Ask anyone new to the world of work how it’s going, and you’ll no doubt be treated to a lengthy list of growing pains. As a textbook introvert, however, I found the headfirst tumble into the working world to present a challenge I’d never even considered: teamwork.
Sure, I’d battled my way through projects at university with the standard set of groupwork headaches, and had no problem answering that classic “describe one time where you worked with a team to overcome a problem” interview question. But I had never stopped to consider the fact that the modern-day work environment for many young professionals is centered around teamwork, and what exactly that would mean for someone like me.
Cut to a few weeks into my first job at an auditing firm, and the harsh realisation that this environment was probably the most draining scenario imaginable to the reserved-and-quiet me; one where every day seemed booby-trapped with anxiety-inducing meetings, calls, and catch-ups. 8 (minimum) hours a day of being constantly switched on all while having to be in near-constant communication with… other people.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way
Any article that even mentions the word ‘introvert’ will, inevitably, emphasise the necessity of making time for yourself to recharge. This is because it is true. Doing this – which previously felt like something so simple and self-explanatory – became a lot easier said than done when I first started working.
All of a sudden, deadlines became more important than that me-time. Weekends were filled with socialising in attempts to make friends after moving to a new city. Time alone where I wasn’t working, or panicking about work, was scarce. The result, of course, is that I was left missing the foundation of what I know makes me effective and functional. Instead, I became even more overwhelmed by an environment that was daunting to begin with.
An important first step in surviving the world of daily teamwork is remembering that we need time off, time to ourselves to reboot. And prioritising this. Structure time into your day or week that is non-negotiably for you to do the things you do to unwind and recharge, and your work life will thank you for it. It’s okay to be flexible on when this happens, just as long as it isn’t being forgotten about altogether.
Use your unique skill set and embrace your limitations
Introverts often get a bad rap and, to be honest, I get it. Quietness is usually mistaken for being standoffish or painfully shy; reticence for a sign that you are unwilling to participate, or worse, incapable. Not everyone is like us. While you may be highly self-aware of your thoughts and feelings, as well as others’ – our teammates and managers may not be. Using our unique attributes wisely can help us navigate team situations a lot more effectively, if we know how to do it:
– Capitalise on one-on-one interactions
Find times during the day to connect with your teammates individually, or make a point of updating your manager regularly with where you’re at. Keeping people in the loop one-on-one means that when it comes to big meetings or discussions, more of the team will be aware of what you’ve been up to, and often this will take some of the pressure off of you. They’ll also begin to learn when and how you’re more comfortable communicating, and use this to the team’s advantage.
– See things that others miss
While introverts’ tendencies to spend time thinking and structuring those thoughts instead of speaking straight away is often seen as a limitation, it can be very valuable on a team. Odds are you’ll pick up points that the quick-speakers may miss, or that extra moment’s thought could give rise to an issue no-one else had considered. Don’t forget to mention them, even if it’s after a meeting; better late than never!
– Fake it ‘til you make it
The misconception that all introverts are shy, withdrawn, and lack confidence is pretty common. Often, these traits only present when we are feeling drained, or anxious about how people are perceiving us. On those days, look to this article for inspiration on how to get through it (or just face being asked if you’re grumpy/sad/angry for the 12th time).
Don’t run away
It’s easy, as an introvert on a team, to search for ways to find time alone during the day. It’s tempting to find your own room, a quieter part of the office, or even just put your headphones in to drown out some of the noise. Don’t.
This is the most challenging piece of advice I was ever given, but I’ve come to realise that it’s probably the most important to get right.
Regardless of how we feel about it, communication and connection are vital to the way in which we operate on a team and, ultimately, to our success in our workplace. As a sign of the times, we as young professionals are – now more than ever – expected to communicate, collaborate and work with people to succeed.
And while removing ourselves from the team may feel necessary to avoid feeling drained or overwhelmed by our extroverted counterparts’ seemingly incessant chatting, introverts need to hold off on the isolation – at least for most of the day. Sometimes, we’ll need to force ourselves to be engaged.
Pulling yourself away from the team may provide the relief you’re looking for, but you could miss out on important discussions, where you could gain useful understanding or – even better – add valuable insights. Skipping the office social may mean you get an extra hour to yourself on a Friday afternoon, but that you miss out on the chance to connect with potential mentors, or peers with similar interests.
I’m not saying it’s easy. We will always need our space, but when it comes to our jobs no man (or woman) is an island. Enthusiastic and intentional interaction is crucial for success. There are no easy answers. When you feel like there’s nothing left in the tank, it’s all about finding the line between taking a minute and withdrawing altogether; and then keeping ourselves on the right side of that line.
The important thing to remember is that even though a teamwork environment may feel like the last place you’d want to be on some days, it is also a place that can provide invaluable opportunity to show everyone (yourself included) what you bring to the table.
All you have to do is find what it takes to stick up your hand and be counted.
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