Navigating the workplace as an introverted designer

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Tried and tested tips that have helped me

I’m an introvert by all measures. Ask me to choose between a social gathering and a quiet evening by myself. You’ll see me jump at the latter. It’s just who I am and the kind of environment I prefer. Over time, those who know me have come to accept this and understand why I need the time to myself. However, being an introvert at work can be a different ball game altogether. As UX designers, we’re expected to collaborate with others, to communicate our design rationale, and to present our ideas to large audiences. Given that it’s IN the job description, how can introverted designers navigate the workplace effectively?

Understand that it is in-fact doable

As I started my career, there was a question that plagued me — Do extroverts get rewarded more at the workplace by being more vocal or visible? This became a discussion point in conversations with my peers and mentors. Often, the answer is tied back to workplace culture and performance metrics used to evaluate employees.

In my quest for answers, I stumbled upon a book called ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking’ by Susan Cain. If you’ve read the book, you would know that the difference between introversion and extroversion boils down to a preference for a certain type of environment — Introverts perform well in low-stimulation environments whereas extroverts prefer high-stimulation environments. If you haven’t read the book, I’d highly recommend it.

My biggest take-away from the book was about adapting to the situation at hand and the importance of finding balance. While you can try to situate yourself in environments that are favourable to your personality, it might not always be possible. It’s possible to end up in situations that demand some level of extroversion. In these situations, introverts need to learn to adapt while still staying true to themselves (emphasis on staying true to oneself). The good news is that we’re all malleable and can adapt to thrive in any environment.

Tips on how to adapt

After a lot of self-experimentation, I’ve made changes to my workflow which in turn help me adapt better. If you’ve reached this far in the article, I am assuming you’re an introvert or an ambivert too. Hopefully, some of these tips help you.

Tip 1: Leverage your strengths

Get to know what your strengths are and use them to your advantage!

If you look within yourself, you will be able to identify some traits that separate you from the rest of the crowd. Find them and create a differentiated advantage for yourself! Some things that have worked for me:

  • Writing and documenting: I’ve always been someone that enjoys written communication over spoken communication. At work, I use that to keep everyone informed about project status, drive clarity and ensure all stakeholders are on the same page.
  • Thinking before speaking: While this is sage advice for everyone at the workplace, introverts just happen to be better listeners and observers. At work, this can be used to carefully observe the situation, listen to multiple perspectives and pitch something that others missed. Who knows — you might even be able to offer a completely different perspective! I also believe that introverts tend to be more empathetic as a result of our ability to think, reflect and then react.

Tip 2: Come prepared

If you’re not comfortable thinking on your feet, solid preparation can go a long way!

Illustration by lizandmollie

Here are some scenarios at work where some preparation beforehand can go a long way:

  • Meetings: Have you ever walked into a meeting with no context only to not have much to contribute? I’ve had that happen a few times. The lesson I’ve learnt is to ask for an agenda/pre-read whenever possible. Trust me — you are aiding for a more effective meeting by doing so. Firstly, you can see whether you’re required for the meeting. Secondly, you can think of any questions/concerns you have ahead of time. It may seem daunting at first, but the effort pays off.
  • Presentations: When it comes to presenting your work to key stakeholders, my advice would be to practice beforehand. Keep a check on how much time you have and ensure you have enough time to communicate your key points. If it helps, write down pointers in a notebook that you can refer to during the presentation. Get a sense of who your audience is — try to think of the concerns they might have. You can do this exercise along with a PM/designer before your meeting. It’s okay to not have a solution ready in time for the presentation, but it helps to have discussed it. If anything, the preparation makes it feel like you’ve covered your bases and gives you that little confidence boost!

Tip 3: Half-baked thoughts are okay!

Don’t hesitate to share them.

Illustration by lizandmollie

Our love for deep thinking can often lead to over-thinking and perfectionism. Something that I’m all too familiar with. On countless occasions, I’ve waited too long before sharing an idea. By the time I gathered the confidence to speak, the discussion had moved on to the next topic!

Instead of perfecting your thoughts, maybe you can preface it with statements like “I’m thinking out loud here” or “This is just off the top of my head”. You never know — maybe your thought could trigger some new thoughts within someone else.

Tip 4: Find the right work environment

Over time, commercial spaces seem to have embraced more open office plans without cubicles. The goal is to bring people together, remote barriers and really encourage collaboration! However, that’s not always conducive to getting work done. Back when working from the office was the norm, I would walk into these tiny enclosed workspaces that we called focus rooms. All it had was a desk, a chair and a whiteboard. But with the addition of blocking out external noise, it was the perfect space for some uninterrupted time to think.

Friendly paws will always be welcome to my work environment

At home, I’ve found the quietest corner in my house and have set up my desk there. A place for me to go into my zone. A slightly related tip I have is to block hours of focus time on your work calendar. Go into DND mode and carve out the time you need for the task at hand!

Tip 5: Speak with conviction

I admit, this is something I’m still learning. Easier said than done!

Illustration by lizandmollie

This has a lot to do with how confident you feel but also how confident you are in the subject that you have to talk about. I have found that the more preparation I put into something, the more confident I am with speaking and discussing the subject matter.

Like I mentioned, I’m still learning here and would love to read your suggestions about this!

Even if you are not the loudest voice or the most dominant voice, it kind of doesn’t matter, it’s the conviction that carries the day. — Susan Cain

Tip 6: Take time off. Recharge!

Find time for yourself and relax

Illustration by lizandmollie

This might be one of the most important tips in the article! With all the work you’re putting in to adapt to your workplace and give it your best, it’s understandable to feel a bit drained out/exhausted. To stay true to yourself, it’s important to recoup all your energy. Here’s what has helped me:

  • Don’t feel socially obligated to attend all the social events at work: If you’re worried that you might be missing out, consider meeting smaller groups instead! That way, you’re being more intentional and forming strong work relationships as well!
  • Do something you love (preferably something that doesn’t involve screen time): We live in a world with constant information overload. It’s tough to fight the FOMO. If anything, this adds to how mentally drained I feel most days. Finding a hobby helps. At one of my previous stints, I met people of all age groups with varied interests — from rock climbing to playing the saxophone. It was great to see people carve this time out for themselves. I now see how it helps as well. For me, some crafting/singing always helps me relax and recenter.

Tip 7: Pay it forward

Be an ally to someone else.

If you are an introvert/ambivert, you probably know what it feels like to be in the same situation. Have you seen someone in a meeting just trying to get a word in? Offer them a way into the conversation. If you’re the organiser of a meeting, you could go around the room to get everyones thoughts so that everyone has their chance to speak. If someone doesn’t immediately have anything to contribute, that’s fine too!

While I’m sure there are many other ways to navigate the workplace as an introvert, these are a few that worked for me! I hope this helps you in some way. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Special thanks to:

Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy from lizandmollie for letting me use some of their illustrations and inspiring me to put together a few, Susan Cain for inspiring me to write about this in the first place, and Shashank Sahay for feedback.

Navigating the workplace as an introverted designer was originally published in Muzli – Design Inspiration on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.