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September 17, 2008 > Counseling Corner: Strength in Being Quiet

Counseling Corner: Strength in Being Quiet

By Anne Chan, PhD, MFT

Are you a quiet person in the workplace? Do you feel like everyone else at work talks faster and contributes more ideas than you? Do you dread meetings where you feel pressured to speak up?

If you are nodding to any of the above questions, you may be an introvert. Here are some more ways to tell if you're an introvert:

You would rather stay home than socialize at a party.

You feel drained after being with a big group of people.

You don't feel lonely spending hours by yourself, in fact, you feel rested and even energized when you have lots of time to yourself

You are not quick on the button when it comes to answering questions or making comments in front of a large group.

You tend to think first before you speak. You even mentally rehearse what you are going to say.

You don't have a long list of people you consider "friends," rather you have a select, small group of people you would consider to be a friend.

You rather go for a root canal than attend a networking event.

A more official way to get assessed as an introvert is to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality assessment. This assessment assesses four dimensions of your personality, one of which is your preference for introversion or extroversion. A qualified career counselor can administer the MBTI for a small fee. I have personally found the MBTI to be really helpful in understanding and accepting myself and others. Knowing my personality type has also helped me choose an appropriate career that fits my needs.

For introverts, the workplace can be especially challenging when there's a lot of emphasis on group interactions, socializing, meetings, and teamwork. Introverts can also feel frustrated with themselves when they are one-upped by colleagues at staff meetings. An introvert's career choice can be critical to their comfort and happiness. Jobs requiring a lot of people interaction are likely to be a nightmare for introverts. Jobs such as customer service and sales would be tough on an introvert. It doesn't mean that an introvert cannot do these jobs well. However, being with people all day long is likely to take a toll on an introvert.

On top of this, there are many negative labels that our culture has for characterizing introverted types - "wallflower," "unsocial," and "loner," to name just three. But these labels are way off the mark - introverts have many good qualities that make them excellent employees and contributors to the workplace.

In fact, introverts often excel at jobs that require independent work. One way an introvert can ensure their career happiness is by choosing a job that utilizes their ability to work alone. Here are my picks for jobs that are great for introverts:
Web designer or developer
Mail carrier
Home appraiser
Computer or electronic technician
Graphic designer
Television or cable repair
Software developer

Of course, not every introvert can choose jobs that cater to their preferences for alone time. Some introverts might even be attracted to jobs that require lots of people contact. The good news is that you can shine and thrive at work even if you are a dedicated introvert. Here are some strategies to help you be your best introverted self at work:

Create downtime for yourself before, during, and after the workday. One key opportunity for downtime is lunch - treat yourself to a solitary lunch and don't feel badly that you are not socializing with co-workers during this time. The alone time can be critical for recharging your batteries.

Prepare for meetings, either mentally or by taking notes. This will help you contribute ideas and feel like a productive member of a team.

Be kind to yourself - give yourself permission to be silent at meetings and tell yourself that it's okay not to speak up at every single meeting.

Tell yourself and others that your strength is in listening first, reflecting, then speaking.

Learn relaxation and stress management techniques to calm yourself at work.

Those who supervise introverts can also play to their strengths - these employees are usually superb at tasks requiring independent work. They can be incredibly hardworking, focused, and careful. Bosses who hire introverts don't have to worry about them wasting time chatting with colleagues or friends!

Introverts have a lot to contribute to the workplace. So if you're an introvert, note your strengths and take pride in them!

Anne Chan is a licensed psychotherapist and career counselor in Union City. She specializes in helping people find maximum happiness and fulfillment in their careers, lives, and relationships. She can be reached at or 510-744-1781.

(c) Anne Chan, 2008.

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