How Learning About Being An Introvert Has Helped Me

Several years ago I was asked by a line manager in a previous job why I didn’t speak up more in meetings. I thought about this and genuinely didn’t know the answer. The only thing I could put it down to was a lack of confidence, which funnily enough I didn’t have the confidence to admit to!

I took the comment quite hard. I desperately wanted to be successful at my job. I worked really hard every single day and I wanted to progress. I knew that I was quieter than my colleagues but I never realised this would present itself as a problem.

I had to do something about it. I didn’t want to give anyone the opportunity to say I wasn’t good enough. I found myself a great mentor, I read several self-development books and I made myself speak up in meetings. I did everything I could to ‘fix’ this and prove to people this wasn’t an issue.

However it didn’t work out in the way that I’d hoped. I contributed more in meetings but I found myself speaking up when I wasn’t adding any value. I was speaking just to show that I could. I spoke over others in my need to get myself heard and to prove myself. And the worst thing was that I could see what I was doing.

It went completely against the way I like to do things and rather than make me feel better about things I ended up feeling worse. I felt tired, exhausted and annoyed with myself. I didn’t like my new approach.

It is only recently that I’ve learned about being an introvert and what that means, and to fully appreciate how this presents itself at work. If I had known this back then I would have dealt with the situation very differently:

1. I would have been able to explain that as an introvert I like to reflect on things. I would have understood that there might be ways to prepare for a meeting and to make my contributions effective – because the important thing to know is that I did want to make a contribution and felt I could make a good one. This could be knowing the topics for discussion beforehand or working out a way to follow-up afterwards.

2. I would have understood that there was nothing wrong with me and it wasn’t something I needed to ‘fix’. Yes I would perhaps need to stretch the edges of my comfort zone, but not change myself completely as I did at the time. I would have felt more confident in myself as I was and as a result, given myself much less of a hard time.

3. I would have focussed on my strengths, because I had lots. I would have considered how I could build on those. Could I make more use of my writing skills to share my thoughts or to encourage an alternative way to share ideas amongst the team? Instead my attention was only on what I had been told I wasn’t doing, and I ignored all the great things I was doing.

4. Most importantly I would have had the courage be myself.

And that’s the reason I now write about this. Because I have learned a lot since the day I was asked that question about why I do things the way I do, and I realise how much that knowledge would have helped me had I known it earlier. By sharing what I’ve learned, who knows, it may help someone else.

Six things you can do if you work with an introvert

I’m an introvert and wherever I’ve worked in the past there have always been challenges with being based in an office environment, quite apart from those typically experienced by the open plan office. However along the way I’ve learned there are a few things I can do to help myself. But that’s for another blog post! Instead, in this article I’m going to suggest six things, based on my own experiences, that others might consider doing if they know they work with an introvert.

1. Allow space for reflection 

Give introverts the opportunity to think without interruption. I find that when someone asks me something it helps if I can get a few seconds to reflect on the question, and silence works best for me rather than filling the space with more questions. Sending a query by email rather than calling also helps. The result will be that when I do respond it will usually be well thought through and considered. 

2. Help colleagues connect with others

Try bringing introverts into social conversations too where you feel it is appropriate. I sometimes find it hard to join in office chat particularly half-way through, finding it easier to listen rather than participate. However when someone includes me by asking me what I did at the weekend or whether I watched a particular TV programme for example, it makes it easier to join in and connect with colleagues.

3. Share a meeting agenda in advance 

When I have to go to a meeting, which is quite often, I really appreciate knowing what is going to be covered in advance. Having a meeting agenda helps, and if this shows information about who else is attending, then that’s even better. Having this information helps me prepare and reflect on things beforehand, and knowing who else is going to be there gets me thinking about the discussions that might come up which are not on the agenda. 

4. Meet one-to-one 

Consider whether you could have a one-to-one conversation instead of a large meeting. As an introvert I find it much easier to speak up in small groups or with individuals and that’s when I’ll share some of my best ideas. 

5. Understand introverted colleagues 

Understand that being quiet doesn’t always mean a lack of confidence. When I reflect on something it can make me seem indecisive or hesitant which isn’t the case. I am simply considering things and thinking them through. In addition, I might be quiet because I need to concentrate on a specific piece of work without interruptions and not because I’m ignoring my colleagues!

6. Value quiet colleagues 

Take time to recognise and value the quiet ones and all they do. I’m not at all comfortable with promoting myself, drawing attention to myself or putting myself forward, which means there is a chance that me or my work will get overlooked. However it still feels great to be recognised for a piece of work.

Six things that have helped me connect with others as a quiet person

Connecting with others is important to me and as an introvert I look for different ways to do this. This can be difficult with the number of people I come across in daily life but over recent months I have discovered a few ways in which I can find moments of connection in both everyday situations as well as with closer relationships.

Becoming aware of the day-to-day connections

Each day I come across many different people, but those I make direct contact with are significantly fewer. So when I can, I now take time to notice the everyday connections I make – that smile in the lift, saying hello at the coffee machine, making eye contact and acknowledging someone as I pass them in the corridor – all this helps me realise that I actually connect with others more than I realise. 

Being me 

In the past I spent a lot of time presenting an image of myself to the world that did not entirely reflect who I was. Or I would hide certain aspects of myself away and keep them close to me. Even now I often worry about what others think of me and don’t always allow myself to be me. This can create a barrier between myself and the outside world and lead to a disconnect. So when I feel able to, I try to tell someone something about me that they don’t already know. Nothing too big, but something that I feel comfortable sharing and which helps others understand more about me. It could be something about a hobby for example, but just something that shows others the real me.

Noticing what I have in common with others

I often feel that I am different to everyone else, a bit of an outsider. I am quieter than a lot of people and my interests and experiences are not the same as many others I know. I expect that a lot of people have similar feelings at some point in their lives. So focussing instead on what I have in common with those around me helps with this. It could be that I live in the same town as someone I work with, or that I like the same kind of music as a family member. Maybe I know people who have the same interest in books as myself. Knowing this is a great way to strike up a conversation with them about it, and at other times it is simply enough to know we have something in common.

Focussing energy on those who are important to me

I have started to think more about whether I spend enough time with those people who are important to me, or whether I make the effort to stay in touch with them. As a result I am focussing on making more time for them, whether this is meeting up, sending them a text or an an email, or simply ‘liking’ their social media status update. All this shows I’m thinking of them.

Noticing and showing kindness

I don’t always fully appreciate it when someone is kind to me or has done something to help me. I will always say thank you to them, but I can quickly forget about it and move on with my day. I don’t fully recognise their act of kindness, so now I take time to appreciate it more. At the same time I look for opportunities to be kind to others. It could be that I can buy someone a coffee, give them a compliment, hold the door open for them, or simply smile at someone. All of this helps me feel much more connected with others.

Listening fully

When I’m having conversations with others my mind can often wonder and it’s not until the end that I realise I’ve heard very little of what that person said. You know that moment when someone looks at you expectantly, waiting for a response and you have no idea what they asked you! I’ve discovered that how well I listen can have an impact on my relationships with others. So I now try be fully present when I am in a conversation with someone. This means not being distracted by what is going on around me, not being absorbed in my own thoughts, and not planning how I am going to answer. I try to pay full attention to the other person and what they say.

How I’m learning to connect with others as a quiet personĀ 

When I was younger I would often get comments about how quiet I was. Usually from well-meaning adults who thought they were doing me a favour by pointing it out to me. Perhaps they thought I’d have a light-bulb moment, and start discussing the merits of wearing a pink clip in my hair rather than a purple one for the next hour.

Their words would often be accompanied by a sideways tilt of the head where, if I closed my eyes, I could imagine the speech bubbles appearing from them. The ones that would be saying ‘Poor girl. Poor, poor, girl’. Perhaps they thought they could ‘fix’ me and I was dealing them a hard blow by not engaging with them. Other grown-ups would get a puzzled, somewhat confused look on their face which would often be accompanied by an onset of frown lines.

The children on the other hand wouldn’t be quite as tactful. Their actions often spoke louder than any words could as I realised kids didn’t always want to hang out with the quiet girl.

Over time I started to believe that being quiet wasn’t going to get me far. The reactions of others were making me feel there was something wrong with me. So as I got older I found myself trying harder – I decided I had to be more outgoing, more louder if I wanted to fit in.

This continued right through university and beyond, to when I started working. In my head I was equating being more outgoing to having friends.

But it soon became tiring being someone I wasn’t. It might have been getting me ‘friends’ but they weren’t the right ones. They weren’t friends with me, because I wasn’t showing them the real me. I was hiding that away. They were friends with the image I was projecting of myself.

I was spending a lot of time presenting a version of myself to the world that didn’t entirely reflect who I really was. At the same time I was hiding certain aspects of myself away. This was creating a barrier between myself and the outside world and ultimately leading to a disconnect. 

So instead I set myself a challenge to tell others something about me (the real me) that they didn’t already know. It wasn’t always anything big, but something I felt comfortable sharing and which helped them understand more about me. It might be something about a hobby or a funny tale about my childhood. 

Not only have I found this a really simple and authentic way for others to get to know me, but it has opened up conversations as others share more about themselves. I began to discover where we have things in common and this has led to some deep connections which I now value enormously.

I’m no longer afraid of showing my quiet side, because I know now there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s part of what makes me me and I can connect with others knowing they are genuine connections. 

Appreciating quiet

Throughout my life I have experienced feelings of not quite fitting in. Whether it was at school, with friends and family, or in the workplace – there was always something that made me feel like I was on the outside. It was frustrating. I desperately wanted to connect with others, yet there were very few people with whom I felt genuinely able to. 

In my teens I convinced myself I was boring, telling myself that was the reason I didn’t have as many friends as others had. When I started working, I told myself I was too quiet and that I needed to ‘market’ myself better to get noticed by my colleagues. With friends and family I thought I wasn’t outgoing enough. 

I began to put on an act – I started to be someone that I wasn’t in the hope that I would be accepted. If that meant being louder, I would do it. And I gave it a good go. To an extent it worked, but I quickly realised how tiring it was trying to be someone I wasn’t.

I started to wonder whether there was something wrong with me. Why did others find it so easy to make friends and be the focus of attention? I started to explore self development books and courses. I read for hours. I even got myself a coach to help me ‘think on my feet’ better so that I could make useful contributions to conversations. Very often I would listen, reflect and then think of something after the moment had passed! I was determined to use these resources to help me come up with a plan and achieve my goal.

Then about eighteen months ago I came across a wonderful book by Susan Cain called, ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ and something immediately clicked. I always knew I was an introvert but I hadn’t truly appreciated what this meant to me in my day-to-day life. It helped me start to understand myself, notice my strengths and see the benefits of simply being me – no pretending, no acting. And most importantly I realised there was nothing wrong with me!

So now, my approach has changed. I am learning to connect in ways that are much more suited to my personality, and where I am being true to myself. And that is what this blog is now about. It is about my journey to connect with others, myself and the world around me in a way that is meaningful and right for me. The quiet me.

My month away from social media

My relationship with social media has always been a bit up-and-down. I am sure I’m not the only one who spends far too much time posting updates and seeing what others are up to. I find it helps me stay in touch with people and keeps me informed of what’s happening in the world. But it can also bring me down when others don’t respond or engage with me for whatever reason (I’m quite a sensitive one in case you hadn’t guessed!).

Last month I decided to carry out an experiment and came off social media for one month. A whole month! I wanted to see what impact this would have on me. 

I’m not going to lie, it was extremely hard at times. On the odd occasion I found myself cheating and taking a quick look online. I just couldn’t help myself. But on the whole I managed to spend the majority of my time away from it.

It was a strange month because I maintain a lot of my connections with others through social media. So at times I felt incredibly isolated and lonely, particularly as my ‘real life’ connections are limited. I felt like I was missing out on something, not knowing what was going on ‘out there’.

But I also found that it created more space and time for me to focus on other things, things that really meant something to me. I managed to read a lot of books, I completed courses, I moved forward with my writing projects and with my general life goals.

Who knows, I may have done some of these things anyway. But in that month I wasn’t tempted by some of the usual distractions that appear when I want to avoid something or put it off. So it gave me time to really focus on these things. 

Now that I’ve returned to social media, I have changed the way I use it. As long as it’s around, I won’t stop using it because of the benefits it brings me. However I am making it work better for me and using it in a much more positive way. I have limited my contacts in number and am instead using it to help me move forward with things, and that is reflected in who I follow. Instead I will be putting my focus and energy into ‘real life’ relationships. From now on, it’s all about quality rather than quantity.