Only Connect: How an Introvert Is Uniting Quiet Colleagues

Kristen Pyszczyk is a Communications Manager at RBC who specializes in amplifying the employee voice and bringing people together. She enjoys brainstorming new ideas, writing about thought leadership, and listening to Prince.

When I first started at the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), I didn’t really expect to be there for very long. I wanted to succeed, but I didn’t believe I could be successful in an environment where achievement seemed to depend on putting oneself “out there.” I’ve always preferred to keep to myself and tend to prefer one-on-one interactions and solo time to large groups. Those around me have expressed concern about this trait at every point of my life, including the girls in junior high who mistook my independent nature for snobbishness, the professors who disliked that I never raised my hand in class, and various roommates angered by my tendency to sit quietly in my room.

Two and a half years and one studio apartment later, I have experiences under my belt that would have terrified and amazed me had I imagined them at the beginning of my career. I’ve met with hundreds of people across RBC at every conceivable point in the hierarchy; I’ve walked into meetings with large groups of people I’ve never met and spoken my mind; and I’ve given dozens of presentations. When I enter situations that seem overwhelming, there are a few strategies I use to increase my chances of success.

The single most important strategy I’ve developed is to just do it. I don’t shy away from opportunities simply because they scare me. Many times, I’ve needed to force myself to enter that meeting room instead of finding a pleasant place to hide, as the introvert inside keeps urging me to do.

Once I set foot through the door, things usually go well because I’ve over-prepared and because I always let my personality shine through. For example, I have an offbeat sense of humor, so breaking the ice by introducing myself with a slide of a selfie of me and a dinosaur has worked incredibly well. We laugh and then move on to the ideas. I’ve found that some of the most important developments in my career have come about because of an idea I’ve presented in a humorous but memorable way.

I am lucky to do work I’m passionate about, so this inevitably shines through, and I open up in my excitement. I also don’t try to hide the fact that I’m a little awkward and might take some time to open up. When speaking with new people, I tend to proactively raise the fact that I’m an introvert and let them know I’m engaged in other ways.

I’ll often send a follow-up email with a new idea that occurred to me after I had a chance to think about what was said during a meeting. People tend to be more accepting when they understand where I’m coming from. This is why I’ve never understood the commonly accepted idea that introversion is a character flaw to be hidden.

Throughout my life, I have repeatedly been told in many different ways that my way of being needs to change. People raise concerns when they see me eating lunch by myself, and I’ve been coached on being more vocal, where “vocal” often means loud or self-congratulatory (who hasn’t been told to “sell yourself”?!). Though I can’t believe how much I’ve adjusted, I still can’t help but feel like I’m constantly compensating to get by. And this is a common sentiment I hear from introverts: they are coping by adopting extroverted traits, avoiding situations that might expose them as introverts, and doing a bunch of little things like switching their lockers to more secluded places or finding quiet work areas. But should so many people have to cope on such a fundamental basis with how our workplace—and, frankly, our world—is set up?

Susan Cain raised a point—one of the best things I’ve heard—in her TED Talk. She pointed out that although there is NO correlation between the loudest/most charismatic person and the person who has the best ideas, our first instinct is to think of people who are more “out there” as leaders and subject matter experts. There is obviously a balance that needs to be struck here: we are social beings, and in-person interaction with people is vital to getting our message across and connecting with people. But could we stand to encourage those who don’t yell to speak up, and could we do more to ensure everyone has the space they need to maximize their creativity?

As I sit in the Innovation group of RBC, these questions take on added importance. For an organization to become truly innovative, those with different perspectives need to feel empowered to speak up. Up to fifty percent of workers self-identify as introverts. A lot of ideas don’t get voiced when half of employees stay silent!

For this reason, I’m working to ensure introverts have a place to exchange experiences and tips at RBC. I developed a community called Introverts Connect for introverts on RBC’s internal social collaboration platform and just organized the first online panel for this community. (The running joke was that introverts didn’t want a panel where we’d actually need to get up in front of people and speak!) The capacity to support different personality types that RBC’s leaders have shown has been incredible, and the conversations my colleagues are having make me optimistic that we’re moving toward a greater understanding of how we can all thrive.

Field Notes brings you first-hand workplace experiences written by contributors who share their own stories, the lessons they’ve learned, and the unique benefits of a quiet approach to life in the office. Whether you’re an introvert looking to make the most of your strengths or an extrovert/ambivert who wants to learn how your quiet colleagues tick, Field Notes offers real-world insights about taking a walk on the quiet side. Submit your own story and watch this space for more perspectives from your colleagues.