“It’s always the quiet ones!”
It was meant as a joke, but it bothered me throughout the rest of my workday, on my route back home, and into my evening routine. Like many other quieter folks, I felt dismissed because I wasn’t the biggest personality in the office. Oh, and as a side note: pointing out how quiet someone is will never get us to talk more.
I like to call myself an “extroverted introvert” — although ambivert might be a better term — because over the years, I have forced myself to be more outgoing. I genuinely like being social, but I still prefer singles tennis as a sport and cherish my alone time. While I can embrace and accept my introversion, corporate America often doesn’t.
Extroverts are more than 25% more likely to land top jobs. If you’re an outspoken people person, the odds are in your favor...or maybe, they were. The pandemic changed the landscape of the office, and many people are trying to figure out how to better make room for everyone at the metaphorical table. Through my job at Barefoot, I recently attended a session on the Introversion-Extroversion spectrum hosted by UNLRN, a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training company dedicated to making the world a more equitable place. Here are a few tips I found helpful for those of us skewing introverted:
Recognize that valuing extroverts is typically a Western concept. I can’t count how many times my mom told me “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” growing up. Elsewhere in the world, the phrase is “the loudest duck gets shot.” Both have varying degrees of wisdom.
Let people know when you need space and time to yourself, especially between meetings, even if it’s just five or ten minutes.
Prepare for meetings to feel more comfortable speaking up, whether that’s reading a brief or doing some research beforehand. Try chiming in during the first ten minutes, otherwise you might convince yourself not to chime in at all.
A good question is just as valuable as an opinion. If you need some time to process, asking follow-up questions is okay too.
Bonus tip for our extroverted coworkers: DON’T rush to fill in pauses! Not every silence needs to be filled immediately, and your quieter colleagues will be grateful you made space for them to contribute.
Another frequently referenced resource during the workshop was Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain, which is officially on my to-read list. Aside from a few practical tips, simply hearing just how many other workplace professionals identified as introverted reminded me that I wasn’t alone. And if you’re a fellow introvert, you’re not alone either.