On Being Quiet at Work or School

Thoughts Inspired by Introversion...


This weekend, I perused through Quiet Power by Susan Cain, and its content reminded me of a few things I've learned about being quiet, or being perceived as quiet by others: 

Being Quiet is Not a Weakness

The greater culture has many biases on extroversion and introversion. Many strengths (as well as traits associated with attention-seeking and vanity) are associated with extroversion, while being quiet or contemplative can be seen as unconfident, lazy, or arrogant. In terms of work performance, Introverts, or those who are more quiet, can be seen as:

  • Underperforming: I worked at an agency where most people don't know what you're doing unless you tell them. This can be partly cultural, and gender conditioning, among a myriad of socializing agents. Introverts tend to process details and outcomes internally, so there isn't always a big show for others to see when they're working. The world can't see all your work because it's done behind the scenes. A potential problem with being an introvert at work or school is: You can be the best at your job, and no one will know because they never saw you, or heard from you. This can also lead coworkers to rate you as less friendly, which can affect future promotions or reviews. 
  • How to remedy the stigma: "The squeaky wheel gets the oil." I did not understand the importance of sharing my accomplished tasks of the day with supervisors or colleagues until a former principal and former supervisor told me to. This inability to naturally speak on my work also comes from culture and gender roles, which I didn't know shaped some discomfort with speaking about myself. I thought a good deed and good work speaks for itself. Other people were getting accolades and promotions, when I was as good. The only difference was, I was not talking about it. Note: Sharing about your work is not bragging; it is sharing a joy in your accomplishments, and learning how to navigate an extrovert-biased world. Also, you don't have to go overboard and feel inauthentic about sharing about your day. Checking in with one sentence or two, "I completed x, y, and z today," can make a big difference in how others perceive you or your work ethic. 
  • Teachers, Parents, & Peers: Ask introverts for feedback in smaller groups, or check-in to see how they're doing. Asking them questions and giving a moment of time to form a response can help reduce anxiety or feeling rushed to answer quickly. 

Introversion is Not Depression or Being Shy

  • It's about energy. Although introverts can have depression, and can be shy, these terms are not interchangeable. Introversion is more about having a brain and nervous system that responds differently to stimulation. Introverts recharge and process more clearly in small group settings or in solitude, and extroverts tend to thrive in more stimulating environments (yes, extroverts need to recharge in solitude as well). Connection and dialogue matter to introverts, but the intensity and duration may or may not differ depending on the environment and topics being explored. 
  • Processing Times & Speaking. Sometimes small talk is difficult for an introvert to participate in. It can be very draining, especially when topics with extroverts may change quickly. By the time the introvert has compiled a suitable response to the first topic or question, the extroverts have explored twenty other things, and the introvert can't keep up. This inability to keep up can sometimes make introverts appear depressed or shy for not participating in conversations when they were trying to keep up in the first place, and couldn't. 
  • Check-in with your brain and body. Extroverts may not fully understand, but sharing how you are energized differently can start the process. Extrovert buddies still get energized by having people around; there does not need to be constant conversation to feel connected. Sitting in silence can be a compromise to explore, and if you need to be completely alone. At work, it may be important to learn a typical routine for getting overstimulated, so you can schedule appropriate breaks. 

Sharing Ideas as an Introvert

  • Many times the loudest person in the room gets praised for having good ideas. They can be seen as daring, confident, and competent, while their quieter peers may be seen as the opposite. In group settings, it can sometimes feel like a free-for-all to blurt things out until a decision is made. Internal processors don't perform as well in this type of stimulation. Thoughts tend to formulate better in calmer spaces, with time to generate a complete thought. Extroverts think "out loud" so the ramblings, and mistakes are available for the world to see. This tendency to think out loud and make mistakes can be interpreted as being fearless, when it's simply a natural way of cognition for extroverts. 
  • Pre-game for meetings or conversations. Jotting down ideas before meetings can help make sharing ideas easier. Meetings dominated by extroverts may make it difficult to pause and ask for an introvert's feedback. A sticky note, reviewing the night before, or checking in with team leaders can also promote the sharing of ideas in a way that is more comfortable for introverts.
  • Bosses, Coworkers, and Team Leaders: Please ask quieter teammates what their ideas are. It can really help promote group cohesion, and give quieter teammates a chance to offer feedback. It might take a minute to form statements, but asking quieter teammates if they want to contribute can model an acceptance of difference within the entire team. 


What are some of your thoughts or observations on introversion? Share this post with others to help promote a better understanding of introverts <3 

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