Our Head of Finance & Operations, Kirsty Woolley, uses her own personal journey to explain why there is a big need for introverts in the workplace.
From the age of 18 I worked in a bank. It upset me to learn that my colleagues initially perceived me as cold, aloof, a snob and a non-team player. It was not much comfort when, further down the line, these same colleagues would say; “Of course, now that I know you better, I realise you’re not like that at all!” But the damage had already been done to my self-image, and I was always wary of how to act in the work environment. I had a vague knowledge of the word introvert, but I had no clue what it meant or about the potential impact it could have on one’s life, work, and self-esteem.
It was only when I was in my 40s, when I read a book called Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain, that I realised what an introvert was. I realised that I was an introvert, and that what had been my experience since I entered the workforce, whilst challenging, was … normal! This book gave me the understanding and the confidence to leave my very extrovert-type career (Relationship Management), study for what better suited my introvert nature (Accounting), and then help other introverts understand what was going on in their lives too. Now, I’d like to share that with my colleagues at THINK, both social and reserved!
An introvert is someone who is loosely defined as a person who gains or restores their energy by being alone and quiet. By comparison, an extrovert is defined as a person who restores their energy by being surrounded by people and cheerful noise. For example, if an introvert has had lots of meetings with people, given presentations or training sessions to multiple participants, and answered lots of questions during their work day, that introvert cannot wait to get home, hug the cat, crawl under the duvet and read a good book/listen to music/sit with nature. For an extrovert who has experienced the same type of day, they can’t wait to meet up with friends straight after work, got to the pub, have an impromptu party, and dance to the wee hours of the morning – waking up refreshed and energised for the next day.
So how does this look in the work environment, especially in ours as a Non-Profit entity in the Health and Programs sector? Some of our colleagues are able to talk at the drop of a hat, engage with new patients, colleagues and strangers easily; they become firm friends with everyone they meet within 10 minutes or so. Others can be perceived as uninterested or socially awkward, as they don’t talk much, hardly bring up small talk (how’s your mum, dad, kids, uncle, aunty etc), and seem to be silently “judging” everyone else. But this is not true! Introverts use their quietness to observe and assess their role in the space they find themselves, establish where they fit in the scheme of things, and then ponder on the meaning of every bit of information they are exposed to in order to come up with solutions, suggestions and help wherever it is needed. However, it takes a while for an introvert to become comfortable speaking up in a team environment, not because they are shy – but because they have a need to process information and conversations in a different way to extroverts. Instead of group conversations, introverts prefer one-on-one discussions, and it is here that you realise they are not non-verbal at all.
One of our values at THINK is Care for People and Outcomes. I hope I’ve gone some way to help our extroverts understand the needs of introverts, and help our introverts to know that they are needed and valued. There is an immense amount of recent publications now available on introversion – which was once described as an illness, excessive shyness and even melancholy. But it’s honestly just another way of being.
Introvert Check List
Here are some traits of introverts, which may help you understand if you are, or are not part of, the introvert movement:
- You prefer emails and text messages to actual phone calls.
- You’re relieved when someone cancels a social engagement that has been planned for a long time.
- Your definition of a crowd is more than three people – including you!
- You have only a few friends, but they are the kind of folks with whom you can have deep, meaningful and philosophical conversations.
- You’re the first to leave the party – and if you’re challenged for being a party pooper, you have a totally believable excuse at the ready to justify your need to get home to the quiet.
- Concerts, crowds and noise are not really your thing.
*For those introverts reading this and identifying, pop over to Takealot and order your copy of Susan Cain’s book here – it will change the way you see yourself, and your colleagues!