Strategies for introverts to succeed at work

By Hillary Mantis

“I really need a job where I don’t have to go to court,” Susan, my 1L counseling appointment told me, nervously tapping her foot. “I’m really introverted and I don’t like public speaking. Am I going to be able to succeed as a lawyer?” Susan was applying for 1L summer jobs and already worried that she wasn’t going to do well at work.

While current legal TV shows might lead you to believe that lawyers spend their time making impassioned speeches in court, that is far from the typical day of a lawyer. There are a multitude of legal career paths that do not involve a lot of public speaking.

In fact, many lawyers are introverts. Many were successful students because of their strong research and writing skills. So, is it possible for Susan, my introverted student, to be happy and successful at work? Of course it is.

Here are some strategies for introverts in the workplace:

Focus on individual interactions where possible: While you may not be comfortable speaking up at a large group meeting, you can be very effective in small groups or one on one interactions. It may be more comfortable for you to try and approach colleagues one-on-one or in a small group environment.

Prepare in advance for big meetings: If you are going to attend a large group seminar or meeting, try to prepare what you might contribute to the discussion in advance. Is there an outline or agenda you can review beforehand? Generally, introverts like to have time to think before they speak.

If you have time to prepare, rather than having to speak off the cuff, you may be much more comfortable. If you can also arrive early, it gives you an opportunity to chat one on one with colleagues before the meeting starts — and plan to stay after it ends, to have more opportunities for individual conversations. This will afford you opportunities for informal networking, without having to always speak in front of a large group.

Capitalize on written interactions: Many introverts are good thinkers and writers. Some prefer the written word to the spoken word. In this era of email, written materials often take precedence over phone calls, anyway. Use this to your advantage. If you are a natural writer, and feel more comfortable writing than presenting or speaking by phone, try to present your initial thoughts and ideas in writing.

Befriend an extrovert: If you have a friend, colleague or mentor at work who is an extrovert, they can help introduce you to people. They can convince you to go to the office party that you might have been dreading (but that you might really enjoy once you get there.) Since extroverts tend to be energized by more interactions with people, they can help pave the way for you to network and meet new colleagues.

Realize the tremendous value you bring to an organization: Susan, my 1L student who doesn’t want a career that involves a lot of public speaking, was starting to doubt her entire professional value. That’s a mistake that sometimes introverts make. Introverts are often very good listeners. They also have great abilities to focus.

They may not always speak as much at meetings — but when they do, their comments are often very well thought out. It’s not that extroverts are more successful than introverts or vice-versa; they just have different, but equally valuable preferred ways of re-energizing and communicating.

Reach out for help: If you are trying to brainstorm legal careers that would be a good fit for your own communication style, I recommend you reach out to the career counselors in the career office at your own school. Many schools offer career inventories, such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, which can be really helpful. Most schools also offer mock interviews to help you gain confidence in your public speaking skills before big interviews or meetings.


Hillary Mantis works with pre-law students, law students and lawyers. She is author of "Alternative Careers for Lawyers" and director of the pre-law program at Fordham University. You can reach her at altcareer@aol.com.


 

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