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.