Can Anyone Hear Me? Being an Introvert in a Very Loud Place

– In a gentle way, you can shake the world. – Mahtma Gahndi

I recently discovered that I’m an “introvert.” I had always heard that term thrown around, but never really thought it applied to me. I mean how could it? In my circle of friends I enjoyed being outgoing and adventurous. In college I had always felt very confident leading small groups and speaking in front of classmates.

Wasn’t that the opposite of introversion? 

Three years after graduating, I landed a job at a startup company as their blog manager and copywriter. It was an exciting time to be a part of the organization — everyone did everything and the business was ours to create.

The problem? I was surrounded by extroverts in a work environment that promoted constant collaboration over working alone.  Although I didn’t realize it yet, my needs as an introvert were poorly matched for the office culture I was currently in.

During the day I’d notice that meetings gave me sweaty palms and a knot in my stomach. The bathroom stall was a sanctuary of silence. Most times I’d come home exhausted and anxious.

What happened to me? I was increasingly frustrated that I wasn’t being heard at work and I felt like I was becoming the “quiet girl.” It seemed like I was being drowned-out by people who were constantly talking, talking, talking.

Now I’ve spent most of my grown adult life fighting the word, “quiet.” It’s never given as a compliment, or at least it’s never received as one. For all of you loud-mouths out there take note — telling a woman “you’re quiet” is never a nice thing to hear.

Which is rather infuriating because there’s nothing inherently wrong with being quiet. In fact, I think it’s a skill that is unfortunately mistaken for a lot of not so nice things. In today’s society being quiet is synonymous with being scared, dumb, shy or a pushover.

Quiet is not bad. Quiet means that you’re listening. Quiet means that you’re thinking. Quiet means that you’re being respectful. Quiet means that you’re processing. Quiet means you’d rather fill the air with quality over quantity.

After months of feeling frustrated at work, a gift changed my life. My sister bought me the book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. I read it in two days. I felt like she was speaking directly to me! I found myself sharing passages with my friends saying, “Omg, this is SO me!”

Take this one for example:

“If you’re an introvert, find your flow by using your gifts. You have the power of persistence, the tenacity to solve complex problems, and the clear-sightedness to avoid pitfalls that trip others up. You enjoy relative freedom from the temptations of superficial prizes like money and status. Indeed, your biggest challenge may be to fully harness your strengths. You may be so busy trying to appear like a zestful, reward-sensitive extrovert that you undervalue your own talents, or feel underestimated by those around you. But when you’re focused on a project that you care about, you probably find that your energy is boundless.”

I started to see parallels between what Cain was writing and what I was experiencing at work:

Introverts tend to think first and speak later … and I was surrounded by people who loved to “think out-loud.”

Introverts like to be prepared … and I rarely knew the itinerary of upcoming meetings.

They’re often calm and easily distracted … and the open office environment was constantly pulling me away to answer questions.

They enjoy focused work and have tremendous powers of concentration … and our group working sessions were draining me.

They’re often gifted writers and excellent listeners … and I shined when writing or leading a group.

They prefer taking time to assess before diving into the next step … and our break-neck speed felt reckless.

I also tried too hard to be like my colleagues and ended up feeling depleted by the end of the day. As Cain writes in her book, “extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.”

After reading her book I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. You mean there were other people out there like me? Turns out my coworkers weren’t louder, faster or smarter than me. My work environment just wasn’t set up to let me thrive. I didn’t yet understand or acknowledge the tools that would help me be heard.

Soon after, I gained the confidence I needed to start turning the tables at work and harnessing the unique skills I brought to the table as an introvert. I started asking for agendas. I started working remotely for projects that required intense concentration, like writing. I took ownership of more projects and advocated for solo work time first, collaboration later. If I wanted to go for a run instead of happy hour, that was okay. Best of all, I stopped comparing myself to others and let me be my true self.

Takeaway tips for introverts: 

Recognize and celebrate your introversion. It’s not a dirty word. It’s okay to be quiet.

You don’t have to be aggressive to be heard. Ideas can be shared in writing, in one-on-one conversations and in earning respect for doing high-quality work.

Ask for what you need to perform best. Once I understood that I need some time to mentally prepare for meetings, I asked my co-workers to make sure they attached an agenda and any pre-work to the invite.

Sometimes you just gotta suck it up and mingle (or give a speech). At the end of the day, networking and public speaking are still incredibly valuable skills to master. The good news is 1) it doesn’t last forever,  and 2) the more you work at it, the better you get.

Be an advocate for other introverts. Stick up for the other “quiet” people. Try to facilitate meetings or activities that allow both types of personalities to play to their strengths.

Understand that there’s a scale. You don’t have to be all one way or the other. In fact, many people are really somewhere in between, and can fluctuate throughout their lifetime.

Speak up when you do have something to say. Introverts tend to think before they speak which allows us to process multiple points of view or information. I’ve found that if you consistently provide insightful dialogue, you don’t have to be constantly talking to be heard.

Focus on creating deep and meaningful conversations, (something you’re good at!) instead of comparing yourself to the schmoozing guy collecting business cards.

Honor your alone time. Introversion is really an indicator of how stimulated a person gets by their surroundings. It just so happens that introverts are more easily stimulated, hence they seek out places and activities that allow them to “regroup” with less stimulation. If you need a night in, take one. There’s a distinct difference between loneliness and solitude that some on the outside don’t understand.

I hope these tips give you some good ideas to let your inner voice shine, whether you’re an introvert or just know someone who is. It’s time to put the “roar” in quiet. 🙂

– Ashley

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