As a kid, I was taught to always let others speak because they probably know more than me.
I am awkward in conversations with people I’m not familiar with and people I’ve never met. You might see this for yourself if we are lucky (or unlucky) to bump into each other.
Yet, I’ve done okay in my career. It’s been a little over a decade now since I started working. I’ve had four jobs in total.
Not only did I never get fired, but I’ve also had some notable accomplishments and a lot of fun with each job. I even organized a local meetup attended by over 100 marketers every month. Not bad for a socially awkward guy.
I decided to write this piece to help introverts who are entering the workforce or struggling at work.
Aside from my work ethic and diligence, I believe what I’m sharing in this essay contributes a big part to my career success to date.
Table of Contents
Understand the Company Culture
You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.
During your orientation, find out how team members collaborate with each other. If this is not covered directly, just observe different teams and try to obtain the answers for these questions:
What is the preferred communication channel?
What is the acceptable response time?
What are the opportunities to network with coworkers?
How do people share their ideas?
Observing how people communicate and work together within a team or in an organization allows you to pick up nuances such as the best place or time to convey a message.
For example, you’ll be wasting your time following up on a task via email multiple times if the entire company rarely checks email and relies on a chat platform for communication.
Organize Small Group Lunches
Lunches are a great way to get to know your coworkers, but I dread 1-on-1 lunches.
There are so many awkward pauses. The worst is when both parties look down at the food to figure out what to say. And when we finally come up with something, we would utter our words at the same time. I always find these situations embarrassing.
The trick to make these lunches more fun and engaging for you as an introvert is to invite two people who already know each other well. Here’s how an exchange of messages to make these lunches happen:
You: Hey, I’m new to the marketing team. I want to connect with you over lunch to see if you have any tips for me to do well during my probationary period. Will you be free tomorrow?
Person A: Sure, let’s do it.
You: Who in the company are you close to? Maybe we can invite him/her too. I really want to get to know as many people as possible during my first few months here.
Lunch is going to be more comfortable when you have a dynamic like this. And since the other parties know each other well, they will most likely be able to hold the conversation even when you don’t know what to talk about.
You’ll learn a lot about the two individuals too when they are talking among themselves.
Ask Good Questions
When you have the opportunity to connect at a personal level with a team member or a coworker, take the time to get to know them. Ask for their advice and bring up their favorite topic – themselves.
According to a Scientific American article, The Neuroscience of Everybody’s Favorite Topic, people spend 60% of conversations talking about themselves. When people talk about themselves, the area of the brain associated with stimuli such as sex, cocaine, and good food lights up. It’s that powerful.
Ask the following questions:
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned during your time here?
Do you have any advice for me as a newbie in this company?
What about your work excites you right now?
Who else should I speak to if I want to succeed in my role?
Take a mental note of these answers, and jot them down in your notebook later. They might come in handy when you get to collaborate with the person in the future.
Use Listening to Your Advantage
According to Dr. Laurie Helgoe, author of Introvert Power, introverts process information internally, making us hear, understand, and provide carefully considered insight when we respond.
Use this gift to your advantage.
Don’t feel guilty about not speaking up during meetings. Focus on the conversation and take note of the key points being discussed.
Since everybody else is so engrossed in participating and making sure they are heard, nobody is connecting the dots and questioning the gaps of what’s being discussed. Become that person.
Also, there is a great benefit for not speaking all the time. Because when you do speak, people give you their full attention. This is when you “go for the kill” with your insight.
It wasn’t easy for me as a shy person to appreciate someone in-person, even if I really wanted to.
Here are three things I started doing instead.
Always include the reason and how a person’s action is worth the appreciation when you thank him/her over a messaging application like Slack. People love it when their work has a positive impact on another person.
When you’re buying coffee, don’t just buy for yourself. Get two cups instead. Pass it to someone you want to appreciate. Doing this always makes the person smile.
Share the good work a person did with someone else. Doing so does not only allow you to show your appreciation, but the person you’re appreciating gets recognized by others too.
Always leave a note in the project management tool used by your team when you’ve made progress with a task. To move fast, post any question you have the moment it pops up. Since you’re new, you might not be aware of other areas of the project, and it is unlikely you’ll figure it out on your own.
If a project management tool is not available, be proactive, create a summary of the tasks you’ve completed and what you learned daily, and share it with your manager.
Doing the above allows you to keep your manager and team members updated on your progress without much human interaction.
Never ever operate as a lone wolf. You might be going down the path of hitting a roadblock or taking your task in the wrong direction. If it’s a mistake, it might be too late to fix when your team members find out about it.
Highlight Your Wins
As introverts, sometimes we don’t see a need to shout or celebrate our accomplishments. We feel content about achieving a goal, and it stops there.
You don’t have to broadcast your success 24/7, but keeping score of your accomplishments is critical for your career. It helps with conversations around career growth, salary negotiations, and future interviews.
I have many friends who’ve done great at work. But since they did not compile a portfolio to showcase their work, it’s difficult for them to prove their worth to hiring managers, especially during interviews for senior positions.
Create a digital notebook for screenshots and clippings showcasing your successful projects, accomplishments, and media coverage. You might not be able to find them again when you need them.
Get Your Alone Time
Socializing requires energy, and it can get tiring for introverts. You need the alone time to recharge, more so if you are working at an open office.
Take time out for yourself. Feel free to say no to lunch invites once in a while to have lunch alone. Block out a slot in your calendar to retreat into a quiet space to work.
Don’t worry about staying away from your team members during certain times of the day if you are still getting things done.
Read About Networking and How to Have Conversations
There used to be a time when I was using my introversion as an excuse for being socially awkward and not being able to hold a conversation for more than 30 seconds.
Don’t be like me.
There is a proverb, “If you want to go far, go together.” It’s true. Your likelihood of success is much higher when you have people on your side. And to build and maintain a network of relationships, you need to know your way around networking and conversations.
The books do not have content directed towards introverts specifically, but adopting just 20 to 30 percent of the insights they provide is more than enough. You will see improvements in your day-to-day interaction with others right away.
You Can Win by Being Quiet
Today, I’ve gotten much better at conversations. As a leader with a team of almost 10 people, I am expected to speak up.
But if I get a new job today, I will go back to the tips above to stand out and crush it.
The world is noisy and filled with extroverts, but never let introversion be an excuse. Leverage its traits and turn them into superpowers.