Introverting in the workplace

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This morning I was reading a blog post about introversion in social situations that really resonated with me. It reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write my own blog post about introversion, but from a different perspective, that of the workplace. I can really relate to this quote: “I do my best work when I am in an environment that allows me to have some time for reflection.”

introvert

(Image via interactioninstitute.org)

Some say it’s become trendy to be an introvert, with more public attention being devoted to this personality type. I say, the more the merrier. It’s a good thing when people become more self-aware and it’s also educational for non-introverts to realize that not everyone goes through the world in the same manner. It takes all kinds.

I’ve heard people say that the 30s are magic years. By the time you get into your thirties, you tend to have a better idea of who you are, what works for you (and doesn’t), and what you want out of life. As I get closer to that age, I’ve definitely found that to be true. I’m more comfortable with myself, which includes being more in tune with how I function in the workplace and what I need to be successful. Here are some of the thoughts I’ve had swimming around in my head as of late:

  1. Speaking out – I’ve really appreciated the encouragement I’ve received about reflective practice in my current position. Keeping a work journal and this blog allows me to process in writing some of what I’m internally working through. But when it comes to sharing things publicly, I tend to be more inhibited about that. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s okay to share half-thoughts and leave it at, “This is an idea I had” or “This is what I have so far.” I also have come to realize that the ability to think through things and offer different perspectives is not only valuable, but a sought after skill.
  2. Flexibility –  I’m a perfectionist. And an over-analyzer. And I get fidgety at desks. I also don’t really like long periods of screen time, unless I’m researching or writing. When I first switched from teaching to librarianship, I did some time in the archives, working on digital projects. I quickly realized that it was not for me. While my attention to detail provided an opportunity to thrive, my need for kinetic stimulation had me dying so many inner deaths, I couldn’t concentrate for long periods of time. While teaching, I was used to never sitting around, always being up and down, on the floor with my kids, reading books in dramatic voices. The office environment seemed flat by comparison. I quickly learned that I needed to:  A: Balance not sitting at computers for long periods of time with getting things done; B. Provide variety in my project load and interaction with others; and C. Look for opportunities to be creative on the job.
  3. Heat maps – Not all introverts are alike. Some are very, very reserved. Others are kind of reserved. Some may seem lacking in reserve completely! I tend to think of my outgoing-ness like a heat map. When I have things to say and something to contribute, I speak up and my personality is more obvious for that moment. The spot on the map grows. When I’m done sharing my words or myself, I dial back and become what some might term as “small” again. I go back into my reserved box, where I get to think my thoughts, work on projects, and process things uninterrupted. And the cycle continues.
  4. Holding space – Speaking of, I feel I’m incredibly lucky to be surrounded by people who are not only okay with that, but are supportive of my work style and the skills I bring to the table. Working with a team of librarians who are vastly different in personality, but are willing to hold space for each other is awesome. I spent a lot of my undergrad years in environments where I was encouraged to take chances and step outside my box, which is fine. We all need some of that. But it can be intensely uncomfortable, painful even, to be constantly pushed to be something you’re not. I appreciate having a more balanced experience as a working adult. Otherwise, I’d probably spend all of my free time in a dark room. 🙂
  5. Introvert teacher – I think I’ve mentioned my undergraduate degree was in education; I worked in the school system briefly, before transitioning to academic librarianship. One of the things I noticed during my teaching time, both in elementary grades and last semester while teaching undergrads, is that while I love teaching, I can only do it when I have adequate down time. Last semester, I arranged my work schedule, so that I had an hour to go home and be by myself before I had to go teach class at my adjunct position, even if I just spent that time going over my class schedule or listening to music. With my elementary teaching job, I typically arrived early and either sat in the teacher’s lounge, or would take the long, scenic route to work to give myself a chance to center and mentally prep. The opportunity to recharge before and after class is a necessary thing, I think. Even if that takes the form of a weekend free of social obligations, before or after a hectic week.
  6. Being honest – Because I tend to think a lot and process responses over time, I’m one of those people who will return to a conversation long after it’s over. (i.e. “Okay, now I’m ready to discuss!”) There have been times where I’ve been asked for feedback in the moment and I’ve said something to the effect of, “I don’t have anything right now, but if you’ll give me a chance to think about it, I can get back to you later.” Or, “I don’t have any questions right now. But let me process this and then I can get back to you with questions later.” I find that works better than just: Person: Do you have any questions? Me: Nope.

In conclusion, one must “know yourself to improve yourself.” (Auguste Comte)

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About A. M.

Information professional focusing on academic librarianship through a critical lens. Research interests include education and multiliteracies, critical race theory, gender studies, and African American studies. I am currently employed as an academic librarian. I am also a family genealogist in the process of uncovering the people and places behind my ancestry. I enjoy digging up new facts, reading, and writing in my free time. My opinions and thoughts are my own.

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