Learning to be the quiet voice of leadership

Mountain Hiking. Royalty Free Stock Image - 39901316

Loud is the rule in today’s workplace. Employees are encouraged to speak up, collaborate and be a team player. Being an introvert is hard in this kind of environment, with it’s constant stimulus and incessant noise. We’re constantly asked to step outside our comfort zones. In my role as a manager in a park I’ve had to learn to mold myself to this role in many ways.

A third of my day is spent answering phone calls and helping in-person customers. This can take it’s toll. Even positive interactions, with happy customers, can leave me feeling drained. And it’s even more heightened on days when I expected to be alone in my office but instead am called to the front to fill in for a coworker or deal with a challenging customer. Faced with unexpected interactions when we had set aside time to be calm can be difficult for many introverts. One of the toughest lessons I’ve learned is that it’s okay to feel frustrated, or overwhelmed, or like I need to step away for a few minutes. Often doing just that, stepping away, can make all the difference in dealing with the “too much” feeling of interacting with other people for extended periods of time. When things get a little overwhelming step outside, escape to the restroom or take a trip to the break room to fill up your water bottle. Often just getting briefly out of the situation can reset your ability to deal with the next wave of interaction.

Another big part of my day is cooperating with my coworkers. I don’t always have the luxury of shutting my door and tuning out the world. Being the supervisor others turn to for guidance, in a sometimes fast-paced setting, I have to be available to answer questions and deal with difficult situations as they arise. This can be a strain on my introvert need for peace and quiet and structure, especially when working on things requiring attention to detail. One particularly difficult day I timed how often I was interrupted during the day. The longest I went without a coworker walking in my office or my phone ringing was 2 minutes! I was frustrated and tired and my nerves were frayed to their limit. I finally, needing to vent, I spoke to my supervisor about it. She encouraged me to shut my door, and really mean it, when I had attention-heavy tasks. Now, after some ups and downs, and a little good natured jokes from coworkers, they know if my door is shut and my head phones are in, to interrupt me only for the essentials. I wasn’t able to do this on my own, for fear of seeming selfish or too removed, but having that encouragement from someone else to allow myself to meet my need for quiet made all the difference. Setting boundaries can be difficult, but it can also make happier.

Another aspect of my job that I thought would be the biggest challenge yet, was presenting educational programs to park visitors. Surprisingly, stepping in the role of group leader has been fairly easy. There are moments of nervousness, but overall, I seem to step outside of the role of myself and step into the role of presenter. Having these two selves may seem odd, but the defined role as presenter with a set program takes away much of the awkwardness found when having a one-on-one conversation. I’ve found that the experience of leading these talks has made it easier to talk to visitors in other situations too, I just put on the program leader hat once again.

I’m still learning, but I’m finding that even in a position that is not ideal for an introvert, adaptations can be made. Ask for help, take people breaks, and give yourself permission to feel the way you feel. No reason necessary. It’s okay to prefer to work alone in an office, but it’s also possible to step outside that comfort zone if you give yourself the necessary care before and after.

Feel free to share any workplace tips you’ve found for dealing with customers, co-workers or anything else that is a unique challenge for the introverts among us.