Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Mark Popovich
Open-plan offices. Group brainstorming sessions. Back-to-back meetings. If these things make you shut down inside, you just might be an introvert struggling to thrive in an office environment made for extroverts. Despite a recent uptick in awareness of the differences between introverts and extroverts, many companies are still painfully slow to adapt to these findings by accommodating introverts in the workplace. According to The Economist, "If anything, the corporate approach to introverts has been getting worse." Ugh.
Before you retreat to the bathroom for some silent screaming at an indifferent universe, check out a few ways to adapt to a work environment that doesn't entirely suit your temperament.
1. Take alone time whenever possible.
Of course, one of the greatest differences between extroverts and introverts is that extroverts feel energised by interacting with others, while introverts often feel depleted by human interaction and require alone time to recharge. Office layouts — especially open-plan offices that are meant to stimulate communication — can make you feel like there's no escape, so you have to plan your own getaways. Finding some space or an empty conference room for even 15 minutes of quiet alone time can make a huge difference, or take your lunch outside to escape the chatty vibe of the break room.
2. Suggest a change in the ways meetings are conducted.
If you feel you're being steamrolled in meetings, suggest that the team adjusts how meetings are run. Amazon has adopted a tactic of beginning each meeting in silence while everyone reads a six-page memo on the subject of the meeting. All attendees must finish reading the memo before even opening their mouths, which shifts the focus directly to the discussion at hand and away from people's behaviour in the meeting.
Introverts can also thrive more in smaller groups, so breaking a large meeting into groups of two or three could help quieter folks feel comfortable expressing their thoughts.
3. Make your personal workspace as comfortable and safe as possible.
What comforts you when you're feeling anxious? If there's desk space for it, place some soothing greenery in potted plants or tack up images of your favourite calm locales. Another introvert decor tip for book-lovers: lining or stacking up your favourite books can make you feel tucked-in and comfy, like you're inside a little library, and it creates a sort of makeshift boundary line between you and your neighbour.
Image Source: Giphy
4. Use headphones and soothing sounds to retreat into your own head.
Part of the power of introverts lies in their ability to focus and work diligently and independently on their tasks. If office noise and chatter is making it impossible to concentrate, don a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and cue up some white noise, or use an app such as Brain Wave, which combines binaural programs with ambient music or nature sounds to suit your specific needs (stress relief, promoting creativity, concentration, etc.).
5. Don't forget the buddy system.
It worked on the school bus during field trips and it still works today with full-grown workmates. Find a buddy! Since one-on-one interaction is much easier for introverts, make a meaningful connection with one co-worker who can help you navigate some of the more anxiety-inducing situations. Even just one friendly presence by your side will ease the discomfort of large groups or work-sponsored social events where you'll need to show your face.
6. Fake it sometimes.
There's no need to quash your natural instincts or gifts, but if you're in an environment where extroverted sensibilities are most dominant (and most rewarded), it can help to just fake it sometimes. One introverted CEO set himself the goal of "acting like an extrovert five times a day." If five times a day seems too ambitious, start by putting forth one effort per day to socialise with co-workers or perhaps even lead a small meeting. Eventually (if you continue to give yourself plenty of recharge time), extroverted behaviour will feel more natural.