Corporate Culture for Introverts

May 3, 2012
By Michelle Lowery in Online Marketing

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

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