Mindfulness for the Introvert

How to speak up at work and still claim that comfortable introvert space.

Posted Nov 10, 2017

Photo by Tim Gouw from Pexels
Source: Photo by Tim Gouw from Pexels

Being an introvert isn’t a “good thing” or a “bad thing.” It’s a personality type, not a value judgment.

Yet introverts are likely to feel out of place at work. The atmosphere can be particularly uncomfortable if they’re in a traditional corporate environment that rewards extraverts who thrive in open-space offices, speak their minds regularly (and often loudly), and network as if they were born to the task.

It’s not only a matter of comfort. Traditional companies and their managers often celebrate extraverted employees, because they regularly contribute ideas (or at least speak up) during meetings, and are more likely to exhibit a “take-charge” attitude in the workplace.

Moreover, extraverts are rewarded for their personalities. A comprehensive study by Truity Psychometrics LLC has found that, on average, introverts make substantially less money and are asked to supervise fewer employees than extraverts. They’re also less likely to be satisfied at work.

Those are obvious reasons for introverts to feel like second-class citizens in the workplace — but they shouldn’t. The latest manual that accompanies the highly valued MBTI personality evaluation test reports that the population is split 50-50 between extraverts and introverts.

In other words, half the employees at any large company are introverted; they’re simply dominated by their extraverted co-workers and a culture that encourages and rewards that outward behavior.

How does an introvert learn to speak up at work?

The answer can be found in the practice of mindfulness.

Introverts, Confidence, and Mindfulness

There are many reasons why people are introverted. Some of the reasons are innate and stem from the way introverts’ brains work, while others are related to the environments and interactions introverts experience throughout their lives.

One thing that introverts tend to have in common is that they do not speak up at work.

Some feel they have nothing valuable to offer, some fear that they’ll expose a lack of knowledge or sophistication, and many others simply believe that they’re not as (good, smart, experienced, important, worthy — choose one) as their fellow employees and managers who are extraverted.

Those feelings can be summed up in three words: lack of confidence. And that’s where mindfulness comes into play.

Mindfulness focuses on living in the moment instead of being burdened by the past or overly worried about the future. Through mindfulness meditation and other techniques, an individual learns — among many other things — to put aside negative experiences that have acted as barriers to self-awareness and self-actualization.

The connection should be obvious. Living fully in the present, instead of dwelling on the past, allows a person to realistically appreciate their abilities and potential contributions to shared projects at work. That self-awareness (without excessive introspection) is what allows an introvert to develop confidence — and to speak up when appropriate.

Fear, Confrontation, and Mindfulness

Fear ensured the survival of our species, enabling our ancestors to properly react to serious threats ranging from dangerous animals to invading armies.

Everyday concerns in the 21st century are usually far more benign, yet our brains are still hardwired to anticipate threats and feel fear. Many situations that motivate extraverts, like meeting new people or speaking in front of a group of superiors, can seem quite threatening to introverts. Some even become paralyzed with fear.

A common response to fear is flight. Introverts who feel fear at work don’t normally grab their purses and run for the elevator, but they’re likely to withdraw from situations they perceive as threatening, and avoid situations where confrontation, criticism, or embarrassment are viewed as distinct possibilities.

Making small talk at a company-wide meeting or speaking up in front of the boss can be a petrifying experience.

Once again, mindfulness can help put many of these issues to rest. Mindful meditation can also play a large part.

A mindful individual’s mental clarity and self-control can easily step in and help out. Regular mindful meditation practice can become a powerful tool in the face of fear. Chatting with a stranger at an industry conference, or suggesting a new product at a meeting with superiors, becomes a specific challenge which can be overcome — and not a scary situation to avoid at any cost.

Living in the Moment

Mindfulness allows us to shed painful memories of past failures — as well as fears of embarrassment or exposure. You can stop “thinking so hard,” and allow your knowledge and abilities to simply take over. There’s nothing wrong with being introverted or extraverted, but your best chance at standing out at work is through mindfulness practice.

It’s a more comfortable — and healthier — way to navigate the corporate landscape.

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