Saturday, July 30, 2011

Work Meetings and the Introvert

Is there ever an appropriate time to explain your introversion in the workplace?

Group work meetings are painful for me. I know that I am expected to pipe up, but I also know that I won't unless called upon to do so. I have no problem answering any questions, or speaking up when something directly relates to my job. When I do speak, it's strong and purposeful.

But when the general banter and chitchat starts, I sit quietly. I'm not the type to initiate a conversation about the party I attended last weekend or the TV show I watched the night before. Personally, I have no problem with my level of participation and I've even noticed a few of my other co-workers exhibiting similar behavior during these meetings...but as we know, this makes extroverts uncomfortable.

And then it happens, as every introvert experiences hundreds of times during their lives: someone feels the inexplicable need to point it out. Last week during a meeting, one of my co-workers decided to go down the line at the table and tell each and every one of my introverted co-workers how quiet they are. They politely smiled and laughed off the comment. I felt so deeply for each of them, because I knew the frustration they were feeling. I, of course, was not spared, but she pointed me out last. Out of a brief moment of anger, I curtly replied, "Yes, sometimes I'm quiet, always have been". I wanted to go on and tell her "And you have brown hair and the person next to you is tall", but I bit my tongue. I know she meant well. For whatever reason, it seems that extroverts believe that by telling someone he/she is quiet, it gives us permission to be more talkative and makes us more comfortable.

These are the times when I wonder whether or not if I should explain my introversion. I could have continued and explained that I am an introvert. I do my job, and I do it well. I speak when necessary, but I like to think about my responses, making my predisposition very non-conducive to group meetings. I don't dislike you. In fact, I actually enjoy your company, think you are a really nice person, and truly don't mean to offend you.

After that speech, my extrovert-dominant workplace would undoubtedly decide that I was bizarre...or would they? Are not enough of us introverts sticking up for ourselves? One of them clearly already thought I was strange because of my quiet nature, so would I really lose anything by explaining it?

I'm conflicted and quiet frankly, enormously frustrated. I fear that by explaining this to my co-workers or boss, they will incorrectly assume that I am incompetent in the extrovert-dominated field of law. Even worse, could I lose my job over it? Then again, my job is a place I spend a huge chunk of my time. Should I sit idly by while people inaccurately label me?

The past week involved a couple of moments like this at work. My introversion slapped me in the face like a ton of bricks, making me worry that I will never progress or be successful in this field because of an attribute that I cannot change. I know my introversion is advantageous in a lot of ways, especially in the workplace. It's just a matter of figuring out how to use those strengths in a way that shows my bosses and co-workers that I'm invaluable, and not seen as a liability.


  1. I totally know what you mean. I've known for a long time that I was an introvert, but now in my mid-20s, I'm trying to figure out my own how-to guide for myself...

    After a string of extrovert-heavy jobs after college (i.e. retail), I was miserable, struggling to "nail" job interviews as I searched for better jobs, and beginning to wonder if there was something wrong with me. I now work in a research-oriented field, which is a much better fit for my introversion, but my colleagues still don't seem to "get" me. How does one politely say, "Could you please stop talking so I can think?"

    You may already know this one, but I sometimes refer people to "Caring for Your Introvert" from The Atlantic circa 2003 []. I also recently read The Introvert Advantage in paperback, and I found the explanations regarding brain chemistry enlightening :)

  2. Please contact our office to discuss your concerns regarding matrimonial/family law and your divorce mediation needs. Howard A. Wurman, P.C., caters to Nassau County and Suffolk County, Long Island, NY clients and assists individuals and families from Patchogue to Port Jefferson in Suffolk County and Great Neck to Montauk throughout Long Island, NY. Call our lawyers or chat with our representatives today about your choices and options. <a href=

  3. Thank you for sharing. Certainly one of the most emotionally charged aspects of your divorce concerns your child or children. Tragically, children all too often get caught in the cross-fire of divorcing parents, when what should be ultimately important to everyone concerned is the welfare of the child.

    - family law attorney Nassau county, NY