we need to own some of that; (it had been a very long time since we trained in this position). She stuck with it, and has done an excellent job [learning the software].
She pays very close attention to detail and makes sure that letters are correct and complete before sending out. She is methodical in thinking through the process and applying the exceptions. She asks questions when unclear and ensures she understands what is needed before proceeding. This is very key to this role and it has been a great fit for us and for her. (My desire to learn know how to do my job, and do it well.)
She is very reliable and hasn’t missed any time. (She was away one afternoon for an appointment which was made prior to knowing how long we would be needed here. That was no problem)
She is quiet and reserved and it takes time to get to know her; she gets along with everyone and now that everyone knows her better, team members are approaching her for help.
We have enjoyed having Koralee here; I would definitely bring her back if we needed.
5. Notice That Introverts Are All About the Work
Introverts are more concerned with work systems, processes and productivity than they are making friends, especially when they start a new position. This includes a new job, a transfer to a different department, a promotion, etc.
Since they’re detail-oriented, their job description and tasks required to get their job done are important. They want to gain a solid understanding in the following areas:
- How their position relates to other departments
- Ways they can get proficient at their tasks and processes
- How to use the office software
- How to increase their productivity
After they master these, they’ll be interested in learning more about their co-workers.
The fear of not knowing how to carry out a task promptly and efficiently when requested by a boss or co-worker is considerably more unnerving than not knowing what Sally, Joe and Tina did on the weekend.
Be glad they’ll excel at their position quickly; particularly when you rely on their competency to do your job. Understand they will eventually want to get to know you.
Take Away From This Video
In her video, Susan Cain talks about her research and facts about how introverts think that you might find helpful. If you don't have time to view her TED talk, I have summarized key points below.
- Introverts can be bold and assertive, but choose not to. I can attest that when they are you'll know it—and you may find yourself speechless.
- Introverts have high creativity and leadership qualities.
- Introverts often make better leaders because they're more open to the ideas of others.
- Quieter environments are stimulating and puts introverts in their creative zone.
- There's zero correlation between having the best ideas and being the best speaker.
6. Exploit Their Love of People and Excellent Listening Skills
Just because they don’t talk to everyone it doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy people. Introverts get familiar with their co-workers in small groups because they prefer focusing on one or two people at a time.
When an introvert asks you how you are, they usually mean it; they want to know how you are. In fact, they often look at this opportunity to engage in dialog with you.
They are more than happy to hear the details about your day.
If you’re in HR schedule a meeting (morning preferably) to get to know them. If you’re a co-worker invite them to lunch. Just don’t invite more than one or two others.
You’ll see they’re funny, sarcastic, interesting, strong-willed individuals who love people, and genuinely want to know their co-workers. If you ask for their opinion or help to solve a problem, they'll be happy to help you brainstorm solutions.
7. Cultivate Loyalty
Since introverts all about the work, they’re always planning, and looking toward the future. Eventually, they get so absorbed in what they’re doing the project and their co-workers become part of them.
Once you're an important part of an introvert's work life, they will have your back whenever you need it—they're incredibly loyal.
If you have an introvert on your team, make sure you put their skills to use. They will follow through with tasks and reach deadlines, and even help others catch up, if necessary.
8. Harness Their Calmness
Although introverts don’t like disturbances while they’re working, this doesn't mean they can’t handle stress, or last-minute work . . . to a point.
They’re often calm in stressful situations (remember they get their energy from within). A last-minute rush is often a welcomed diversion from a project or task that has consumed them—a way to change gears.
They understand that unexpected events occur in the workplace, and they’re more than willing to help you deal with them. But, if it happens too often, they may get frustrated.
If it happens too often, they'll wonder why you don’t take steps to stop the problem from occurring. In time, they won’t be as quick to help you out, because the need to help you loses its significance.
Types of situations where this may happen are if you always leave things to the last minute (so it turns into an emergency), blame everyone else, or take advantage of their time.
If you’re management, the introvert will help get you get more organized. Not because you’re the boss and they want your admiration; but because they’re aware of how busy you are.
An introvert watches and understands that every position is important in the workplace. They know your strengths and admire them—whether you’re in management or the janitor.
When you befriend an introvert, they'll tell you everything they love and admire about you.
If you’re a co-worker use their skills, calmness and patience to get your project completed if you get behind—and allow their demeanor to keep you calm in the process.
9. Don’t Kill Their Brains
Introverts go to work because they love it. They love to focus and create—they want to see results. If they look depressed, it’s probably because their position isn’t challenging them.
An Example: What Killed my Creativity
Let me use an example to explain. A few years ago, I took a temporary position in the finance department at an amazing organization.
The HR manager at the time was passionate, enthusiastic, and upbeat; my co-workers were wonderful, passionate people.
The accountants and their assistants were busy crunching numbers and preparing financial summaries and reports.
The problem for me was the position—it was full-time, but there were only a few hours of work for myself and the others who weren’t involved in the accounting process. For example, I was in charge of getting signatures on and filing contracts; as well as other administrative tasks.
There was a backlog when I started, but for an introvert used to producing large volumes of work, it didn’t take long to catch up. I looked for opportunities for additional duties, and succeeded, but that too was short-lived.
Once a week there was a meeting every department attended (and there were many departments). I sat listening to the fun, engaging activities talked about by the social media department.
Oh, how I envied them. Daily, I wished my open-ended contract would end; or that another department needed me. But that wasn’t a possibility because my position was clearly defined in my contract.
I wasn't going to quit because I follow-through with projects.
I daydreamed that the old building housing us started on fire—of course, no one was hurt, but I longed for something to happen.
Due to extreme boredom, and lack of any hope to fix the situation I had little to say, especially when the third month rolled around. The atmosphere was relaxed and surfing the internet to engage in social media, read and send emails was permitted in downtimes.
This may sound like a dream job, but it wasn’t to me. I could do this from home—work is supposed to be working—an activity involving mental or physical effort done to achieve a purpose or result.
I could have written articles, but somehow it felt wrong to make extra money while I was getting paid, even though I was technically getting paid to do nothing.
I could tell the HR manager wasn’t sure how to deal with me. She always told me how I had a calming aura and pleasantness surrounding me; but she thought I was shy.
Since my position was temporary and my duties outlined specifically, it was pointless to share my thoughts since a solution to the situation was out of her control.
If you’re in HR, a team leader, or management and your introvert co-worker looks comatose, it’s because they’re bored and need mental stimulation—it's not because they're shy.
Choice vs Fear
INTROVERSION is a choice, a preference for Quiet
SHYNESS is a fear of social judgement
What segment of the population is reading this? Are you
The movement that introverts became cool was about four years ago, around the time Susan Cain published her book . After that media, including bloggers and authors, started writing on the subject of introverts and how they're misunderstood. Eventually, people got sick of hearing about it. Quiet
Introverts continue to be misunderstood. People still think if you're not always talking there's something wrong with you; or if you spend hours alone writing, reading, and thinking you're flawed; and introverts should stop these behaviors.
I disagree. Introverts and their counterparts are both cool, but there's a need to be a tolerance of their differences in the workplace.
People Still Don't 'Get It'
What's great about Susan's book is that it helps non-introverts understand introverts better, and helps introverts take joy in their differences, which does so much for them.
It builds self-esteem, inspires introverts to be proud of their wrongly perceived weirdness, shows them how to use the power of their personality to do great things; and leads to happiness because introverts can find environments where they will flourish.
Resources and Further Reading
- Fact: I took the information in the Facts sections from a wonderful, well-researched article titled 6 Illustrations That Show What It's Like in an Introvert's Head. I recommend you take a quick look at the article—it's not very long, but has lots of great information and research.
- Introvert Bosses: Harvard Business Review has an interesting article about quiet bosses and the hidden advantages of having one. They discuss the findings of their research.
If you know anyone who can use what's discussed in this article, please share. If you have insightful information readers need to know, please impact us with your wisdom.
Photo Credit: All the pictures in this article came from Pixabay, a CC0 Public Domain.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.