By Laurie Davies
Being a team player seems like the holy grail of job requirements. So, in a world that seems to prize those who think out loud, effervesce with self-confidence and volunteer quickly (practically impulsively) for assignments, what’s an introvert to do?
The short answer: Bring your strengths to the table. (Even if you’d rather not sit there with the group for very long.) Introverts are known for their independence and, thanks to all that contemplation and reflection, for bringing terrific ideas to projects. Here’s how to share them.
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“Unfortunately, in the typical work environment, the expectation is to kind of operate like you’re an extrovert — to socialize, share ideas on the spot, to say yes to anything that needs to be done without hesitation,” says Vanessa Patton-Scott, EdD, LCPC, a member of the Counseling core faculty at University of Phoenix. “But just because someone is introverted doesn’t mean they’re not collaborative. They just need time and space to do it their way.”
A self-described introvert, Patton-Scott offers her top tips to help introverts win at the team-player game.
If a marketing ad campaign, sales goal strategy or other kind of group project is in the works, your instinct might be to hang in the background because, let’s face it, introverts don’t need or want attention and often feel tired after being in a crowd. (In fact, you might get annoyed that extroverts’ popcorn answers make meetings drag on longer than they need to.)
Be your own best advocate and participate by saying something like:
These responses show you’re engaged while allowing you to reply to the group via email (which is likely your preference anyway).
Introverts tend to be dedicated researchers, project planners and independent workers. So, if a deep dive into analytics or some other independent project is necessary before the team can move forward, take it on. The idea is to take ownership of an independent piece of the interdependent project. That way you’ll get to work on your own while contributing toward team success.
If that option isn’t available to you, a one-to-one piece of the project might be a next-best option. Introverts tend to work more productively alongside one colleague rather than with a large group.
Since introverts are also very good listeners and often absorb information well, you can help keep the group on track and on task from meeting to meeting. Volunteer to keep a written summary of progress and email the team with responsibilities and updates. It’s a triple win: You’ll have a high-visibility role helping the team stay on target — and you can do it from the comfort and quiet of your office or cubicle.
Let your team members know that you never want to be standoffish but that you do your best work when you have time to reflect on a topic and think in a quiet setting. Let them know that you’re a great listener and that you’ve taken in their ideas.
It may even benefit you to explain to key team members that it’s not that you don’t want to support your team, it’s just that too much time in a team setting robs you of the productivity you bring to the table. This may be a euphemism for feeling overwhelmed, but see how framing it in a more positive way can work in your favor?
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This can mean anything from preparing notes before a meeting to showing up before anyone else to contributing during the meeting with an idea first (because once all the ideas start piling up, that can mean overstimulation, and then you might be less inclined to contribute). The idea here is to limit surprises and to push yourself outside your comfort zone.
Take notes during your meeting, both to demonstrate your engagement and to help you process the meeting later. In quiet. When you do your best work.
“I write everything down, which allows me to have time to consider how I might contribute later to the ongoing discussion,” Patton-Scott says.
While extroverts are energized by group settings and may want to carry the vibe into a group lunch, introverts may feel drained.
“That’s OK,” Patton-Scott says. “Find a quiet space where you can calm your nervous system down a little bit. Listen to music. Meditate. Recharging is important — you can get back to feeling peace and get on to the next event.”
In the end, group dynamics are part of the deal in many workplaces. “You can have someone who is very productive in their job, but if, in general, their colleagues don’t think they can connect with that person, then their engagement gets called into question,” Patton-Scott says.
So, by all means, bring your best to the table. And realize that, yes, in some cases, you may have to “play by the rules” that seem rigged toward extroverts’ strengths. But if you can flash your strengths in a way that allows you to work independently and on your timetable, you may ultimately save those group projects — and your sanity.
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