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How to be an introvert in an extrovert's job

Are people and the whole “being around people” thing not your game? Come sit by me. The phrase “people skills” as part of job description used to trigger a big “nope” on my end. It’s not that I dislike people, but given my druthers, I would prefer to work on my own. Basically, I wanted a job where I could just be myself all the time, only coming out for rare occasions, like a book signing or winning an Oscar for screenwriting or something important like that.

While I still hold that dream, my actual big girl career as a professor and dean requires me to not only be around people, but to be good at being around people. What started as a career path based on my love of books and writing has evolved into me talking to massive groups, training faculty, attending social events, and working with all kinds of people all day. This little introvert has stumbled into a job plum for extroverts.

Should you try to force yourself to change in order to fit the job, going against your nature? No way. The simple truth is that if you are a people-dodging, space-loving introvert, you are never going to change who you are. You might learn some coping techniques, but the clothes of the extrovert are never going to feel as comfortable to you as your own. With that in mind, you can still do this job and do it well.

Focus on the function

Instead of trying to be something you’re not, focus on how to meet the job’s requirements within your comfort zone. Looking at the extroverted parts of your job as precisely that, job requirements, might help you approach them in a more functional way. When you have to do something that requires a little more social slickness, don’t think of it as “I have to talk to people” or “I have to be social.” Framing it that way is going to already have your brain saying, “No thanks, let’s not.”

Spin it from the practical standpoint—you have to be social, but why? What are you trying to accomplish? In my own position, I have to lead faculty department meetings which consist of me talking at length to a room full of people. Instead of thinking about talking to people, I focus on the information I need to convey. Giving the task a specific function, and an action to complete that function, helps reframe your introvert brain.

Work with what you’re good at

The good news is that even though you might have extrovert parts to your job, you don’t have to love these particular duties. You aren’t the social director of a cruise ship (or hopefully you aren’t, because that would be a truly unfortunate job for an introvert). And there are other parts of your job where you excel. Cheesy as it sounds, make yourself a list of the areas where you shine to keep in your phone or desk. When you are dreading some aspect of your job that stretches your limits, the list can be a nice little reminder of your strengths.

Develop a relationship with extroverted work folks

The workplace often relies on symbiotic, or mutually beneficial, relationships which can be a gift for the introvert. Cultivate relationships with your more extroverted co-workers and figure out how you can scratch each other’s backs where they play to their strengths and you play to yours. My writing skills are vastly superior to my people skills, so I have a deal with a social butterfly dean where she presents during the adjunct faculty meeting while I write up the information and agenda. We both are in our comfort zones, the faculty get what they need, and we get a big check plus from our supervisor for teamwork.

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