Introvert in the Workplace

Sometimes it’s tough to be an introvert in my field. As a marketer and a freelancer, I am constantly interfacing with people and I’m often dealing with complicated client relationships. These can be tough to navigate for a “normal” person, but for someone with higher levels of introversion they can be so trying it’s tempting to give up, call it quits and hide under the covers away from the rest of the world for a while.

Before I get into why, let me go through a common misconception about introverts and extroverts. Many people think that introversion and extroversion equate to a person’s level of social adjustment (i.e. introverts are antisocial, while extroverts are the life of the party). In reality, it’s all about how you expend and rebuild your energy levels. Introverts aren’t antisocial, they just expend much more energy in large social settings, and need to “recharge” with alone time.

Some introverts (like me) are also extremely critical and assess everything. Seriously, I will ponder why someone used a particular word in a conversation for hours afterward, even though I know that logically they probably did not put as much thought into their word choice as I am dissecting it. For some of us, this also means that we over analyze criticism as well – constructive and otherwise – making us more vulnerable to it. I know that my work isn’t always perfect but it stings every time I get an edit – big or small.

If you’re an introvert, you probably already understand my struggles. If you’re not – let me help you.

Marketing, though driven by strategy and research, is pretty subjective. You can take a myriad of approaches to communication (message and medium), and all of them have some sort of associated risk. I mostly work with small businesses, so there’s high pressure to maximize marketing potential with a limited budget but there’s also high risk of failing.

Why? Lots of reasons – misinformation, targeting the wrong audience, using the wrong platform to engage the right audience, etc. Depending on the assignment, I may or may not have the ability to foresee and correct these issues. (i.e. if my job is to write copy for a website and the client tells me their target audience is young professionals even though 75% of their current clientele is over 60, there’s not much I can do without knowing the whole story).

The Struggles Are Real

Building a freelance business requires reaching out to people. Cold calling is my worst nightmare; there’s not much I can do to prepare for reaching out to a potential client outside of researching their website and stalking them on LinkedIn. Part of my introversion is an aversion to meeting new people and doing new things alone – I always try to bring someone else along for a first time event, not always an option for a freelancer flying solo.

As a freelancer, you handle ALL the client interaction. At my day job, I have project managers and principals that act as the main point of contact for our clients. I’m a secondary contact, after a warm introduction, and most of my communication happens over the phone or through email. As a freelancer, I am the owner, project manager, and accountant; I handle all of the communication (good, bad and ugly).

If someone asks for a group critique, it feels like being on trial for witchcraft in old Salem.

All edits are critical, and varying degrees of distressing. Did I miss a comma somewhere on a first draft? That’s not just embarrassing, it’s a cause for hours of agonizing over what else I might have missed. Does someone disagree with my strategy or approach? That’s enough to make me bristle, especially when it was well researched or previously discussed and/or approved. And if someone asks for a group critique? It feels like I’m on trial for witchcraft in old Salem.

What You Can do as an Introvert

Figure out what you need to feel prepared to reach out to someone. I’ve realized that while I like to jump straight into business, others need common ground first (especially those cold calls). I try to keep this common ground related to business, but not so “on the nose” – I’ll mention that I know the community/market or understand their challenges (if I do) to help us both feel more comfortable.

Recharge first, act later. For me, all client comments seem to warrant an immediate response – I want them to know I’m solving their problem, or that I disagree with them. Criticisms usually drive me to action right away, but lately I’ve been making myself wait to respond. This lets me think through my response, so I’m not just reacting to my client, and it gives me the opportunity to exercise restraint on stressing over a situation, comment, edit, etc.

Work out your stress somewhere else. Delaying a response means more time to dwell, which can lead to anxiety, which can lead to poor communication or decisions. I try to work out my stress outside of my head – I’ll draft an email, trying to be as detailed as I can about my opinions and concerns, and let that sit until I’m ready to send an actual response. Most of the time I can use a few things from the original email by framing them another way. This also gives me a way to try and see things from the client’s perspective.

Working with Introverts

We’re lovely people, I promise. We just take a little time to open up, and need different parameters for communication.

Make sure that you have clear lines of communication lined up for us. We get stressed out if ten people are copied on an email and start sending ten different sets of instructions, edits, etc.

Let us retreat. Give us the opportunity to take a project and run with it on our own. Micromanagement makes us anxious, but let us know if you need regular updates. Otherwise, we’re likely to work on a project until it’s done before we send it to out for review.

Don’t assume we’re challenging you. Yes, I mentioned that I bristle easily and I do admit to being argumentative if I’m certain I’m right. I think for a lot of introverts this occasional “outburst” is a byproduct of being passed over or unheard – so when we feel strongly that we’re right, we get stubborn. If you don’t understand my logic, help me find a way to explain it to you. And if I’m not getting it, try another strategy – repeating the same things over isn’t going to help anyone.

Are you an introvert? What other tips can we give the world on working with us? What do they need to know?

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