Feeling Inauthentic in Your Extraverted Workplace? Adapt! It’s Really Not So Bad

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This is a counterpoint article. I recently read someone’s post that made me cringe for so many reasons I feel compelled to make my opinion known.

The basic message was that they were ticked off because they were an Introvert and forced to adapt their behavior in the workplace. They felt they shouldn’t have to do this, but that everyone else should adapt to their personality. This isn’t a direct paraphrase, but it was the message.

Here’s what’s wrong with this message:

 

Being Ticked Off About Being an Introvert

Nothing good can come from being ticked off about the hand nature has dealt you. There are whole ethnic groups out there who are given the shaft along with fat people, people with disabilities, women and the elderly. I have fought some type of bias my whole career, and today is no different.

Oh well. Get over it and be the best version of you. Being a fantastic professional is the best way to wage a war against stupid people who discount you because of who you are. Their loss.

You don’t make yourself feel better by harboring a bad attitude, and you’re doing nothing to convince the world to change their opinion. Life is inherently unfair, and our job is to maximize the assets we have while minimizing the lesser-valued qualities. Think of this like a photographer showing the best side of you in a picture. It’s still authentically who you are; it’s just the best side. Work with what you have — and what you have is probably seriously great.

 

You Must Adapt

As Charles Darwin (the father of evolution theory) put it: “Adapting and changing is central to the human existence.” Said another way: “Change or die,” as coined by Dr. James Prochaska. Adapting wasn’t my idea — it was an acknowledgement by a bunch of really brainy people (who are also Introverts).

We’re in a constant state of change and adaptation, even if we don’t know it. You don’t stay the same, and nothing else does, either.To think you shouldn’t adapt your way of doing things is perhaps one of the stupidest things I’ve heard in a long time. Of course you need to adapt. You adapt all the time. You don’t interact with a child the same way you do an adult. You don’t interact with management the same way you do a friend. We constantly adapt to people and situations to ensure our encounters go well. It doesn’t make us fake or inauthentic; it makes us warm and likeable.

The people who are best at adapting to various situations at work are the ones who will be the most successful. It’s called Emotional Intelligence. It’s being able to “read” the people and the situation and then calling upon your “soft” skills to optimize the outcome for all involved.

People who don’t adapt are difficult to work with and are seriously no fun to be around. They’re rigid and frustrating because the world revolves around them (as far as they’re concerned) and how they want things done. To think you shouldn’t have to adapt because you’re an Introvert and that the world around you should adapt to your personality is self-centered at best and at its worst is simply crippling. The world is not going to adapt to you. Not only that, but that very thinking is counter-intuitive. You’re saying you shouldn’t have to adapt, but other people should adapt to you. Are you listening to what you’re saying?

One big lesson I picked up while becoming a certified Myers-Briggs instructor was that personality type never changes, despite some people thinking that it does. What does change is how versatile a person becomes in accessing other personality characteristics over their lifetime — in other words, adapting. If you’ve ever heard a person say they used to be “very Introverted” but now they’re “more Extraverted,” means they picked up the skill of adapting driven by the situations they encountered. That is also true for the other three personality preferences as identified by Myers-Briggs.

 

Be Smart in How You Adapt

It turns out you don’t have to wait for enough experience in life and work to develop your skills for adapting. You can accelerate the development of those skills. It requires a recipe of:

1. Consciousness toward what you want to change, and

2. The specific behavior to change to

If the dyspeptic person who said they were done adapting was so uncomfortable with the behaviors they were pursuing, they did it wrong. I have learned that, just like there are different learning styles, there are also different styles for how you do things. Life is not a “one-size-fits-all,” which in this case means we don’t all have to do things the same way. (Click here to tweet this thought.) Most of the typical advice, especially for soft skills, is inherently oriented toward our more Extraverted culture and ways of doing things. If that’s what you try to start doing, most likely you will feel uncomfortable and inauthentic, too.

If the motto “just do it” worked, as an example, for Introverts doing networking, then we would all be rockstar networkers. We aren’t. If we Introverts could “just do it” with networking, we would already be doing it. Yes, there is an approach Introverts can use that takes into account our strengths and involves a slightly different process. You get the same result — strengthened relationships. You just use a different route to get to the same destination. This is called adapting.

In other words, being smart about how or what you adapt your behaviors to is first about defining what end result you’re looking to achieve, then using a process that will get that result you can feel comfortable doing. Keeping with the example of networking, if my goal is to expand and strengthen the circle of people I know, does that mean I have to go to multiple networking events per week and work the room? Absolutely not! I can use coffee dates to strengthen existing relationships (only one example of things I could do), and I can ask my friends to bring a friend I haven’t met, which will expand my networking circle.

You see, as an Introvert, we do form relationships. We just prefer to form them in a small, intimate scale like this. Different route, same end results, and I didn’t have to creep myself out by working the room.

Let me end this commentary by saying this: If you don’t like how your career is turning out, don’t be cranky about it — change what you’re doing. Just know you can make changes that still work for you and can get you the result you want. And for pete’s sake, don’t listen to crappy advice.

How have you adapted, or been challenged when you didn’t adapt, in the workplace? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Image: Flickr

About Dorothy

Dorothy Tannahill-Moran is the Introvert Whisperer, Career & Leadership, speaker and author.

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