Being an introvert at work can be tough when so many of the expectations seem to favor those with more extroverted personalities. In the simplest terms, introversion refers to the need for time alone to recharge your batteries. But oftentimes, introverts can easily get misunderstood as being shy, stuck up, or even antisocial, with others calling out or questioning their tendency toward solitude.
As an introvert myself, I thought I’d share a few common phrases your introverted coworkers wish you would stop saying to them.
“Oh my gosh, you’re always so quiet!”
Yes, it’s true. Many introverts are naturally quiet, and that’s partially because every time we have some interaction, our “people” energy tank gets lower and lower, so it’s easy for us to get worn out from socializing. Because of that, we don’t like to talk just for the sake of talking. A lot of introverts learn best by listening, so you’ll find that many of us prefer to do that instead of talking.
For us introverts, the workday can be pretty noisy so we’re perfectly comfortable with silence. The truth is the networking, meetings, and chit-chat that come on top of having to churn out deliverables throughout the day can be quite demanding and even overstimulating for us. When I was working my 9-5, I remember being so drained by the end of the workday that I would want to just curl up in a ball and go to sleep as soon as I got home.
If you have introverted coworkers, don’t call attention to their quietness or react negatively to it; after all, you’d probably feel a little awkward if we said “Oh my gosh, you always talk so much!” Ask questions if you’re genuinely interested in getting to know us or hearing our opinion, but don’t be pushy about it or try to force us to “come out of our shells.” Know that our silence is often just due to our need to protect our energy and don’t take it as us being rude, anti-social, or shy.
“Wow, the weather has been so [insert generic description here].”
We introverts notoriously hate small talk and because of that, it can leave our more extroverted coworkers feeling like they’re not getting much enthusiasm when they talk to us about certain subjects. It’s not that we’re incapable of holding simple conversations or that we don’t care about what you have to say; it’s just that our brains are wired to go deep and small talk just doesn’t really allow us to do that. Oftentimes we’d rather spend our energy on more meaningful interactions.
I’m not going to lie, there were times when I would’ve preferred to immerse myself in my work than to engage in some of the surface-level conversations and chit-chat that often takes place between coworkers. In reality, though, deep conversations aren’t always work-friendly so many of us introverts have learned to come to terms with the fact that small talk is just a necessary evil part of communicating with your coworkers.
If you’re an extrovert, you don’t have to necessarily spark up a conversation with your introverted coworkers about current events or the meaning of life, but just be mindful that talking about the weather, your weekend plans, or your latest home decor addition doesn’t exactly light us up. You’ll probably hear your introverted coworker speak up most when they have something important to say or when they’re really passionate about the topic of discussion.
“Is something wrong?”
The answer is usually no.
As introverts, we don’t always outwardly express our emotions regardless of whether they’re good or bad, so it’s common for more extroverted folks to describe us as “hard to read.” A lot of extroverts are usually only silent when something is wrong, and so they may associate that silence with sadness—but quietness is often just a natural personality trait for many introverts. Additionally, our thoughts are always racing, so it’s pretty easy for us to get so consumed in them, to the point that we can comfortably go without speaking or interacting with others for long periods of time.
We know that your intentions are good when you ask if we’re okay, but by doing so, you may be unintentionally signaling that there’s something wrong with our quietness, and therefore, something wrong with us. Don’t mistake your introverted coworker’s quiet nature for being sad or in a bad mood. We’re probably just focused on our work or our own thoughts honestly—not trying to be standoffish or give you the cold shoulder. Know that we’re (usually) alright and just trying to preserve and protect our energy.
“You should try to be a little more collaborative.”
For many introverts, our best ideas often come to us when we have the time and space to do deep thinking on our own, so many of us prefer to work alone. Because the consistent group work that’s often a part of the corporate world runs counter to how we think and work best, we often get a bad rep for seeming like we don’t want to collaborate with others or participate in group meetings.
For me, one of the hardest parts about the corporate world was getting pulled into spur-of-the-moment brainstorming sessions with little context and then being expected to come up with ideas on the spot. I would have so many different half-baked ideas swirling around in my head that by the time I finally made sense of them and was ready to share, everyone had already moved on to the next topic or the meeting was over.
So it’s not that introverts don’t want to participate or contribute in group settings. It’s just that whereas extroverts like to bounce ideas off of each other and think things through out loud, introverts tend to be more reflective and need time to fully think things through on their own before speaking. We often like to take time to do research, ask questions, and prepare before we share our ideas, instead of just blurting out the first thing that comes to mind.
Don’t assume that your introverted coworkers are checked out or aren’t team players. Try to give them discussion topics in advance, or at least a heads up if you know they’ll be expected to do a lot of speaking in a group setting. That way, they can properly prepare and more easily contribute ideas in the moment.
If you’re an extrovert or an ambivert, try to curb these phrases when talking to introverts if you can. Give your introverted coworkers the space and grace they need to be their full selves at work. And remember: it’s perfectly okay to be quiet sometimes.
Chelsea Bonner is an Instagram Strategist & Consultant currently living in Atlanta, GA. Her experience includes public relations, data analysis, and social media management. Her interests are introversion, entrepreneurship, personal development, and black culture.