Your Professional Field Guide to Be a Rockstar Introvert at Work (Part 2)
Change for the sake of change is pointless. Change to improve your life (and your career is part of your life) is vital. (Like this thought? Tweet it!)
Previously, I’ve explained that you can learn to adapt, and learn the skill of adapting, in order to create the best possible outcome. But where do you start?
The best place to start is by looking at your own career goals against your current situation. If your current situation is problematic, then you have things to change, even if your issues aren’t all that big. Small issues tend to get bigger as time goes by, and it’s very easy to try to ignore those smaller issues until you wake up one day and you’ve got a huge career mess on your hands.
The trouble I sometimes see is that people try to solve the symptoms of problems, not the problems themselves. It’s like taking cold medicine for pneumonia. It might help with the symptoms, but it will do nothing for eliminating the pneumonia from your body. When you solve the symptom, you fail to solve the problem. You could also make your situation worse because your actions really aren’t focused on the correct fix. I see this same problem when it comes to solving business issues. Failure to get down to the root cause of a problem is fairly common. The reason it happens more in our careers is because the emotional component doesn’t exactly cause a person to think all that clearly.
Let Me Give You an Example…
I had a former client return to me a few years after helping her land what she thought was a dream job. She wanted me to help her again with a job search, and since I had helped her land the job she was leaving, I wanted to do a diagnostic of her situation. I learned she had a history of going into a position and doing an outstanding job, but being seriously under-appreciated for her accomplishments. Her relationships with her bosses had consistent themes of poor communication, other people getting credit for her ideas and her leaving feeling unrecognized and under-supported.
Her assessment was that her industry was full of flaky management and she needed to do a complete career switch. This was a huge undertaking, as her career skills were directly linked to her industry. She was a specialist, and moving into another industry and career would mean retooling. She was addressing the symptom, not the problem.
My assessment was that, like so many Introverts, she was falling short in areas others around her had mastered. Namely, she had the following real problems fairly common to Introverts:
- She was not self-promoting and helping management to utilize her extensive skills. As a result, they failed to recognize her for her skills and her results.
- She wasn’t reading the political landscape; in fact, she was avoiding it, which is always a perilous thing to do. You can’t avoid the dynamics that occur any time you get a group of people together. Politics happen, both negative and positive. If you don’t understand office politics, you will pull a big career-limiting move. It’s not a question of if it happens; it’s simply a matter of when and how big the political blunder will be. In her case, it was fairly big.
- She had great relationships with the people who worked for her but had no relationships with her peers, management or executives. In fact, she grew to feel contempt for those at her level and above. She had no support structure, and it was apparent almost no one was in her corner. Relationships are vital for almost every aspect of your career, and the fact that her career was in trouble was due in a large part to this missing element.
The problem I had with this client’s proposed new direction is that she would repeat her history no matter where she pursued a job if she didn’t take steps to change how she managed herself in that job. To make it worse, she would potentially spend time and money that wouldn’t lead to a solution. She would simply have the same bad results in a new career and new industry. I did agree that she should start fresh elsewhere, but that she should do it with a new strategy and a few changes to her own behavior.
The great thing about starting a new job is that you can change your behavior and have completely different results. But, you have to be changing the right behavior or adapting new behavior that will produce a better result.
Hopefully, I have illustrated by now why you have to drill down on your own behavior to know what to change. Certainly, we do work with people who can be problematic, but when you keep hitting the same walls repeatedly, you have to start assuming it’s you.
Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that you aren’t having career issues per se; you’re just not getting the traction you think you should. In this case, there are some very effective adaptation strategies to consider. The reason I call them “adaptation” strategies is that as an Introvert, you are not changing your personality. You will mere be adapting some behaviors, with approaches that preserve the integrity of your personality and also take your inherent tendencies into account. In other words, you are adjusting your behavior to suit the situation (and doing it “Introvert-style”).
You may discover that with enough repetition, you may permanently change your behavior. Keep in mind that changing your behavior is not changing your personality.
Using the example from above, let’s look at each adaptation strategy the client I’ve discussed could pursue:
Strategy #1: Self-Promotion
1. Re-set your attitude about self-promotion. Sometimes I hear people who think their work speaks for itself. It doesn’t, but you do.
Some people think they are “above” self-promotion. No one is above self-promotion, including the U.S. President, Oprah and the Pope. If they can self-promote and make people think positively about them, so can you.
2. Know the difference between bragging and self-promotion. An easy way to tell is in the value of the message. Bragging is self-centered and all about the person talking. It’s heavily laced with words like “I,” “me” and “mine.” The blather is pointless and adds no value to the listener. Self-promotion provides useful information to the recipient. What is being said adds value to the other person.
3. Be forthcoming with information. You perform a service of some sort to your company. Share liberally with those up, down and at your level what you are doing, your results, your breakthroughs and your observations. Your sharing does two things: 1) it reinforces what you do, and 2) it helps the other person learn about things that will help them. Most people fail to recognize that communication is always the weak spot in their organization. You can be the opposite.
Let’s pause here to look at just these suggestions. The first things you’re doing with this strategy is putting your head in the right space. The next thing you’re doing is not painful and is fairly simple to do — being conscious of a need and then applingy a straightforward approach to it.
The approach works well for Introverts because we tend to not speak without a reason or purpose. The reason here is to help others (and yourself) by keeping them informed of what you’re up to. You can’t assume anyone knows what you’re doing.
Note that I’m not telling you to be “more outgoing.” That is usually not good advice for us. But a specific process and reason is.
There are many more things you could do under this strategy, but this is a start. Use these suggestions and then, when you feel good about the changes, expand to the next strategy. We Introverts can get overwhelmed, so it’s best to start small, master one thing and then expand your skills.
Strategy #2: Building Relationships
1. Make a goal for expanding. One thing that helps Introverts is having a purpose or mission when pursuing a relationship. Establishing a goal can help provide a basis for driving you forward, and also gives you a positive reward when you hit this goal.
Again, start small. A good goal might be: 1) develop one new relationship at work per month, and 2) start approaching management 2-3 times per month to get to know them or their priorities.
2. Go one-on-one. Introverts prefer more intimate settings rather than big blowouts. This is perfect, especially at work. Use those moments when you drop in to give an update or pick up something as an opportunity to get to know the person you’re visiting.
Ask questions — this is easier than normal small talk, as you won’t have to come up with pithy remarks, just good questions. Plus, asking about the other person shows interest, and that’s always a good basis for a relationship.
3. Get to know someone who’s doing something you’d like to do. If you’re seeking a promotion or different position, what better way to do it than to get to know the person doing it right now? You can learn more about the job from this person, and it may also give you an opportunity to volunteer to help them. You will win points with this person and also get more qualified (how good is that?)
4. Get to know the boss. You don’t need to turn your boss into your BFF (but it could happen). By spending time with the boss, you’ll get more insight into their work and priorities. Become familiar with the demands and priorities on the boss, and you can gain insight into how you could help them. When you have the boss’s back, you become very valuable.
See, that isn’t too painful! With these suggestions, you can start winning relationships that will support you along your path.
Strategy #3: Reading the Political Landscape
1. Don’t avoid gossip. I’m sure you’re shocked I suggested this. But before you skip over this one, think about these points.
You can learn a lot from the gossip being shared in your group. While you don’t have to add to it and you do have to edit what you hear, you can still figure out how things work in a group. You can learn who’s “in” and who’s “out” and — without sounding too cold-blooded — you need to know that. If you overly align yourself with someone who is “out,” you will be perceived the same way.
2. Align with influence. This doesn’t mean you ignore the people you like and suck up to odious people. It means among the people you need to have strategic relationships with are those people who seem to hold more sway than others. These people can eventually sway things in your favor, which is good. They can also help you be noticed easier, which is also important.
3. Learn the management and influencers. One thing I will readily admit is that we Introverts can be a bit “tone deaf” to the interactions of others. That’s because we tend to be task-focused (it helps conserve energy) and, when we’re hunkered down on a task, we may miss the group dynamics.
You need to pay attention to your management and those of influence. You need to figure out what’s important to these people and position yourself to deliver to those things; it will make you invaluable. Also, by paying attention to those people, you will learn things like the best way to communicate with them, or sensitivities they might have on certain things. Modify how you do things with those people once you learn how they tick.
4. Offer solutions. I can tell you for a fact that while management needs to know about problems, they don’t want to hear them without also hearing proposed solutions. Don’t be overly committed to your solution in case they don’t adopt your suggestion. You will quickly become the least favorite person if you constantly use your expertise to point out flaws and leave the problem on the doorstep of others to fix. It’s just being politically astute to offer solutions.
Some people are nervous about playing office politics. All you really need to know if that it’s all about who influences whom to make what decisions. And the “who’s who” can change at the drop of a hat, so you need to be aware and react accordingly. You may think you aren’t political, but if you’re part of a group, you are. With that in mind, be smart and play it positively.
Like the other two things I outlined above, there are many other actions you can take to help you with all three areas. I can tell you from my experience both doing these things and helping others that it only take a few well thought-out actions to make a huge difference for your career.
Be a Conscious Introvert
Now that you understand how you tick and where your Introvert tendencies are most likely to show up, my last message to you is to be conscious of when you aren’t helping your career.
Like everyone on the planet, we get used to our own behaviors, no matter how useful or problematic they might be. It’s easy to simply move past something we see ourselves doing and shrug it off, even when we know it’s not helping our own career goals.
Start paying attention to your own weak spots. Many Introverts share the same issues, and usually those issues have to do with interactions (or lack thereof) with others.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to make sure you’re not getting in your own way:
- Are you staying silent in meetings most of the time?
- Do you fail to offer up your opinion because it’s the same as others most of the time?
- Are your work relationships sparse or specific to the projects or work you do?
- Are you sought after for your expertise? By the boss or management?
- Are you noticing people with fewer skills or less experience moving up faster than you?
- Do you believe most people at work understand your expertise?
- Are you treated with respect?
- Do you get recognition (not necessarily awards or bonuses) for your work or accomplishments?
- If your career situation changed this week, would your network be strong enough to help you?
- If you needed to, could you influence others at work for something you felt strongly about?
- Do you have a clear sense of your personal brand and believe it’s consistent with how people at work view you? Does it support your career goals?
If you aren’t clear about these things, you can obtain feedback from a variety of people you work with. Be careful to ask people who will give you the unvarnished truth about you. Most people try to be polite or nice, and you need some straightforward information, not useless input. Steer clear of asking the people you know will struggle with being completely honest.
All change models will tell you that you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge or realize is a problem. Being conscious of your behavior gives you that vital first step to making real changes that matter.
Self-improvement is a lifelong endeavor, and I hope you are approaching your career improvement with the spirit of fun and adventure. After all, it’s about you and it’s about you going places, which is seriously exciting.
If you’re in a poor job situation, I realize that isn’t fun. Know that you have the power to either change your situation or move on to a job where you can develop the type of behaviors that will dramatically accelerate your career.
You can learn new skills until the day you die. You can learn to adapt to your various situations with some consciousness and a clear vision of what needs to change.
Also, I’m a real person and always happy to help. Feel free to email me if you’d like guidance for your particular concerns — I answer all my email. To help you gain additional insight about what’s working and what’s not working, you can also take a free assessment to get feedback so you can be on your path to a career you love. Click here to take the assessment now.
For additional Introvert insights, you can also check out my video series on The 5 Common Ways Introverts Commit Career Self-Sabotage and How to Avoid Them. Click here to view the videos.