An Introvert’s Guide to Work

I am an unlikely introvert.

Someone whose voice is often louder than my extroverted peers. Whose career revolved around sales, then recruitment, and then training. Not common choices for ‘shy’ types.

I speak out when I see injustice. I take initiative in social situations. When I find myself back in a classroom environment, I have an insatiable urge to play the fool.

For all these reasons, many people would struggle to believe I’m anything but a classic extrovert. For a long time, I felt the same.

The signs were always there.

Going ‘out-out’ was always a problem, but I never considered that the problem may be my own. I usually put it down to; the night club environment, the bad music, or the pressure to get dolled up.

Later, as I developed more self-awareness, I noticed a similar pattern around the type of events I actually enjoyed. Gigs and festivals were my go-to, but I struggled to feel anything but anxiety leading up to something I should have been looking forward to.

Crowds were, and still are, an issue. I’d normally stand well back and leave as the last note struck, spectacularly missing the rush. I have this down to a fine art – but it’s a terrible way to enjoy the moment.

It’s not just the physical crowd I struggle with, either. It’s the general act of joining in. Being anything other than an individual. I find this genuinely hard, and I realise this makes me sound like a bit of a dick.

I avoid more social invites than I attend.

Over the years I attributed this to being; lazy, awkward, ignorant or selfish – consumed by a perpetual state of guilt. It wasn’t true, I just hadn’t recognised or accepted who I was.

Ironically, my friends (who I consider myself lucky to still have) have accepted me, flaky as I am.

Coming to terms with this was a revelation.

Despite my lengthy preamble – this article isn’t about me.

As an outspoken introvert, I feel a certain responsibility.

I want to be an advocate for anyone who is quietly struggling to get by in a society that carries a cultural bias towards extroversion. The UK is one such society. The US is worse.

The hiring bias.

Introverts face challenges that are often overlooked, particularly at work. It all starts with hiring. Consider the desirable traits in a generic job advert:

“We need an enthusiastic, dynamic, team player, who is outgoing with excellent people skills”.

Tell me this doesn't read like a wish list alluding to a certain type of person.

Now think about any advice you’ve had around improving your working situation. From securing the role you want, to breaking into a new industry, to achieving a promotion.

Probably something along the lines of:

“Put yourself out there!” “Network!” “Think less, and do more!”

In other words, be more extrovert.

I’m not saying it’s all bad advice, either. But pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone for significant periods of time comes at a cost. Namely, increased stress and burnout.

Is it worth it?

I can’t answer that. But I will say that interviews are hard enough for introverts, who don’t naturally excel at selling themselves, without a gap on your CV or a series of sporadic job moves to explain. It’s worse when your confidence has taken a dent due to a recent breakdown.

As much as this advice might be well-intended, sometimes we know ourselves better and should act accordingly.

Self-preservation is not a bad thing. A risk is not necessarily better than playing it safe. You might assume the opposite because our cultural bias is lying to you.

Workplace Feng Shui.

On the topic of cultural bias, hands up who doesn’t work in an open plan office? My guess is not many, and if you take managers out of the equation, fewer still.

Privacy and personal space are not aspects that the modern workplace seems to value. It’s more efficient to put us all in one room together. More importantly, it costs less.

Apparently, it enables us to build relationships with our peers. We share ideas, collaborate and brainstorm as we go.

None of that is true, of course. Research has shown that open plan offices actually breed more animosity than anything else. We’re distracted more than we are inspired, and obviously this situation is horrible for sensitive types.

You can read more here:

But it’s convenient, so that gets swept under the carpet.

We are not a protected characteristic, and probably never will be.

Diversity and inclusion are hot topics right now. Every HR Manager and Recruiter worth their salt wants you to know, that they know, that things must improve.

In some cases, they’re tackling this head on. In others, it’s a box ticking exercise. Elsewhere, it’s woeful.

But one thing they have in common, is they are probably only looking at protected characteristics (age, gender, race, disability, etc.)

Although this figure is often misreported and therefore understated, up to 50% of society has a preference towards introversion. With this in mind, we are not represented (at all) in managerial roles:

Who wants to manage anyway?

We should ask ourselves why this is. Bias and discrimination are factors, but they only go so far.

We are notoriously bad at putting ourselves forward for leadership roles, and this is a real shame. We're far more likely than our extroverted peers to downplay our achievements. We make false judgements about the role based on our experiences with a certain type of manager, and this leads us to shy away.

As much as society needs to do better to address the balance, we should acknowledge that we are a part of that society.

To conclude.

If you have ever thought of yourself as ‘not corporate’ or ‘difficult to manage’ – maybe the problem isn’t you.

A bit of diversity in leadership could be the thing that makes all the difference.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn:

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