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Fiona Reith, career coach

In her guest blog career coach Fiona Reith explains why introverts needn’t dread the return to the office.

Often perceived as boring, anti-social and even rude, many introverts have flourished during lockdown. In stark contrast, this enforced time sheltering at home has left many outgoing people feeling bored, frustrated and yearning human contact. An extrovert’s brain is wired to thrive on dopamine-inducing fast-paced, buzzy contact with others. I bet we all know people who are climbing the walls right now and desperate to return to work in an office again, surrounded by their colleagues. I certainly have several friends and clients who fall into this bracket.

However, if you’re an introvert, you may now be dreading the prospect of returning to an over-stimulating workplace as society slowly starts to open up again.

The percentage split across the world for whom the introverted preference is dominant, recognising we all have the capacity to flex, was estimated in early 2020 to be approaching 57 per cent by the Myers Briggs Company, founders of probably the most famous psychometric test known as MBTI.

But in business, society traditionally expects extroverted leaders with introverts being ignored, overlooked, and dubbed ‘not team players.’ This results in many introverts masking their introversion and attempting to become more outgoing, which can be exhausting.

In her book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ (2012) Susan Cain argues that modern Western culture misunderstands and undervalues the traits and capabilities of introverted people, leading to ‘a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness’.

If you’re a career-savvy ambitious introvert, Cain encourages you to lean into your strengths of emotional intelligence, empathy, communication and curiosity.

As we gradually come out of hibernation how can we make the most of our introverted traits, or indeed those possessed by others, for success at work?

  1. Own your introvert preference. Get into the habit of laying out how you like to work to existing and new colleagues so they know you prefer one-to-one meetings and like to leave diary space for reflection and deep work. Speaking up for your own boundaries and needs at work is assertive and is likely help you in the long run.
  2. Use your body language rather than words to signal your engagement in a meeting. Leaning in, nodding and making eye contact shows you are listening attentively, even when you don’t feel ready to contribute. This works well for office small talk too. You don’t need to be the chatty one, just smile and listen with empathy and interest to your colleagues’ stories.
  3. If you feel you haven’t been given enough space and time to prepare for an impromptu larger group meeting, don’t worry. You can still contribute with a thoughtful question or a short follow-up email. Better still, offer to create and distribute the action plan.
  4. Create space to rest and recharge. The introvert brain prefers acetylcholine rather than dopamine and time working alone, reading books or time in nature regularly can all protect against burnout in a busy world. As such, don’t feel obligated or pressurised into attending every social occasion.
  5. Finally, if you’re aiming to eventually move into a leadership role, challenge yourself by offering to do more presentations and teach yourself techniques on how to influence others. You can start by simply watching some TedTalks to see how it’s done and consider joining the Toastmasters. Alternatively, explore the possibility of attending a course to develop your confidence and skills in this area.

Finding the right job and working environment for you involves being aware of your hard-wired preferences and how they impact your motivation and energy levels. This kind of insight is likely to go a long way to explaining the work that you’re fulfilled by and drawn to and the type of tasks that drain you.

What’s more, knowing this about yourself is also the key to achieving the right mix and maintaining that all-important energy and balance we need to keep thriving. As the world opens up again take some time to recalibrate just what that means for you.