The Introvert’s Guide to the Workplace
I’ve been working in digital media for most of my career – building websites, doing marketing, graphic design, and even photography. But there came a time that if I wanted to advance in my career, I had to get out from behind my tantalizingly-oversized Apple monitor and lead actual meetings. It became critical for me to be present in the workplace not only as a project manager, but as someone who was able to successfully lead client meetings as well.
Flash forward to now: I’m a freelance marketer in charge of all aspects of the business from project management to finance, production to sales.
The road wasn’t easy. As an introvert, small talk is not my strong suit — I don’t harbor the gift of gab, and until I get to know someone I tend to be an energetic but typically quiet person. In the past, I had always defaulted to playing the supportive role in the workplace—the cheerleader operating behind the scenes, the lone wolf focused squarely on getting the work done while working with others on a strictly one-on-one basis whenever possible.
Until I started working for myself, I had that choice.
But when I went freelance, I had to do everything on my own.
I devoured books about leadership and doing sales. I tapped into my networks to see what worked well for others. I scheduled lots of meetings and began to practice. Over time, it’s gotten easier. Here’s what I’ve learned.
1. Books are good, but practice is better.
I’ve noticed that outside of what I’ve read, I tend to clam up on calls and forget any tried-and-true tactics anyway! Still, by repeating a similar meeting flow you’ll begin to see patterns emerge that will make the process more familiar and increase your confidence levels overall. For an introverted person like me who is pretty awkward over the phone, this was painful at first but I’ve improved over time — simply with practice.
2. Stick to an agenda.
Inform the participants right away about the flow of the meeting. With limited time in the workday and an endless list of things to do, people appreciate having a roadmap.
3. Ask Questions
This is huge, especially for an introvert. Ask questions to help surface challenges and clarify key points—you will help move the meeting along and contribute to its overall productivity without having to say a whole lot. Take notes for generating strong follow up later.
4. Be unafraid to contradict
I struggle with this one all the time. I tend to be an agreeable person but sometimes need to ask a potential client if they’ve thought about taking another approach if something seems off in their strategy. This can definitely be done in a polite way and can even position you as being extra-knowledgable in your field.
6. Don’t be afraid to talk money
This is another one I’m terrible at. Don’t be afraid to ask someone what the budget is upfront, or what they’ve spent on a similar service in the past.
7. Have strong follow up
Per #3, above. This is a big opportunity for an introvert to truly shine. Take lots of notes – in a notebook, on a laptop, wherever you have the most speed. After the meeting, distill and translate them into your proposal or follow up bullet points along with actionable next steps.
8. Practice Self-Care
Let’s face it, meetings can be draining for some of us introverts. Take a walk outside when you need a break, bring a cup of herbal tea with you into the meeting, and focus on your breath, posture, and even a calming keyword to keep you poised. It is more than okay to take a break from social activities when you have a lot going on at work, and know that the more you practice, the more energy you will have and the less drained you’ll feel over time. Be patient, go one step at a time, and give yourself what you need to clearly demonstrate your value while always making sure to honor who you are.