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Workplace Introversion: Does being quiet affect career progression?

Throughout most of my career, I have been held back by my introversion. Contrary to popular misconception, introverts don’t hate being around other people entirely. For the most part, I enjoy working in an office, surrounded by my friends and colleagues. I even enjoy the occasional social gathering with colleagues.


However, when it comes to my day-to-day working life, my introverted self will show. I do not speak up often in team meetings, even if I have a good idea. I do not willingly volunteer for group work or to lead a project. I prefer to work alone to get an important piece of work done with my headphones on, focused only on the task at hand. I might only attend one out of three social events.


My extroverted colleagues are popular. They speak up in meetings, even if their ideas aren’t brilliant. Yet they are praised for it, and rightly so. They contribute. They make people feel good. They make newcomers feel welcome and they make managers feel like their work is in capable hands.

Office life seems to be built around extroverted people. Collaborative workspaces, team meetings, icebreakers, networking, and open-plan offices… it is designed for us to socialise and build relationships. This is great news for extroverts, but not so much for the others who prefer a quieter pace of life.


As my career progressed and I moved into more senior roles, I found my introversion becoming a problem. Suddenly, I was struggling to get promoted, or being told that I needed to contribute more, or that I was coming across as disinterested. I was told that I was too quiet and didn’t leave much of an impression on others. The quality of my work was irrelevant because it was how I came across to other people that mattered. After much introspection about why I was developing a negative reputation despite consistently providing the same quality work, I identified the problem.

My introversion was holding me back.

I wanted to find a way to keep up my good reputation and enjoy being in a social environment without changing my personality at work. Nothing is more exhausting than pretending to be somebody you aren’t for nine hours a day, five days a week, and why should anyone feel the need to change themselves for their job? Instead, I opted for different tactics, some of which I will discuss in today’s article.


Educating others on what it means to be an introvert

In job interviews when people would ask me what my greatest weakness was, I would tell them it was my shyness. Nowadays, I have stopped thinking of my introversion as a weakness. Instead, I try to educate people on what it means to be an introvert. Whenever I have a new manager, I tell them that I am a quiet person and prefer to work alone. I tell them I am not unhappy to be part of a team, but that I am uncomfortable in certain situations such as teambuilding exercises in large groups, and that back-to-back meetings for eight hours will drain my energy something fierce. An experienced manager should know how to look after all types of people and should understand the individual differences that make a person great. Unfortunately, not all of them do.


If you’re also a manager, it’s important to engage with your team and find out their working preferences. Introverts make wonderful managers, as we know the struggle of working in an extroverted world and can empathise with our introverted team members. Find out what your team does and doesn’t like about your work environment and help to build a space that makes them comfortable too. Focus on the quality of their work, and identify when the quality may suffer as a result of their environment.

Speak up about what makes you uncomfortable

Speak up? As an introvert? Yes, it sounds counterproductive. However, speaking up just a few times can be beneficial. In my most recent workplace, the newly appointed director was eager to build up team relationships after years of working from home, and their plan involved away days, nights out, and putting people on the spot during meetings to tell everyone a fun fact about themselves.

During a one-on-one meeting with them, I advised that not everybody is comfortable with this, and the chances are that the introverted team members will avoid the away days, and then feel isolated. I suggested alternatives, such as asking everyone in the team to write a one-slide profile about themselves that everyone else can view on their own time. That way, the team can get to know each other without a spotlight on any one person. If your management is not experienced with introverts, they will only learn with feedback, and if they don’t learn, the introverts will become more isolated and less likely to progress in their careers.

Ask yourself: Are you in the right job?

There is always the possibility that the career you are in is not introvert-friendly and never will be. It doesn’t necessarily relate to the number of people you talk to, either. I enjoy jobs where I work directly with members of the public, which might sound like an introvert’s nightmare, but it’s the one-on-one communication that I enjoy as opposed to working with large groups. If you’re having to deliver presentations to fifty people every day and spend every other working minute in meetings, then perhaps your career isn’t aligned with your personality.

Take the time to think about what motivates you at work, what gives you energy, and what inspires you. If your heart isn’t in it, then this may explain why you haven’t progressed as much as you’d like.


When it comes down to it, introverts can sometimes struggle with career progression. It often feels like the entire world is built for extroverts. If left in an environment that makes us uncomfortable, we tend to withdraw, isolate ourselves and shy away from confrontation. Because of this, others may perceive us as aloof, unfriendly, or unwilling to engage in teamwork. By communicating clearly about our preferences and sharing knowledge on introversion, we can showcase our true skills and ensure we do not miss out on the progression that we deserve. I recommend Susan Cain’s book, "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" for further insight into how we as introverts can find our comfort in an extroverted world.



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