Dealing with customers all day long can make any personality type want to scream. Yet given the availability of retail jobs, many Introverts find themselves working in such roles and meeting vast numbers of strangers daily – not always their cup of tea.
When asked if they feel clumsy in social interactions, 85% of Introverts agreed vs. 36% of Extraverts.
That said, the answer to our title question is yes, Introverts can do great in retail jobs (and many of you are the proof – salute). But since social interaction can be especially stressful for these personality types, a more important question might be, “Can Introverts be happy in retail jobs?”
Well, there’s hope. There are some clever approaches that can help Introverts preserve their energy (and sanity) in retail jobs, as well as some unhelpful behaviors that they can avoid.
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It’s No Surprise That Many Introverts Struggle in Retail Jobs
Introversion isn’t a weakness to be overcome – it’s a legitimate way of being. But if this personality trait hampers your ability to earn a living, that effect of Introversion can be improved. Not by changing who you are, but by developing skills.
To be happier and more successful in retail work, Introverts may need to practice abilities beyond their innate ones.
Consider this: if a builder went to work with only their natural tools (like hands and eyes), they’d struggle to get anything done. Without a ladder, they couldn’t reach much. Without a hammer, they’d be shoving nails in with their bare hands. Ouch! And imagine having no measuring tape…
Not only would job success be unlikely, but by the end of the day they’d be exhausted, battered, and miserable.
Isn’t that exactly how a hard day of retail work can make an Introvert feel?
There’s no shame in this – some people may simply not yet have the right tools for the job. Mental and emotional tools are intangible, easily overlooked, and rarely provided, but their absence is felt as keenly as a hammer.
Battered, indeed. Sometimes even deep-fried. The solution? Get yourself some Introvert retail tools.
But tools won’t do you any good without the energy to use them, so let’s look at a big issue facing Introverted personalities in public-facing jobs: motivation.
Retail work can be a great career or short-term job, yet many people disparage it as being simple, humble, or unskilled. Ha! Anyone successful in retail knows that it requires significant skill and effort. And for those in retail who resent dealing with people, we ask this: Does a farmer hate their crops, even when tending them requires immense labor?
Of the farmers we polled:
– 68% said their crops are dandy and they’re proud of them.
– 28% said farming is hard and they wish they worked in retail.
– 4% said, “Get out of my field, you personality-typing nerd!”
(Just kidding, we didn’t poll any farmers about this…yet.)
Farmers see their crops as a means to an end, and while their hard work may take its toll, it doesn’t necessarily create an emotional reaction like “I hate customers.” In fact, pragmatically taking the best possible care of their crops is how farmers succeed.
Retail is no different, and seeing customers as a valuable crop, despite a few frustrating weeds and bad seeds, can help retail workers stay motivated. Care for the crop, reap bountiful rewards. It’s a means to an end.
But It’s Hard for Introverts
It’s widely known that heavy social contact tends to wear Introverts out. So, for these personalities, exhaustion and frustration are perfectly natural responses to retail work. Possible results include hating their job or not doing it very well, which can have serious consequences.
But what you may not know is that most Introverts report a desire to improve many of the very same qualities and skills that retail jobs demand, test, and build. In our “Issues and Challenges” survey, Introverted personality types rated certain personal goals as being “somewhat important” to “very important” to them, in the following majorities:
- Getting better at making new friends – 74%
- Improving social skills – 82%
- Improving professional networking skills – 76%
- Building confidence and self-esteem – 90%
- Advancing in their chosen career – 79%
- Becoming more purposeful and motivated – 95%
- Reducing stress – 87%
Isn’t it reasonable that mastering a retail job would help Introverted personalities accomplish all these goals? (Even the last one, as skilled familiarity creates ease?)
So, if you’re like most Introverts, motivation is already inside you. Perhaps you just hadn’t realized how retail work can be such a good path to the above goals. But the fact is, it’s an amazing personal growth opportunity.
Can It Get Easier?
It sure can, with practice and perspective. The technical nuances of personality theory hold an important key.
Let’s toss aside the belief that Introverts don’t like being around people. After all, most enjoy spending time with friends and family. Rather, it’s important to understand that Introverts are sensitive to social contact because it drains their energy. Also, these personalities perceive this “contact drain” as more unpleasant if it’s mandated at work, as opposed to voluntary in their personal lives:
- Introverts after a day with friends: Yay, that was fun. Time to go home and rest.
- Introverts after a day of retail work: I hate people and want to curl up in bed.
These personality types spend energy either way, but their response depends on whether they feel a reward for that expenditure. Furthermore, positive emotional rewards may partly compensate for overall drain by adding other forms of energy, like joy.
A paycheck is enough reward to keep many Introverts working in a retail job, but it doesn’t reduce that contact drain – it justifies the loss of energy, but it doesn’t reenergize. However, Introverted personalities can gain some compensatory energy rewards at work by adjusting their approach to dealing with people.
Simply put, retail work isn’t as tiring for Introverts if the social interactions they have at work are positive.
The critical step is seeking – or generating – that positivity, rather than expecting it to just appear. Let’s be honest: customers don’t usually line up to offer positive emotional rewards on a silver platter.
So, Introverts, what can you do?
Lessons to Lessen the Drain
A great first step is acknowledging that you have a choice about how your energy is spent. You can spend it avoiding negative consequences or creating positive consequences.
Both will probably tire you. But one keeps you a reactive victim of exhaustion, while the other lets you actively pursue results that can ultimately keep you happier and more energized.
Avoiding negative consequences is a habit, but you can break it by examining yourself for unproductive energy investments and addressing that behavior. We’re not pointing the finger here, but let’s look at common ways that, you know, some Introverts might unproductively approach social interaction in retail jobs.
This behavior can be unconscious and might look like lingering in a back room, fiddling with inventory, delaying responses to calls, or even helpful actions like stocking and cleaning. But a common element in all of them is avoiding others, especially customers.
Aside from issues with job performance, this concerning behavior could represent hopelessness or anxiety. Hiding from people reinforces the false idea that you lack power, allowing circumstances to control your choices. Not only will this limit your happiness – it will limit your potential to succeed.
It’s common to become cynical as a result of social stress. Friendliness can require energy, and the sheer volume of social contact in retail can make some Introverts retract their kindness in self-preservation.
Cynicism at work is understandable (sometimes even justified) but can nonetheless eat up a lot of energy. Worse, being habitually negative blinds you to occasional positive potentials at work – and may hinder you from feeling joy after you leave. It’s a lingering contaminant.
Some Introverts try to do their best in retail work by ignoring their stress and misery and allowing emotional damage to build. This can be a precursor to other behaviors on this list…or worse. If you don’t reach out for help and solutions to your problems early on, they’ll probably just get worse.
There is a difference between applying learned social skills and being fake, and retail workers may not realize when they’ve crossed from one into the other. It’s great to put your best foot forward, but if a deliberately positive attitude conceals a hostile or uncaring one, problems may occur.
For one thing, many customers are sensitive to feigned friendliness, though they almost never say so. Most people prefer sincerity, even if it isn’t effusive, because they resent being deceived on any level. Inauthenticity can also harm your sense of self. It can feel like repression.
To avoid work-related social contact that can stress Introverted personalities out, they may seek out more comfortable forms of interaction. Simply put, they may text friends or chat with coworkers while ignoring customers.
Do we even need to explain why this is poor work behavior?
Venting isn’t always a bad thing. But focusing on upsetting thoughts and feelings runs the risk of causing sustainment instead of relief. This is especially likely when such venting is done with coworkers who are similarly aggravated and mirror the same frustration back to you.
Coworkers intending to sympathize with each other can instead inflame each other’s stress. Without redirection, an inferno of negativity can result.
Now, we know that you’re better than all that stuff above, but we just had to mention it for the record, so keep your eye on your coworkers, okay? Now, let’s get to the good stuff: tools to help Introverts make their retail work a lot brighter and less tiring.
Taking positive steps puts you in control of your working life.
Flex Your Introvert Power
Retail work may make you want to hide, but staying responsibly engaged doesn’t require full-bore social energy. You need to be attentive to customers, but you’re usually free to offer mellow, friendly attention. When you interact with people in a warm, calm way, it will help you maintain your energy throughout the day.
It also helps to not view the workday as a huge event with lots of customers – that’s a pretty daunting contrast to the solitude you might be craving. Instead, try to think of each customer contact as a single, minor event. It’s not so bad to talk to one or two people at a time.
View People as Individuals
Instead of seeing customers as a monochrome group, give each person a chance to show you their true colors. If you preload interactions with negative expectations, you’ll get them – people can sense irritation and will likely respond with their own bad attitude. You may partly create the annoying customers.
Of course, some customers are annoying – we won’t deny that – but you can still halt your cynicism in its tracks. Instead of carrying frustration over from one customer to the next, visualize a slate being erased. Let each nice customer erase the annoying ones, and leap into that contrast with a sense of relief. Maintaining frustration takes a lot of energy, so use any excuse to let it go.
Instead of ignoring your stress or misery, let it out in healthy ways. Reach out for the love and support of friends and family. Make sure you engage in joyful, stimulating activities outside of work to balance out your life. You might even talk to your supervisor about adjusting your assignments.
It’s also possible to make a lateral move within the retail world that may make you happier. If certain goods or services are closer to your heart or personal interests, selling them may feel a lot more enjoyable – and you’ll probably be better at it.
The less you have to playact to connect with people, the less energy it takes and the better you’ll feel at the end of the day. It may require some keen observation and ingenuity to find a way to be genuine and friendly to strangers, but it’s worth it in the long run.
One way is to draw customers out, which brings us to:
If socializing with people you know seems like more fun than working, why not try to make new friends out of some customers? This might sound hard for Introverted personalities to do, but keep in mind, it doesn’t require much talking to ask people about themselves. Meeting customers is the job, after all.
Approach such conversations like you have something to learn. People love being treated as if their words and thoughts matter, so be a good listener. This will help people relax and be nicer, which makes your job easier. Once you get to know customers personally, interactions can be a lot more fun – and you’ll perceive less “contact drain.”
There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed out, upset, or resentful of rude people, but dwelling in these feelings is literally the opposite of being happy, isn’t it? It’s great to release some steam by talking to trusted people, but after a bit of that, consider trying to improve the situation rather than just hating it.
It’s also wise to vent to people who will give you support and validation but not necessarily pour more fuel on your fire – or add their own flames. If you want things to get better, find folks who are not only genuinely sympathetic, but who also have constructive advice and ideas.
We hope these ideas can help you be happier even in retail jobs that may stretch your comfort zone. You can remain proudly Introverted and possess the right tools for the job. It can take time and effort, but we promise that it gets easier the more you practice, like any skill.
Retail work can feel like a contest of wills, with people and circumstances combining to sap away your energy. Sometimes, winning means simply hanging on to whatever energy you can throughout the day. And hey, don’t forget to work the heck out of that lunch break – earbuds in, eyes closed, whatever helps you grab a moment of rest.
And if all else fails, picture your customers as puppies. Naughty puppies who don’t always know how to behave but can be fun to play with, just the same. And at least customers ask where the bathroom is.
Hey, if you’ve worked in retail, what was the biggest customer challenge you managed to overcome while staying positive, and how did you do it? Let us know in the comments below! (And if you’re a member of our Community, you can use our “Career” Thoughts and Stories tool to really weigh in…)