Introvert Secret Skills

Introvert at Work – How to Survive and Be Successful as a Software Engineer

Calling all introverts! This post is for you if:

  1. People drain your energy and you gain it back from being alone
  2. You sit at your desk with huge air traffic controller headphones on most of the day
  3. You took a personality test and it said you are an introvert

If you work with software, chances are you are an introvert. There are literally dozens of us! Yet we often wear our introversion as a Scarlet Letter instead of the champion belt that it is. Keep reading to find out how to use your introversion to your advantage at work.

MBTI – The Birth of an Introvert

Since my college days I have been a fan of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator personality tests. No matter how often I take whichever exam my results through the years return as the same. I am a hardcore ISTJ.

I didn’t always think it was a benefit. Especially being in my 20s it felt like a curse against making friends, dating girls, and feeling lost in groups. Like being on the outside looking in everything said seemed to me like it was an inside joke that I wasn’t privy to. Now I’m in my 30s and it is a great benefit. It didn’t magically become that way with age – I had to make it happen. It wasn’t luck but rather technique and practice.

Here I’ll show you how I’ve been successful as an introvert in overcoming my self-imposed obstacles and using them to my advantage to be happier and more successful in my work as a software developer and systems administrator.

Quiet Influence – Activate Introvert Superpowers

The best book I have read about introverts in the workplace is Quiet Influence (Amazon) by Jennifer Kahnweiler. This book gives great practical advice for introverts at work. Software developers, systems administrators, and other technical people would do well to read this. It isn’t dry academic theory or cheery suck it up quips but rather a solid formula for using introversion as a benefit.

One of the key take-aways is:

Stop trying to act like an extrovert

Instead of trying to act like someone you are not (an extrovert) make the most of your natural strength. Here is how to do that.
Introvert Components of Success

There are 6 components of being successful with your introversion at work:

  1. Quiet Time
  2. Preparation
  3. Engaged Listening
  4. Focused Conversations
  5. Writing
  6. Thoughtful Use of Social Media

Let’s talk about each one.

Quiet Time

Do you often suffer from people exhaustion? Having quiet time will help to recharge your batteries. It doesn’t have to be in monastic silence or hidden away in a cave. You can be listening to music, meditating, or enjoying a cup of coffee aside from distraction. Exercise can also be a good time because you can focus on the treadmill or lifting or yoga and zone out from other concerns even with other people around. Even simple deep breathing – breathing deeply in and out 10x – can be a surprising relief.

Schedule time on your calendar and protect it as best you can. Those who are morning people get time alone before their family wakes up and night owls can have some solace from distraction too. Some take lunch alone to refresh. Whatever it is find this time and make it yours.

Preparation

Preparation gives you the confidence you will need for the other more active steps. Use your quiet time to set the stage to engage in some preparation. Whatever technique works for you is fine. The basic gist is to gather information, think / strategize, and practice / rehearse. Preparing harder than your colleagues will give you an advantage and with repetition lead you to becoming an expert.

Preparation will also help you adapt. If you work in an office context switching throughout the day is guaranteed. Changing tasks is draining for introverts. Preparation can help to make it easier and less stressful.

Recently I started bullet journaling because it helps met get things done. I used to use many different online services but now I rely on my pen and pad. It also allows me to focus my thoughts and jot down notes to contemplate later.

Engaged Listening

Listen to other people without just thinking of what your immediate reply will be. Your preparation will help you here because you’ve already thought about this and have considered various responses. Because of that you can now listen without racing for a response. Let them tell their story.

I’ve used a few approaches:

  • Be the island of calm in a storm of activity
  • Summarize the conversation – I hear you are concerned about x, is that right?
  • Pay attention to voice inflections, faster speech, eyebrows up (interested) – cues for deeper meaning

With very extroverted people I sometimes like to play the role of a talk show host. I internally assume the role of a host interviewing a celebrity. Everyone wants to talk about themselves and extroverts are often open books.

Asking the right questions can put you in the comfortable role as an active listener. There is much to gain if you listen when people speak instead of just waiting to talk.

Focused Conversations

There are major differences when dealing with people 1:1 vs 1:many. It is like the different between psychology and sociology.

When dealing with your manager, focused conversations can be a way to persuade and better understand. With colleagues it can be a method for building rapport. This can be the remedy for diffusing conflict done via email. Remember – formal or not this is planned conversation. Keep to the point.

Some tips to employ:

  • Silence is powerful – use this to make a strategic impact
  • Ease into an active speaking role and land your comments with impact
  • Find the right time to have a conversation – be mindful of time zone differences
  • Repetition – sometimes you have to hammer home the point
  • Take questions – confused people don’t ask for clarification. They stay quiet.
  • Keep good tone – people won’t listen if they feel you are coming on too strong. Don’t put them on the defensive.

Things don’t stop here. The purpose of having a focused conversation is for action. Follow up with what you’ve discussed. Like a meeting with action items at the end a conversation should be followed up on with some sort of action.
Think - Talk - Act

Writing

Use writing as a way to motivate and engage others. A carefully thought out exposition can help advance your agenda and influence others. Write in a logical sequence. Make sure to clarify your stance, advocate your position, connect with others, and end with a call to action.

Clear writing can move a person from a state of uncertainty and confusion to clarity and action. With every key email think “what do I want this email to accomplish?”. Always write to satisfy the question “what’s in it for me” to the recipients.

Some good practices here are:

  • Write a draft and put it away. Come back to it for revision before pressing send.
  • Business writing is not a prosaic essay. Be concise, short, and effective.
  • Flex to their style. Relate to the person you are writing to and form a connection.

Just like with focused conversation, follow up after your email. Chasing down responses is hard and for some doesn’t come natural. I used to work at a place that playfully used the phrase “bat time” for this. When you heard “it’s bat time” you knew someone was going to have to follow up and get a response.

Thoughtful Use of Social Media

Consider establishing an online presence. Everyone knows the internet is a great way to teach and learn freely. But did you also know that you could be one of those who actively teach or learn ?. It is about engagement and interactivity.

Know your objective before engaging in social media. This is both to prevent regrettable contributions and to avert wasting time on endless sites. Start somewhere and go. It doesn’t matter if it is Stack Exchange or Reddit or blogging – just pick something and start moving. You don’t need to figure it all out right away. Spending 10 minutes a day can add up over a year.

What Else?

I have used the above process with good results. Being an introvert isn’t so damning if you know how to maximize it. Sometimes you have to reach into your extroverted side like public speaking but with some preparation, quiet time, focused conversations, etc. you can pull it off.

Don’t get stuck in a feedback loop of cyclical reflection. I used to do that. It is such a time waster. Remember that actions matter more than words. It doesn’t matter what movie is playing inside someone’s head so don’t stress over it. People are just people and you are not alone.

It might feel like you are suffering from imposter syndrome trying to fake it until you make it. After this you don’t need to fake anything because you are not trying to be someone you are not – an extrovert.

Have any tips or thoughts? Leave them in the comments.

 


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