By Megan McClure
An intrepid group of introverts braved a packed room at the recent Legislative Summit in Nashville.
Host state librarian Eddie Weeks, along with fellow librarians Betsy Haugen of Minnesota and Catherine Wusterhausen of Texas, were joined by Matt Gehring of the Minnesota House Research Department to speak about being and working with introverts in the legislature.
Their message? It can be hard for introverts to bring ideas to the table when they’d prefer to hide under the table. But introverts can learn ways of presenting ideas—and managers can learn how to incorporate introverts into the office culture—without too much stress on all involved.
Each speaker offered their experiences as introverts working in the legislature, as well as research and data to back up their tips and tricks. Some highlights from the presentations:
What is an introvert?
- Introversion is a personality trait. An introvert is someone who prefers calm, minimally stimulating environments and tends to feel drained after socializing, regaining energy by spending time alone. Extroverts respond more strongly to external stimuli, while introverts tend to respond to calmer environments.
- Introverts can and do enjoy socializing, but tend to find it tiring; the more intense the experience, the more drained they feel.
- Introverts need time to think before they talk to process their thoughts before contributing.
What isn’t an introvert?
Introversion is not the same as anxiety or shyness. Introversion can cause anxiety in an environment where there is a high value placed on behavior associated with extroversion.
It’s a continuum.
It's important to remember that personality traits exist on a continuum; some people will naturally tend more toward one extreme than the other. People in the middle are sometimes referred to as "ambiverts," who may be more variable in their needs and reactions.
Tips for introverts
- Find the right job for you: If you are absolutely miserable in your job, do yourself and your co-workers a favor and look for something else. But if you enjoy most of your job, talk with your boss about your needs at work as an introvert.
- When it comes to networking, don’t over-commit. Set realistic goals and expectations for yourself and do your best to meet those, and not someone else's, expectations.
- Do what you do well: Introverts are persistent, diligent and focused on our work. Embrace your strengths and do what you do well.
Tips for managers
- Open floor plans are hell for introverts who need their own space they can control.
- Provide agendas before meetings.
- Provide written input, feedback and recognition rather than offering it publicly.
Introverts working with extroverts
- An extroverted boss may fail to appreciate the strengths of more introverted employees and pressure introverts to conform in ways that create stress and hurt employee performance. By the same token, extroverts may fail to thrive in a workplace designed around the preferences of an introverted boss and may feel stifled or even bored.
- The key to avoiding misunderstandings about the meaning behind someone’s behavior is to tackle the assumptions you're applying to the other person's behavior and to help them understand your perspective. Really challenge your assumptions about other's motivations and identify specific solutions to a situation that's interfering with your work.
Coping strategies for introverts
- Create an extrovert persona: “That's the professional version of me, and then there's the guy who wants to sit alone in his office and do research all day,” one speaker said.
- Carry a talisman: Carry some sort of token, totem or power object with you. “Xena Warrior Princess, Wonder Woman, Superman, whatever inspires you,” said another.
- Use humor: While humor draws attention rather than diverting it, the audience is paying attention to the humor, they're not paying attention to the presenter.
- Plan it out and practice: The main way of coping with the stress of presenting or just dealing with your day is preparation.
Communication between extroverts and introverts
- Resist the temptation of an “us” vs. “them” office culture.
- Make sure to include introvert-friendly team building.
How to stand out at work
- Use your strengths: Do what you do best. Research and prepare. Find out the agenda or focus of the meeting ahead of time and bring notes or an outline for what you want to contribute.
- The “can I get back to you?” gambit: If you feel put on the spot to speak and you’re not ready to offer an opinion, it’s OK to say, “I need to think that over. Can I get back to you?” Then write a brilliant email later.
- The early bird approach: Talk early, not often. By speaking up early in the meeting you get it out of the way and that can take the pressure off. And being sparing in your comments can add weight to them.
- Volunteer: Don’t wait to be assigned things. Offer to take on projects that fit your inclinations and strengths.
- Communicate your goals: Express your needs and goals to your boss. You won’t be able to succeed if the person in charge has no idea what you want to accomplish.
Introvert’s Perilous Plight—Bibliography
Megan McClure is a senior staff assistant in NCSL's Legislative Staff Services Program.