Updated: Jan 8, 2022
4 Steps to Bridge the Gap at Work and at Play
At BeyondIntroversion, we strive to emphasize the positive. Each of us needs to take ownership of our lives. We are not the victim. We can't blame our misfortunes on others. It is up to each of us to manage what we can control and not give energy to what we cannot control. We introverts are complex and wonderful creatures. We must go down our own journey to learn about who we are, embrace our strengths, use our talents, and take pride in our true selves.
I believe this to my core.
Recently, a reader suggested I write to the extroverts in our lives - the family and friends, the co-workers and managers. Given the above mantra, I pondered this a bit and have accepted the challenge.
The intent today is not to shed any blame for our challenges or ask for pity or grace in our efforts to stand tall. It is merely an opportunity for others to get to know us a bit more. As with all sorts of diversity around us, once we understand more about others, we can relate to them on a personal level and find the value of others that previously appeared hidden from many. It often starts with a bit of communication.
Family & Friends
Our family and friends pose unique challenges. Oftentimes, they've known us a long time, perhaps all our lives. Many may know who we truly are - our struggles and strengths, our dreams and drawbacks. Yet others only think they know who we are. They've observed us for years and may assume the casual conversation and banter between you is how you interact with others. But as we know, many introverts have a very different comfort level with strangers or acquaintances or even just casual friends than we do with our small, intimate circle. How can we educate our close family and even those friendly acquaintances in hopes of building tighter bonds?
Share your introversion: what a great opportunity to demystify the negative tropes that resonate with most, even today (like loner, different, anti-social, slow). You may share your journey but make this a positive step of enlightenment, not a downtrodden whine.
Share your strengths & talents: an important chance to talk about the strengths introverts in general, and you in particular, bring to the table; perhaps including creativity, thoughtfulness, balanced analysis, listening skills, and preparation. Provide examples of how you have applied these strengths in social situations and at work.
Share your fears & vulnerabilities: share your journey. No need to embellish. Some introverts had a very supportive childhood and others were bullied. Some have fought for years to discover their strengths, others found them naturally, while still others are in mid-search. We all have fears (even extroverts) and sharing those builds the deeper relationships most introverts crave.
Enlist their support: this is not a pity party or a cry for help. Just let them know that perhaps you don't like large parties and so it's great if they understand your early exit. We often become more sociable when we engage early and especially when we are asked/invited to engage rather than searching for the right time to jump in.
Friends will listen, ask questions, and strive to understand your journey. They will offer to help but not push you to be someone you are not. Others, well, they really aren't true friends.
Co-Workers & Managers
There is a special challenge authentically connecting with this group. Often there is an unwritten extroverted culture within organizations. Deviating from that culture can be viewed as career-ending (and sometimes it actually is). So being genuine and vulnerable are often too traits banned from the workplace, like talking about religion and politics.
Introverts often feel they must "fake it 'til you make it" by wearing an extroverted mask all day. When I retired after 30-years and shared my plans to write a book and blog about my introversion at my Goodbye Party, my co-workers literally stopped and stared until a chorus of "You aren't an introvert" rang through the crowd. Many asserted that we'd worked alongside each other for years, had dinners together, traveled, gone to battle on projects together. They would know if I was an introvert.
I was a bit offended as if I had hidden a disease or plague from them, but later I realized it was I who had done the injustice. I missed the opportunity to share, teach, thrive, and lead with my co-workers for decades. It remains my burden to bear, one I now strive to unload by sharing my storing and imploring other introverts to engage!
Share your introversion: this can be especially difficult at work. Start with a close confidante. Approach the issue with your manager by starting a discussion about your strengths and then referencing your introversion. Be sure to emphasize the positive. We are not searching for pity, but awareness and respect.
Share your strengths & talents: co-workers and managers will appreciate the strengths you bring to the table, strengths that are often deficient in extrovert-dominated cultures. This new, more balanced diversity of thought will create new ideas, unique problem solving, and a greater connection to the diverse customers your team is trying to serve. If you lay it out this way, most managers will be thrilled to support your genuine self. If they don't get it, give them time.
Share your fears & vulnerabilities: it is okay to voice your concerns about sharing these personal attributes given the typically extrovert-dominated culture in corporate America. But you are brave and determined to bring your best and true self to work because it is the right thing to do, it provides strength to the team, and it supports your own growth and confidence. If they still don't see it, you might want to brush up your CV.
Enlist their support: if they "get it" and want to do more, encourage them to run a Myers-Briggs personality test or Gallup/Clifton Strengths test at a future team building session. It provides an opportunity for everyone to share. From this activity, bonding takes place and greater respect and utilization of everyone's talents is a by-product. Remember, about half the population are introverts, so chances are there are many more introspective people waiting for someone to lead the way.
Sharing personal details at work can be challenging. But trust me, not as challenging as bottling up your authentic self for decades. You owe it to yourself, your team, and your family to be yourself!
The Challenge Has Been Cast
You may choose to decline this challenge. Why do we have the burden to educate others? I'm comfortable with who I am and if others don't understand, that is their problem.
But the world is a better place when we all understand each other better...whether we are a person of color, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, an immigrant, or an introvert. These are not easy conversations for people to initiate so for the benefit of us all, often we are the ones to initiate and share. As a result, perhaps our lives become more peaceful and rewarding, extroverts become more appreciative and inclusive, workplaces become more diverse and creative, and the next generation of introverts that follow us have a bit of an easier time finding their authentic path and achieving their grandest dreams.