Many don’t understand the horror of being thrust into an office of people who both intimidate the hell out of you, and require you to be witty, funny or really talkative. If you do, you’re not alone.
It can seem like the workplace is only built for those who could charm an employment contract out of a sandwich. Or, even worse, an actual person. Even if it’s not a straight-up job, they’re still the one invited for after-work drinks although, even if you were asked too, you couldn’t think of anything more terrifying. What would you talk about?
Quiet: The Power of Introverts author Susan Cain recently, and rightly, points out the worrying movement towards praising extroversion and pretty much tattooing INTROVERSION IS BAD on everyone’s foreheads at birth. We’ve gone from individual forward-facing desks in schools, to “pods” where you’re always looking at fellow students. Group work is now necessary for everything from creative writing to maths, all of which are traditionally seen as isolated pursuits. Teamwork and group brainstorming exercises are increasingly important in offices - which are now open plan. So not only are you worrying about getting the work right, you’re also worrying about what to say while trying not to make the aforementioned mistakes.
Walking into that environment for the first time is hard enough but there’s sometimes another, more confident intern starting with you. You know the one - he becomes best friends with everyone within three minutes and, by the fourth, has provoked euphoria with some tumblr link sent round the room featuring cats looking through bits of bread. Meanwhile, you don’t know anyone’s email addresses yet. Or names.
Don’t panic. Firstly, watch the brilliant TED talk Susan Cain did on introverts, and how important they are in today’s society.
Done that? Good. Now you know that being an introvert isn’t something you need to “get over”, but a part of your character that means you thrive in different situations to extroverts. Unfortunately because the workplace is still geared towards those with the gift of the gab (as your nan might put it), there are certain steps you can take to make such stressful situations a little easier.
Dr Rob Yeung, psychologist and author of Confidence: The power to take control and live the life you want, has come up with six tips to help get you through that important first day of work experience, internships or your first job.
Remember that people can't see how nervous you are. Yes, you may feel your heart racing and you may have anxious thoughts running around your head, but no one can see those! If you can fake confidence by appearing calm, you will eventually feel calm too.
Remember that introversion isn't a curse. Introverts tend to be better at focusing on their work and working independently without supervision. So the next time extroverts are talking and talking, remember that you've probably achieved more actual work than they have…
Prepare for your first day by thinking ahead about what you might be asked to say. If you're new to a group, they may ask you where you’ve been before or what you’re doing at the moment. So write out a few bullet points and practise saying them out loud at home or even in a toilet cubicle in the office. That way, you'll have a better chance of making a good impact.
Think about where you direct your attention. If you imagine that your attention is a spotlight, you could either direct your spotlight onto your internal thoughts and worries. That's often counterproductive and may make you worry more. Rather than listening to the voice in your head, listen to the people who are speaking with you!
Use your body language when you're in conversation. Even when someone else is talking, remember to nod your head occasionally or shake it if that's appropriate to show you're listening.
Keep making an effort and it will get better. Most skills can be developed with effort and practice. You can get considerably better at speaking in meetings, dealing with colleagues and even giving presentations with enough exposure and practice. Don't feel downhearted if it doesn't come to you straightaway.