Offices can can be particularly difficult environments to navigate for introverts, who gain energy and generally feel their most productive in quiet and solitude -- and the constant stimulation and social interactions can be taxing. Add on possiblemisperceptions about their personalities and work style from extroverted bosses and colleagues, and it's enough to make an introvert want to work from home full-time.
"At the heart of it, introverts and extroverts respond really differently to stimulation," Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking, tells The Huffington Post. "Introverts feel most alive and energized when they're in environments that are less stimulating -- not less intellectually stimulating, but less stuff going on."
Many workplace set ups undermine introverted employees by failing to accommodate their personalities and productivity styles -- over-stimulation and excessive meetings can easily stunt their full brain power. One study showed that when introverts and extroverts are given math problems to solve with various levels of background noise playing, introverts do best when the noise is lower, while extroverts perform better with louder noise, Cain told Harvard Business Review.
"The way most offices are set up now is disastrous," Cain says. "We need to talk about flex time, but we also need to talk about flexible office space."
Cain shared five essential tips for navigating the workplace as an introvert -- especially in an open-layout office.
Find spaces for quiet and solitude.
Any environment that involves excess noise and distraction can be stressful for introverts, Cain says.
Finding a quiet spot to work on your own might be difficult in an open-concept office, but it's worth exploring conference rooms or asking your boss about finding a space where you can enjoy a little peace and quiet throughout the day, especially when you're feeling stressed. The solitude could boost focus and creativity.
"We know that introverts are very creative because their very propensity for working in solitude and with a lot of focus actually aids in the creative process," Cain says. "When psychologists have looked at who have been the most creative people over time in a wide variety of fields, almost all the people they looked at had serious streaks of introversion. They were comfortable going off by themselves and focusing."
If you're struggling to get your work done in a hectic open-plan office, try negotiating flex time with your boss to allow you to work from a quiet, comfortable spot at home for part of the week.
"If you're thinking about designing the ideal workplace, there is no one-size-fits-all answer," Cain says. "The only sensible answer is to offer a workplace that has a lot of choice, where people can customize their individual environment."
Make a daily ritual of checking in with co-workers.
Left to their own devices, many introverts tend to sit at their desks, put their heads down and focus on their work all day, according to Cain.
"That's what will make them happy and that's how they'll feel productive," she says. "But we all know that part of doing a good job is forming the bonds and the connections and the relationships that we all need."
Cain suggests scheduling a time for yourself every day to walk around the office, chat with colleagues or pop your head into a coworker's office to just say hello. Turning socializing into a daily habit will eventually make it feel more natural.
"Introverts will often experience that as a waste of time, not real work," she says. "But scheduling in a half hour or 45 minutes a day to do that can go a long way."
Avoid meetings when possible.
Office introverts would do well to follow the example of LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, who leaves meeting-free open slots in his schedule every day so he has more time to reflect and think strategically.
Introverts often don't to do their best thinking in meetings. Leaders can make their workplaces more introvert-friendly by calling fewer meetings (which most of us know can be a waste of time anyway) or setting a cap of three or four people. If you're a manager, let people "get the best of their brains," as Cain puts it, which in the case of most introverts means going off and thinking on their own.
But that also doesn't mean you should avoid working on teams altogether.
"Introverts do work well in teams," says Cain, citing a recent study which found that initially, team members tend to rate extroverts as better team members because they seem more engaged. But introverts win out in the end, earning higher ratings over time because they're often more focused and productive on behalf of the team.
Don't be afraid to lead.
Many great leaders in business and politics, from Gandhi to Eleanor Roosevelt, were thought to be introverts. Douglas Conant, CEO of Campbell's Soup Co., was a beloved leader -- and he was also both introverted and shy. Conant would identify the employees who were really contributing to the company, and sit down to write them personal, heartfelt thank-you notes -- he wrote more than 30,000 of these notes during his time at Campbell, Cain says.
Studies have suggested that introverted leaders actually deliver better outcomes than extroverts do when managing proactive employees. According to Harvard Business School research, introverted leaders are more likely to listen to and implement the ideas of their teams.
"Introverts are really good, if they have a bunch of engaged employees, at letting those employees run with their ideas, cultivating those ideas. They're less focused on putting their own stamp on things and more on bringing out other people's strengths," Cain says. "They also tend to be very good at cultivating one-on-one alliances with the people they're leading and really listening to what their needs are, what their input is."
Take time to rest and renew.
Taking breaks to recharge and refocus the mind is important for everyone, but for introverts in particular, occasional pauses are crucial to maintaining productivity and positive well-being at work. According to Cain, an introvert is likely to feel overwhelmed and ultimately burned out if he or she is dealing with constant environmental stimulants and digital distractions.
The Energy Project CEO Tony Schwartz notes, "Renewal is not for slackers." We all need time to recharge to perform our best.
"We’re trying to keep up with our technology -- the digital flow operates at this very high speed continuously," Schwartz recently told The Huffington Post. "Whereas we’re designed to operate rhythmically, to move between activity and rest; that’s when we’re at our best."
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