Here’s an interesting fact: 65% of executives, in a USA Today survey, said that being introverted is a barrier to leadership … yet about 40% of leaders test as introverts, which is only a little bit lower than the 50/50 introvert/extrovert split in the general population. So clearly, while it might be a challenge, it’s not a prohibitive one.
It’s true, though, that introverts generally need to work harder to build the relationships with colleagues that are so important to professional success. We introverts often prefer to keep our heads down and focus on work and can find socializing with colleagues to be weirdly draining. So it can be frustrating to realize just how important work relationships really are to your success (and to the success of your team). But there are some relatively painless things that introverts can do to strengthen relationships with colleagues without triggering too much introvert agony.
1. Say yes to events sometimes, but bow out early if you need to. If your office holds regular social events like happy hours or group lunches, don’t feel like you have to go every time – but it’s a good idea to go occasionally. Even just showing up for an hour, being seen, and talking to a few people can solidify relationships in a helpful way. (Then you can go home and enjoy some solitude!)
2. Take the lead on suggesting activities that you’ll enjoy. If you’re not so excited about socializing at all, it might sound counterintuitive to propose a group activity, but if you take the lead, you can suggest something that you’ll be happier with than, say, an extrovert paradise like happy hours. Plus, being the person to suggest and possibly even plan it will earn you big points.
3. Volunteer to work on a team project. If you’re like most introverts, you’re happiest in groups when you have a specific task to do. In fact, the classic advice for introverts at parties to put yourself to work, like by pouring the drinks or DJ’ing the music. You can do the work version of that by giving yourself a task within a team. You’ll get to focus on something work-related, while getting the benefits of building relationships and increasing your visibility.
4. Ask for people’s input on work topics. Most people love to be asked for their opinion and will take being asked as a sign of respect, so that all on its own can be a relationship builder. Better still, you’ll be talking about substantive work topics, not small talk, which should make this an easier way to build the relationship than having to stare at someone across the table at a work dinner.
5. Make a point of being kind. Obviously, everyone should be kind to their coworkers, but you might put particular thought into doing it if you’re an introvert looking for ways to strengthen your connections with colleagues. For example, write people thank-you notes when they go out of their way to help you (cc their manager for extra points!); send cards if someone gets married, has a baby, or has a loss in their family; and compliment people on their work achievements. Your coworkers are far less likely to care that you’re not the life of the party if they associate you with warm gestures.
Similarly, be a good coworker in general. Be responsive, help out when asked, do good work, and give people the benefit of the doubt. It might take people longer to get to know introverts, but it’ll help if they see you doing great work and being easy to get along with meanwhile.