Work Relationships And Introversion

So far this year we have shared articles focusing on four out of our 5 Pillars of Resilience, and this month brings the fifth and final pillar: Strong Relationships. The importance of social interaction and connection for our mental wellbeing is well documented, but building and maintaining such relationships can be a great deal easier for some than others, especially at work.

For those who sit towards the more introverted end on the spectrum of introversion to extraversion, forming connections at work can be a real challenge. ‘Introverts’ tend to feel energised more by time alone than by time spent with others, which is more likely to drain them – in contrast to more extraverted individuals, who feel energised by socialising. There has been a great deal of research into the biological reasons behind these differences, and one key aspect seems to be that introverts are more sensitive to dopamine than extraverts are, meaning they feel more easily stimulated in circumstances that cause dopamine release (such as social situations).

Pressure to act extraverted

On top of being told that being sociable is good for our health, work environments often reward extraverted behaviour—either intentionally or unintentionally. In one study highly extraverted individuals were found to have a 25% higher chance of being in a high-earning job than introverts. And yet, introverts can make some of the best leaders – they are just often overlooked as their louder, more chatty colleagues attract more attention. Because of this, introverts can feel as though they need to act more extraverted in the workplace, not in line with their true personality.

If you identify as an introvert, here are some tips to help foster healthy relationships at work that don’t sap all of your energy:

  • Be open about your preferences and needs with colleagues, such as your preferred method(s) of communication. Then set clear boundaries that work for you (and stick to them). For example, you could have a boundary around how close together your meetings are scheduled, ensuring you always have enough downtime in between to recover and prepare for the next one.
  • Don’t feel guilty about taking time out; it will help you recharge and feel ready to connect with colleagues again. This might mean something like booking a meeting room to go and work in for an hour or so, just to get some quiet time, or heading out alone during your lunch break. It’s about balance.
  • To avoid uncomfortable small talk, try asking for someone’s opinion on a work matter instead. It makes for easy conversation, and people love to feel helpful!
  • When it comes to socialising after work, don’t feel like you need to say yes to everything you are invited to, but do try to go along sometimes. You could set yourself a particular time that you will go home—this way there is an end in sight and you preserve some time to wind down afterwards, ensuring you don’t exhaust yourself.
  • Focus on quality of relationships, not quantity. Try arranging 1:1 conversations whenever possible; you will be more likely to forge strong connections this way compared to conversations within big groups.
  • Play to your strengths: listen! Many people prefer the sound of their own voice over truly listening to other people, but feeling heard and understood is key to a trusting, supportive relationship.

The key thing to remember is that introverts have different needs to extraverts. The types and frequency of social situations that people require to feel happy and healthy can vary enormously. That said, there are real risks that come with not spending enough time around other people. Social isolation is detrimental to both mental and physical health, so if this is your natural inclination, then it is worth trying to strike a balance between time alone and encouraging yourself to spend some time with others. Think about what ‘strong relationships’ means to you, what makes you feel at your best, and try not to feel pressured to match other people’s preferences.

For information about how you can use Wraw to develop your own resilience and wellbeing, get in touch with us by emailing or telephone +44 (0)800 085 6899.