“You’re very perceptive for a guy who can go a whole day without talking,” she said, peering up at him.
“That’s why I’m perceptive.”
Being the Blank Slate
Let’s face it. If you’re an Introvert, too often people will project onto you all kinds of things. The quietness that’s part of your personality type makes you a bit of an enigma, and people love to fill in the blanks, even if they do so inaccurately. When you’re on the job, this can work against you.
In high school and college, I worked in a supermarket part-time on weekends and during school breaks. The crew I worked with was a gregarious bunch of people mostly around my age. The stockroom was a loud place filled with practical jokes, gossip, and a lot of talk about sports. I enjoyed every minute of it – but as an Introvert, from a distance and while consistently focused on my job.
I loved the job. I loved the physical nature of it that was so unlike the rest of my hours spent studying. On the “floor,” there was some interaction with customers wanting to know things like where we kept the artichokes. But mostly, I was left alone to explore my thoughts as I loaded cans, boxes, bags onto the shelf. This part-time job seemed made for this Introvert.
Then, one day, a coworker who was working nearby abruptly said, “How much do you hate this job? You come here and barely say a word.” I was stunned by the way this guy saw me. How was I so badly misinterpreted?
That was the first time I realized that if people don’t define themselves, someone else may do it for them. This goes double for Introverts. They can be the ultimate blank slate. Making an impact at work is partly defining oneself, partly building a reputation, and partly knowing what you want from a job.
When talking about greater impact in the workplace, the goal isn’t to turn Introverts into Extraverts. By impact, we simply mean having a pronounced role that is influential and noticed by others. This could take many forms, from taking a leadership position to creating a niche that nobody else on staff can fill.
There are ways to create an important presence without relying on endless networking and small talk. Self-promotion (and we’ll talk more about the use of this word later) can be quieter and even more meaningful. Having a greater impact is more about building an Introvert-friendly bridge between the quiet worker and success.
In fact, it could be argued that much of what gives Introverts value in the workplace would be diminished if they tried too hard to imitate their Extraverted colleagues. Let’s start by looking at where Introverted personality types typically shine at work.
- Introverts are often the “idea” people. It’s not that Extraverts have no ideas; it’s just that Introverts spend more time immersed in their own thoughts. Therefore, they have the time to play with concepts, strategies, and implications in different (perhaps even deeper) ways.
- Introverts can be more objective. Again, Extraverts can be objective too. But when Introverts, with their preference for solitude, have a little distance from the heat of the battle, they may see things more clearly and perhaps with a little less bias. They often position themselves on the outside looking in – a great vantage point if one wants to be objective.
- Introverts are better listeners. Introverted personalities tend to let other people talk rather than take up a lot of space talking themselves. Getting a word in edgewise may be less of a challenge when talking to an Introvert. That doesn’t mean all Introverts are perfect listeners, but the chance of being heard by them is likely greater.
- Introverts are fine working alone. Tasks that need to be done in ways that don’t involve a lot of interaction with others are perfect jobs for Introverts. Such tasks can drive Extraverts crazy, but Introverts are often more than happy to fill that niche. The more they are left alone to do things, the more grateful they often are.
- Introverts likely waste less time with small talk, gossip, politics, and other workplace diversions. It’s true. Some of these things help build cohesion and camaraderie in the workplace. There can be some benefit. But it can also waste a lot of time when there’s too much gabbing without a concretely productive purpose. Introverted personality types are less likely to engage in these things; therefore, when socializing does become excessive, they are more likely to be working.
- Introverts skip a beat before responding. Introverts do not like to respond to things before they’ve had a chance to consider them. This may prevent rash decisions and ill-considered reactions. A more thoughtful response is likely.
- Introverts often make great leaders who encourage their more proactive followers. Research shows that Extraverted leaders sometimes compete with their more proactive employees. Extraverted leaders often need to put their own spin on things, which may halt their more ambitious followers in their tracks. Not needing the spotlight on themselves quite as much, Introverted leaders are more likely to support independent and eager workers.
To state the obvious, if you’re an Introvert, you’re not an Extravert – nor do you need to be to succeed. Occasionally, it might be to your advantage to act a little more like an Extraverted personality. Broadening one’s comfort zone is often useful. But your primary gifts may well be found in your Introversion, and there are always ways to parlay those into making a greater impact at work.
Challenge: Grab something to write on – an old envelope or a napkin will do. Write down the five or more things you know you bring to the job as an Introvert. Don’t overthink it. You know you. Just write the five or more resources you offer at work. (And, if you feel like sharing them, there’s always the comment section below.)
A Quiet Force to Be Reckoned With
So, how does an Introvert make an impact without feeling like they need to be someone else? Pretending to be someone you’re not is exhausting. It can take a lot of work to keep a facade in place. (We’ll discuss that as an option below.) But there may be no need to when success can be achieved by using the qualities that define your personality already.
Let’s look at a few things to consider when thinking about making more of an impact at work.
At first, this may not seem like it has much to do with having an impact. It’s possible to be consistent and still blend into the wallpaper. Consistency might even make it more likely that you’ll disappear like a sound that people become accustomed to in the background. But it can also set a strong foundation for all the ideas that follow. The concept is not flashy, but it is important.
Most have probably experienced the person at work who seems to have occasional and irregular bursts of enthusiasm…only to have their excitement wane from burnout or boredom. The daily unspoken question might be, “Is this person ‘on’ or ‘off’ today?” If you seriously hope to make an impact, don’t be that person.
Consider the colleague whose name always comes up when a certain task needs accomplishing because they’re so dependable. That name may not always be up in lights, but it’s reliably present. Explosions can be exciting in the moment, but a steady flow of water can create deep and beautiful canyons that are around for a long time and extend over a long distance.
Be someone who turns in work on time and well done. Be someone on whom others can count. Start by building a reputation. What is a reputation besides how others see you? In other words, it contributes to having a presence. And while that may not necessarily be active “self-promotion,” it’s an essential step in the right direction. It’s much easier to sell yourself if what you’re selling has substance.
While this may not be an option for all types of work, your work might speak for you where you’re less inclined to speak for yourself. Go bold, when possible.
Find some way for your work to separate you from the pack. You might find a novel approach to a problem or technique. Going the extra mile is also a great way to stand out. Deliver more than is expected. Let your deeds speak for you and help you shine. Your outstanding results could make the coworker who too often wins the day with nothing more than their animated personality look like yesterday’s news. (Not that we’re being competitive.)
Expand your comfort zone.
At least a little. Again, the goal is not to become an Extravert or even pretend to be one. Still, it’s useful to see and be seen in the workplace. If your job permits, set a quota for getting out of your chair or office and taking a stroll around the workplace just to say, “Hi.” If people rarely see you, it’s less likely they’ll connect you to your work and your abilities. Once a month, ask a colleague you don’t know well out to lunch. Set goals and quotas that encourage you to be just a little more outgoing. You don’t have to be a lot more. Just some. Be seen – even a little.
Join things. Introverted personalities are not joiners by nature but, where you can, project some social positivity. For visibility’s sake, it might not hurt to be on a committee or two or help throw a baby shower or retirement party for someone. Smile, shake hands, laugh at a joke...cast good humor and an upbeat attitude rather than allowing others to fill in the blanks in ways that leave them thinking of you as a brooding loner. Image and social exposure aren’t everything…but they’re something.
While an open-plan office can be many an Introverts’ nightmare scenario, if used wisely, it can work to their advantage. It prevents hiding in a corner no matter how badly one wants to. Just be sure to find a solitary place to retreat to occasionally throughout the day, if you can. Recharging periodically can be vital.
It’s often an erroneous stereotype to say that Introverted personalities have no people skills. But it’s also possible that some Introverts haven’t practiced them enough to be good at them. If that’s the case for you, work on your people skills. As a bonus, Introverts who are socially gracious can be a special kind of endearing.
Be assertive about your preferred style of interacting with others.
Obviously, having leeway in your communication style may have a lot to do with where you work and what you do for a living – so all of this is prefaced with “when possible.” Your boss may decide how you interact on the job, and your only choice may be to adapt. But when you can, try to communicate in ways strongest for you. You’re likely to feel more confident and thoughtful if you do. Where possible, you want others on your metaphorical home turf. Or, at least, mix your communication style up enough that you’re not always on theirs.
For example, Introverts aren’t always comfortable responding to remarks, ideas, and suggestions on the spot. They’re much more comfortable thinking alone and in an unhurried fashion than they are thinking out loud. When you’re called upon to respond, show interest – and try to create a brief delay if you need one. Offer to get back to the person as soon as possible. (And make sure you do.) Some may even be flattered that you’re taking them so seriously that you feel you must dedicate a few moments of your valuable time to reflect on what they said.
Introverted personalities often prefer things in writing so they can take their time to ingest and consider the information. There’s nothing wrong with saying things like, “Interesting idea. Would you mind putting that in a short memo so we can memorialize it exactly as you present it?” Then, respond as promptly as is comfortably possible – in writing if you can.
This is not intended to make you pushy or to make Extraverts act more like Introverts, but to build in some flexibility. Always look for an opportunity to ask for your preferred method or style of communication. The idea is to come from a natural position of strength as much as you can. Being strong and confident can only help your image and increase your impact.
Don’t self-promote. Instead, build meaningful work relationships.
Yes, the phrase “self-promotion” has been used above. But maybe you want to throw away the idea of self-promotion altogether. It’s certainly an option, and that’s likely not you, anyway. You probably can’t see yourself glad-handing at a networking conference or giving a canned elevator speech. (That isn’t to say we aren’t better people when we try to stretch our comfort zones, but this is about playing to your strengths.)
But just because you aren’t gregarious and don’t need to connect with people constantly doesn’t mean you aren’t interested in others and in building relationships. In that arena, Introverts often go for quality over quantity. So, shift the self-promotion paradigm. Think about making an impact in terms of building meaningful and genuine work relationships. And, when you think about this, emphasize meaningful and genuine. This is where you’re more likely to shine.
If you do a good job, are trustworthy, and build good and honest relationships, you won’t need to self-promote in uncomfortable ways as much. Those with whom you have a solid work relationship will more than likely be happy to draw attention to your outstanding work.
A Word on Acting “As If”
Many times, advisors will suggest acting “as if” to fit in better at work. But the popular strategy of “faking it until you make it” can be a complex issue. There are special considerations, positive and negative, for this concept when it’s part of a discussion that includes personality traits. There are jobs where acting like a stereotypical Extravert is essential to success: sales, entertaining, telephone support, podcast host, and on and on. This doesn’t mean jobs like these are off-limits to Introverts. You just may have to step outside of your comfort zone on a more regular basis.
Sometimes acting more like an Extravert may be helpful when navigating a career. You might reframe your job as an acting job, whether it’s in the theater or not. Just as an actor puts on makeup and a costume and assumes another personality, you can play the Extravert whenever you walk through the doors at work. Some might argue that such an exercise can promote the balance that can be crucial for living a healthy life. Acting more Extraverted might even bring interesting new angles into your Introverted life.
Please note that we keep using the phrase “more like an Extravert.” It’s very unlikely for someone to be 100% Introverted or 100% Extraverted. Introversion and Extraversion are usually a matter of degrees on a personality continuum. To get a better idea where you fall on that continuum, try the NERIS Trait Scholar tool. Introverts may very well have some “natural” Extraverted qualities that they can use at work. For some Introverts who are toward the middle of the continuum, acting “as if” may mean just upping one’s Extraverted game rather than creating one out of whole cloth.
However, let’s look at a few reasons you may not want to work where you must play a role.
Acting can be exhausting.
Holding up a facade of any kind can be hard work. But it’s especially taxing if you’re an Introvert playing a more Extraverted part. Extraverted personality types thrive on everything that drains Introverts of energy. Now, as an Introvert, try doing those things for 30 or 40 hours a week – it can wear a person out.
How sustainable is such a strategy? It may well depend on the Introvert and the support scaffolding around them. Is there some kind of oasis at work where you can find the quiet solitude you need even for a few minutes out of the day?
Not playing to strengths.
Remember those hidden treasures that Introverts bring to the workplace, which we discussed above? If you act too much like an Extravert, how many of those advantages do you lose or weaken at work?
Depending on the job, that might be fine. You may not need those Introverted strengths. But think hard before you bury your natural assets below strengths that are artificial for you. There’s nothing wrong with however you choose to play it, as long as it’s honest and with integrity. But consider all the implications and think about your satisfaction level – and the potential for a rewarding work life.
Some personality types (many Diplomats, for example) see being genuine as highly desirable. It can be the primary quality they use to measure their self-esteem and self-respect. If being genuine is an insistent part of your character, then constantly acting “as if” can slowly erode how you regard yourself. Some people are better at separating how they act at work from how they act during the rest of their lives. If you can’t compartmentalize the parts of your personality like that, you may consider thinking twice about an “as if” strategy.
Sometimes it may be beneficial to stretch one’s acting chops and take on more of the Extravert’s characteristics. But it’s an individual decision and may or may not have significant implications, depending on the actor. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with being an Introvert in an Extraverted culture. And there’s nothing wrong with adapting when it’s necessary for getting by in life. In fact, it’s probably essential at times. Sometimes, it’s not so much how you choose to do something, but how you maintain a sense of self while you’re doing it.
So, Go Make an Impact – If You Want To
When all is said and done, you may decide that making an impact and gathering the rewards of doing so are not even important to you. It’s your life and your career, and if you’re happy and getting your needs met, you’ve obviously found your preferred path. On some level, there’s no wrong path to success because you define what that means for you. We only offer these considerations to help you make better decisions about who you want (or need) to be in the workplace.
But if having an influential presence is important to you, make sure you accurately define yourself instead of letting someone else do it. Be seen and heard, at least in small doses – and more if that works for you. Steer your life’s work in the direction you would like it to go.
And always remember that you don’t have to be an Extravert to make a difference.
Challenge: If making an impact is important to you, it may help to create a personal mission statement that includes strategies you’ll implement to become an influencer at work. Consider writing that down now. (We always enjoy hearing your ideas in the comment section below.)
What will you, an Introvert, do to make a greater impact at work? Who and what do you want to influence? And what have you already done that has worked? Let us know in the comment section below!