Office Politics for Introverts

Last Updated Dec 3, 2009 7:45 AM EST

How to Be an Introvert at WorkBusiness, like many high schools, is set up to favor extroverts. But tooting your own horn, networking and pitching ideas can be painful for those not naturally inclined to be outgoing, so should the quieter folks among us just give up and become librarians or monks? Certainly not, argues controversial blogger Penelope Trunk. Introverts just need strategies to turn the realities of office life in their favor.
In a post that reveals a real fascination with Myers-Briggs personality types that may not be shared by the world at large, Trunk lays out some useful tips for the introvert with business ambitions, many of them based on the work of Laurie Helgoe, a psychologist and the author of Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength. Among her suggestions:
  • Work in the world of ideas. Introverts generally love to talk about ideas, according to Helgoe. She says that in conversation, introverts are stronger if you talk about "what are you thinking?" instead of "what are you doing?"
  • Give ten minutes and then go. Helgoe says extroverts often have anxiety that they cannot get access to the introverts in their life â€" because they are always leaving to be alone. Introverts can alleviate this problem by being fully attentive for a short time, and then leave.
  • Have confidence in your self-knowledge. Self-knowledge will help you to put yourself in situations where you'll have the most positive impact. For example, Helgoe has a great chapter in how to get out of going to a party â€" a key skill for an introvert, who does better in very small groups. But the bottom line is that you have to say that you'd rather be alone, which, Helgoe points out, "requires a real grounding in who you are."
  • Teach other people to interact with you. A lot of the conflict [co-worker] Ryan Healy and I used to have is that I had no idea how to communicate with an introvert. The biggest difference is that I think out loud, so I never stop talking to think. Ryan thinks and then talks. But if I never shut up, he can't actually think long enough to have a response. He did a bunch of research about communication styles and he taught me this difference between us. It helped me a lot to make space so that we could have a productive conversation.
While Trunk's tips could make life easier for introverts, is the burden on quietest among us to adapt to the talkers? Should extroverts do more to make office life easier on the introvert? Certainly, answers Trunk and advises extroverts to, "stop assuming everyone is like you, and start tailoring conversation to introverts when it's appropriate."

Want to know what Trunk is talking about when she goes on about ENTJs and INTJs? Here's a quick internet inventory to give you idea of what Myers-Briggs personality type you are. No doubt it's far less accurate than a full assessment, but it only takes a few minutes and should give you taste of where you'd fall on the personality spectrum.

(Image of shy T-shirt by RobotSkirt, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.