At one clinic I worked at, we had a horrid annual retreat, attendance at which was a requirement for continued employment. One featured a speaker who came out on the stage wearing a cow smock. I am serious. Or perhaps it was a robe, or a cloak. I am not sure. In any event, it was white covered with black spots, like a cow has. I sat there in agony for eight hours, as she entertained us. I brought one of those stress ball- hand squeezers as I thought I would need it. I didn’t know you could break them. I crushed it by the second hour. I am unclear as to how this woman dressed as a cow making what were supposedly humorous statements enhanced our ability to work as team. I was also not certain why I had to experience this cleansing and healing retreat under threat of termination. The full eight hours was mandatory, so I couldn’t even bow out early. I was the first one out the door however, and I laid rubber out of the parking lot.

Your success in your career can be largely determined by how well your personality fits into your chosen profession, and your workplace. Much of corporate America, as well as higher education, are based on values of extraversion. Meetings, brainstorming sessions, group exercises, retreats, team building activities, office picnics, and the after work happy- hour are all the norm. If you are an extravert, this will be a great fit. If you are an introvert, you are going to have to force yourself to partake in these, feeling discomfort the whole time, and not performing at your potential. You may not be able to operate in a workplace which heavily emphasizes extraversion. Introverts do best in the workplace with a long leash, and where creative thinking is valued. If you are an introvert, here are some places where you may find your niche:

1. A workplace where you are left alone to do your job.

Introverts are genuine. We are not fake, pretentious, or phony. Office politics do not interest us. Priorities must be clear. The famous scene from Office Place where two supervisors redundantly belabor the incorrect use of a fax cover sheet is all too real. I worked at a mental health clinic where I had a patient go into sudden respiratory distress in the middle of our session. I recognized what was happening, and got her to the emergency room of the hospital next door, which was instrumental in saving her life. I hastily scribbled some requested information down and faxed it to the ER. In this tight leash environment, all faxes had to be approved before being sent. I was corrected for sending a handwritten fax, as it was “unprofessional, and should be word processed’. I can see this as comical know, but at the time, it was very demoralizing. Not a word that I had a key role in saving a life. This was a place that had lost its way. Yes, high standards from top to bottom and attention to detail are critical, but there is a line. Introverts need a workplace where the bullshit is at a bare minimum, and people are focused on doing the job.

2. A workplace where your presence at company events is optional.

Workplace events are stressed in some places more so than others. If you never attend these, you may not be considered a Team Player, and your career may tank. Such events can be acutely painful for an introvert. If you must, put in an appearance, and if allowed, leave promptly. Better yet, find a place where they are not overly emphasized. The informal after work events can actually be more important to team building and acceptance into the group if you are a new employee. Stop in for one drink at happy-hour with the guys and girls, and then excuse yourself as you have pressing matters to attend to.

3. Projects with a deadline.

Introverts work best alone, with a lot of autonomy. Give an introvert a project, the tools they need, and a delivery date, and they will perform at their best. Micro-management will cause them to stall, hesitate, and maybe engage in passive-aggressive foot dragging.

4. Projects requiring creative, unconventional, original thinking.

Critical thinking is valued in college. It is an expectation to succeed. Unfortunately, too many college graduates enter a profession and quickly find that creative thinking is stifled in too much of the corporate world. There is too much of an attitude of keep quiet, do what you’re told, don’t challenge the predominant thinking, and, don’t upset the status quo. However if you are fortunate enough to find a workplace where creativity is valued, this is where introverts do well. Introverts are deep thinkers, creative, and minimally confined by trends and conventional thought. The more critical your work environment- e.g., you are in the business of saving lives- the more important this can be.

5. Do what comes naturally, and do more watching and listening than talking.

Write a memo to the boss with ideas. Present your ideas in a way that will not be threatening, as some people are resistant to change, or bitter if someone else comes up with an idea first. This is related to:

6. 1:1 Communication.

Introverts do well with 1:1 or small group communication. While introverts will not do well at corporate team building activities, where people are forced to cheerfully interact, they can perform exceptionally well in Think Tanks, or meetings with the people in charge, delivering crucial information. Introverts are very good at giving presentation, because we love talking about ideas, passionately and enthusiastically.

Introverts have a lot to offer in the workplace. You need to find a career which matches your personality, and a place where your traits are recognized as assets. Going to work every day should not be torturous.

 

Written by David A. Porter, MA, LADC
Private Practice clinician
Adjunct Faculty in Psychology and Criminology
Freelance Behavioral Science writer