Corporate Culture for Introverts


Corporate Culture Introvert[This is part four in a five-part series charting Outspoken Media’s operational development process.]
Let’s just get this out in the open right now—a lot of you think the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test is a bunch of hooey. Come on, admit it. You think it’s like a horoscope, right? You can read into it pretty much whatever you want, and then use it to justify your behavior, right or wrong. I’m sure a lot of people do that. You’re not really responsible for your behavior if it’s attributable to your predetermined personality. That’s just you, and everyone else just needs to get used to you, and let you be you. Right? Yeah, how’s that workin’ for ya?

Look, if anyone is going to take the MBTI results and run with them, it’s going to be me. The test told me something I already knew—I’m an introvert. Actually, I’m not an introvert. In the Outspoken Media office, I’m the introvert. In the extrovert/introvert portions of the test, I did not choose a single extroverted response. Not one. In case you’re not completely familiar with introversion, it’s not just shyness:

Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling … [they] recharge their batteries by being alone … [they] often work more slowly and deliberately … and have mighty powers of concentration. Introverts … listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. – Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

The only thing missing from that description is my photo alongside it. I should be paid a commission anytime anyone uses that description, it’s so me. It’s why you’ll see me liveblogging at conferences, but may not always see me at the after-parties. It’s why making the move from working at home to being back in an office every day was very difficult for me. But it also meant I had a choice to make—how to fit into this company’s culture.

As Rhea said in her post about embracing your extrovert in business, one of the things she got out of the development process is being able to respect style differences, and her desire to do that is informing the creation of Outspoken Media’s culture.

With a work history of 20+ years, it’s been my experience that few companies or managers ever take the time to learn about their employees’ personalities and work styles, much less try to create an environment that is accommodating to them. In that sense, I feel pretty lucky right now to work for a company that is making an effort to create an inclusive and welcoming culture.

It would have been very easy for me to hide behind my newly validated label as an introvert, ensconce myself in my office, and close myself off from the rest of the team. That might have made me more comfortable, at least in the short-term.

But the truth is, I would have missed out on a lot of things if I did that. The opportunity to learn from my coworkers when they share their knowledge, ideas, or personal stories in meetings and casual conversations over lunch. The in-jokes that have become such a part of our daily routine with each other. The camaraderie. The laughter, and yes, some tears. The personal growth that can only come from being out in the world rather than shutting it out.

If you’re having a tough time fitting into your company’s culture, maybe a few of the things I’ve learned can help you, too.

Be Willing to Compromise

It can’t be all about you all the time. While it’s great for a company and a boss to want to accommodate everyone’s personal needs and work styles, that can only go so far. In order for the business to remain functional, and for everyone to feel heard and taken care of, there has to be some give and take on both parts. Remember that you’re one part of a larger entity.

Ask For What You Need

Fitting into the company’s culture doesn’t have to mean total conformity. There are times when I do need to shut my office door, put in my earbuds, and crank up SimplyNoise to concentrate on work. Part of our operational development process was letting our coworkers know what we need in order to do our best work. One of my requests was occasional quiet time so I can focus. When I need it, I ask for it, and my request is granted and respected. It can be scary sometimes to ask for what you need, but the alternative is slowly building resentment, and that won’t be good for anyone.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

I won’t lie—sometimes, it’s still difficult for me to be in an office with people every day. And conferences? Yikes. Those can be really tough. But I get up and come into the office every day, and I go to conferences and make a point of introducing myself to people. Why? Because I can’t be a fully productive, contributing member of this company, or of this community and industry if I don’t. The temporary discomfort is far outweighed by the benefits of meeting great people, and developing good working relationships, and in a few cases, even friendships. Eleanor Roosevelt said it best (emphasis mine):

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

Next time you’re in a position to take the easy way out, try to resist. Take on the challenge, and then revel in the sense of accomplishment. You try that, and I promise I’ll try to make it to at least some of the conference after-parties.

Check out the other posts in this five-part series:
Embracing Your Extrovert in Business
Three Lessons for Business and Life
Aligning Keyword Strategy with Corporate Goals

Your Comments

  • Zeph Snapp

    While I can’t claim to be an introvert, this article made me think about the culture that we have, and how it addresses the needs of others. I feel like we generally do a pretty good job, but now I will be asking again with this on the forfront of my mind. Thanks Michelle!

    • Michelle Lowery

      Wonderful! That’s a really basic thing most employees need–to be heard–and it seems so few employers understand that. We can’t always have things our way, but to at least be asked and considered goes a long way. Thanks, Zeph!

  • David Cohen

    Excellent thought leadership in this post. Every time I hire somebody new for my team I have them take the Myers-Briggs test right at the outset. I find it to be an effective tool to understand their thought-processes coming into a brand new work situation. Thanks for the post, Michelle.

    • Michelle Lowery

      Thank you for the comment, David! Although the entire Outspoken Media team took the MBTI, we haven’t yet talked about having new hires do it, but I can certainly see the benefit. And you have a great point–it’s a tool for understanding. For us, it’s also been the impetus for many conversations that have led to greater understanding of each other, which in turn has led to better working relationships, higher morale, and increased productivity. Like many things in life, it’s what you choose to make of it!

  • Quentin Aisbett

    Thanks Michelle, this is a great series of posts. Loved the chat on introverts, just makes you realise how much corporate culture can be improved across the board.

    Have you checked out Susan Cain’s TED presentation ‘Power of Introverts’?? Just came across it a couple of weeks ago and it’s well worth watching.


  • Dawn Wentzell

    Hi, my name is Dawn, and I’m an INTJ.

    I think doing a personality test is a good idea for everyone. I actually just did one a few months ago, and found it gave me great insight into why I do and think and feel a lot of the things I do. What I need to get better at doing is advocating for my needs at work, especially when I too am surrounded by extroverts. I recently moved from an open studio area with lots of noise and distraction to my own office. I had no idea until then that I was so stressed out by all of the inputs until they were gone. I’m finding I’m much more productive, and I can still participate when I want.

    My boyfriend just had his employees do it too, so he can learn better ways to mange them that works for them.

    • Michelle Lowery

      Hi, Dawn! :-) I didn’t say it in the post, but I’m also an INTJ. When we moved into our new office space, we went from one open area to individual offices, and it has made such a difference for everyone. We also have an open space where people can go to work together if they so choose. Having that flexibility and option has had a measurable effect on productivity, and individual comfort level. I’m glad to hear more people are making the effort to understand employees’ work styles and needs, too. Thank you for commenting and sharing!

  • Christina Emmett

    Very good advice for this INFP and I too am loving this series.

    I’m currently a part-time educator as well as doing marketing in the voluntary sector so I’m very much out there. Indeed in June I’ll be not only teaching 3 days a week on supply to students I’ve never met before, but I’ll also be attending two conferences and running a social media workshop at a charity training day. Throngs of hundreds and thousands of people to navigate – I’m definitely going to need to sleep away the whole of July! (Oh, if only – I’m a mum too).

    It’s great to see a company who openly values and seeks to understand the introvert and what they can bring. It’s seemingly all too rare. Another good article on introversion by an Outspoken writer – I have to wonder though, how many people do you think fake extroversion to fit in with expectation – especially in the marketing profession?

    • Michelle Lowery

      Thanks, Christina! I’m glad this post spoke to you.

      I recommend you read the book I quoted here: “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” It talks about how introverts take on some extroverted qualities when necessary in order to navigate their environment, or get through certain situations like company meetings/events, conferences, etc. It’s very common, really. If nothing else, it’s interesting to read something, be able to see yourself in it, and feel less alone or less weird. :-)

      • Christina Emmett

        Thanks for the recommendation, Michelle. I will definitely track this down – and yes, always good to feel one is not a complete freak :)

  • Kerry Jones

    Hey Michelle, I’m so happy you wrote this. I was nodding along for most of it!

    I just finished reading “Quiet…” last week and I’ve been recommending it to all my fellow introverts. It certainly helped me understand why I am the way I am (I had never really studied introversion, I’d just written myself off as a socially awkward hermit :)), and how to use it to my advantage. I do think this book should be required reading for managers, too.

    • Michelle Lowery

      Hey Kerry, thanks for commenting! Yes, that was my experience as well–years of thinking I’m just super awkward, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used the word “hermit” to describe myself! One part of the book that really stood out for me was the description of introverts who are also “highly sensitive”–that’s me for sure.

      I agree this would be a great read for managers as well. It’s very easy for someone to write off an introvert as uninterested or indifferent when they’re quiet in meetings when actually, they’re just taking it all in, thinking, and formulating responses and ideas.

      It makes me so happy that this post spoke to fellow introverts. It was a tough one to write. We don’t exactly go around telling everyone we’re introverts, right? :-) Thanks again!