An Introvert’s Guide to Surviving the Social Office

It is December and December in the workplace can often mean festive social events that make the average introvert cringe. If you are an introvert, the good news is that you do not have to attend said events. According to government ethics policies, holiday parties and other social events are voluntary. Introverts love this policy and it is a good one. But still, for some people, being forced into social environments can induce anxiety. In fact, social anxiety disorder is a real thing.

If you are wondering, I am an introvert. Every personality test I have ever taken confirms it and I have almost all the characteristics given to introverts in almost every definition I have ever seen. Webster’s definition of introvert is “one whose personality is characterized by introversion.” Google’s definition was a little better: a shy, reticent person.

Find Your Balance

But sometimes, in finding your career and purpose, you must push past the introversion to achieve a balance. For example, I was the chair of hundreds of young government leaders and the vice-chair of a veterans’ organization that achieved great things in the community. Being in front, having to speak and other responsibilities required of a leader can be challenging but we face those challenges because we have a greater purpose to help people and share our gifts and talents.

From a psychology viewpoint, there are various aspects to introversion and there are apparently four different types of introversion: social, thinking, anxious, and restrained. I do not know what ‘type’ of introversion I am but I do not think it matters; for the most part, I strive to balance my introversion with a reasonable amount of socializing.

But maybe this season you’re ready to attempt some social interaction with your peers to fulfill your greater purpose. In that case, here are a few things to remember that can help you get through it.

Things to Remember

Prepare. Prepare yourself mentally for what you can expect. This means taking a few minutes at your desk, cubicle, or the restroom if necessary to gather your thoughts and calm any sense of anxiety you may be feeling.

Give yourself time. Literally, time yourself by deciding how long you plan to stay. Again, the event is voluntary so you are free to leave when you please. Establishing a time limit will lessen the overwhelming feeling of the entire event.

Have a battle buddy. If there is someone in your office who you know well and trust, attend the event with this person. Sit with this person and chat with them. Not only are they meant to be a distraction for you, their role is to be a sense of comfort and familiarity for you.

Positive self-talk. One of my favorite sayings is “this too shall pass.” I can rely on this statement more than anything else because I know that it is true. This, whatever this is, shall pass. Why? Because time waits and stops for no one. It keeps moving! Have in your repository a few positive affirmations that can get you through every day, not just anxious-ridden social events.

You’ve Got This

I understand what it means to be an introvert. I also know that while I accept this personality trait, I want to be able to interact with people without getting overwhelmed or anxious. Interacting with people is the only way (at least the only way I know so far) that I can help them and share my gifts and talents. Even as a writer, which can be an isolated lifestyle, I do not know of a single profession that does not interact with the outside world.

The point is, you cannot hide behind fears, anxieties and less favorable personality characteristics if you want to affect and change the world.

When you learn to balance who you are, with what you have to do, to become who you want to be, you can be an introvert and do great things. Or even just survive your next office social.

Rita Lucas is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is a writer and author who works with the federal government as a management analyst and project manager. As a writer, she helps small business and non-profit organizations promote their mission and brand; and as an author, she has published several titles that promote self-development. As a government employee, Rita has worked in the field of human resources for 11 years and has volunteered for leadership positions with veteran-focused and millennial-centric organizations. Rita holds a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s degree in publishing. She is a new mom and resides in Maryland with her family. You can read her posts here.

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Kelda Senior

Great tips, Rita. We introverts enjoy social interaction – just in small doses, of course! I’ll definitely be applying these.

Mary Parker

I know I have staff members who bow out of these types of events, to their detriment. I’ve tell them they’re welcome to say, “I have another commitment so I can’t stay long.” This is a great way to minimize problems with just showing up, and when time limits are internally available (e.g., I’m only staying for 45 minutes), can quell some of that anxiety.

I’ve also found that introverts need some structure to these holiday gatherings so being part of the planning committee can be a way to help insert that structure, whether it be in the form of a type of scavenger hunt when checking in or some other activity with a defined goal or purpose. A timeline of events can also be helpful, but again, many introverts need guidance (whether internal or external) for activities to do for the next x minutes. Unstructured time an also be anxiety-provoking.