It’s not that you don’t like people—it’s just that you like them a lot more when you don’t have to talk to them. Or maybe you do enjoy engaging sometimes…until your social battery suddenly drains and you find yourself floundering for words. Perhaps you’re comfortable talking to someone one on one, but struggle to socialize in large groups or unfamiliar situations.|
Psychology Today defines introversion as "a basic personality style characterized by a preference for subdued and solitary experiences." On the other end of the continuum are extroverts, who thrive on interactions with others. If you’re an introvert, it probably seems like you’re often surrounded by extroverts—not just at parties and gatherings, but also at places that are part of your daily routine.
If you’re on the reserved side or tend to keep to yourself, the office can sometimes be a daunting and draining place. From group lunches to team-building activities to random encounters in the kitchenette, the near-constant social situations can sometimes be overwhelming and exhausting for an introvert. While you might be tempted to hide out in your cubicle to avoid chance run-ins, you’d be missing the opportunity to form valuable working relationships that could make your job more rewarding and fulfilling.
By extending yourself and making just a little extra effort, you can adapt to a social work environment while retaining at least some degree of energy and sanity.
Say yes now and then.
There are some situations when it pays off to push outside your comfort zone. If a co-worker invites you to a birthday lunch with your immediate team, for example, it probably makes sense to accept if your schedule permits, even if every cell in your body is screaming for you to decline. And you don’t have to accept every time—for every "yes," you’ve bought yourself a few guilt-free "nos."
Duck out early as needed.
Simply showing up to a social work function is a big accomplishment for an introverted person. Stay for as long as you feel comfortable, and then when your energy starts to lag, graciously bow out. Chances are no one will notice how long you stayed—but they will surely remember that you came in the first place.
Take credit where credit is due.
Introverts tend to shy away from any kind of attention or recognition, even if it’s warranted. But this type of inherent modesty could prevent you from receiving the appreciation and respect you deserve from your supervisors and colleagues. If you’ve accomplished something noteworthy at work, feel free to share it with others (in a tactful way, of course), so your boss knows how hard you’ve been working. And when you’re confident in a particular topic, sharing your knowledge with co-workers can be an easy way to interact.
Plan an outing yourself.
If you’re an introvert, it probably seems like you spend much of your energy attempting to avoid social encounters and hoping for cancellations of the ones you’ve agreed to attend. But if you take the initiative to plan the work outing yourself, you might find that you don’t dread it quite as much, if at all. This is because introverts generally feel calmer when they have control over their social interactions. If you send the invitations, choose the activity and plan other details, you’ll know exactly what to expect and will feel a stronger sense of inclusion at the event.
Start a healthy lunch club.
If you find yourself eating at your desk every day and avoiding invitations to go out to lunch, consider starting a healthy lunch club at work. Not only will you spend less time prepping and packing meals, you’ll also have a built-in icebreaker for socializing with co-workers. The group can meet in a conference room, break room or even outside to enjoy a fresh, healthy meal, share recipes and get to know each other better outside the context of emails and meetings.
Suggest a team project.
You may find it easier to interact with others in a work-related setting, where each person has a specific task assigned to them. This way, there won’t be as much pressure to make conversation, but you’ll still reap the benefits of collaborating with your colleagues. Pitch some ideas for a group project to your supervisor; chances are you’ll get some extra brownie points for showing initiative.
Schedule strategic breaks throughout the day.
This may seem counterintuitive, but introverts should carve out periods of time when they can be alone in a quiet space to regroup and process the events of the day. These mini-breaks will give you the mental energy you need to re-enter the fray, have meaningful interactions with co-workers and work more productively.
This one might go without saying, but regardless of how shy or reserved you might be, a little kindness goes a long way toward connecting with others. By showing appreciation when someone helps with something, congratulating others on their accomplishments, expressing interest in people’s lives and even just smiling and saying hello on a regular basis, you’ll likely notice a greater sense of camaraderie at work—without even having to say much at all.
You don’t have to be an extrovert to build healthy relationships at work. By incorporating some of these relatively easy strategies, you may find it easier to connect with your colleagues, which could ultimately help boost your career. Plus, you may be surprised to find that you actually enjoy the social side of the workplace (although maybe not quite as much as you enjoy recharging at home afterward).