Stress happens. If you're an introvert, it might happen more often as a result of workplace stress. And, it might be directly related to Emotional Intelligence (or EQ).

Recently, I caught up with Genella Macintyre, who wrote a book called Five Steps to Reducing Stress: Recognizing What Works and asked about how stress is such a major factor when it comes to managing EQ when you're an introvert.

1. How can introverts manage stress that results from EQ issues?

Introverts get their energy from the inner world of ideas and thoughts. Managing stress (albeit an individual and unique strategy regardless of type) for introverts is best achieved by allowing time to reflect. Having time at the end of the day and even throughout the day to spend alone without having to interact with others will allow an introvert to recharge his or her own batteries.

EQ related stress stems from how others perceive introverts. Introverts are frequently misunderstood. Because their emotional expression can be minimal, others often mistake them for being angry, unapproachable, or even anti-social. This is not the case. Others do not see what is happening with introverts and jump to negative assumptions.

To reduce stress in this area, introverts need to communicate what they are feeling and thinking. When introverts contribute more of this type of information to a conversation, less negative assumptions are made about them. Sharing thoughts and feelings appropriately with others is a stress-reducing formula for interaction.

An introvert typically does not express emotions and feelings freely. In fact, it is draining for them to do so. Self-expression allows others to understand what we are thinking and feeling. It is the essence of communication. Introverts can manage this stress by noticing what is happening with the other person. If it seems the other person is getting uncomfortable, introverts need only ask a question to engage the other person or work to express primary thoughts and emotions.

2. Do you feel introverts have a harder time with EQ in the workplace--why or why not?

I believe so. Though it is important not to stereotype a group of individuals into any one category, there are some generalizations to consider.

Introverts, in my experience, report finding extroverts overwhelming. Extroverts may interrupt them in conversation, interrupt their work, or request answers at the last minute. As mentioned, introverts are commonly misunderstood. As a result, relationships can be strained and the onus seems to be on the introvert to show that he or she is not angry, standoffish, or not a team player.

Another area of stress for introverts may be attending social functions. Networking and social gatherings may not impact one introvert but may greatly impact another. Regardless, the introvert will need to find his or her own comfort level in interaction with others in this arena.

Finally, the world rewards extroversion more than introversion. People who are outgoing and expressively friendly are seen in a better light than those who do not. In school, at home and at work, society teaches us how to communicate with others through sharing information about thoughts and feelings. People are not taught as much about acceptance and non-judgment when others communicate in different ways than we do.

3. What are some ways introverts could improve EQ at work?

Here are some ideas:

  • Take the initiative to engage others in a brief conversation.
  • Take a moment to reflect on how you are feeling and what you are thinking so that you are able to communicate that information in more detail when required.
  • Acknowledge that silence may make others uncomfortable. If you are asked a question and need time in the moment to reflect on the answer, state that you are thinking about it and request a few minutes to reflect on your response.
  • Practice noticing. Notice what is happening with you when interacting with others, notice the other person's communication style, and notice your impact on that person.
  • Show appreciation to others around you. Occasionally (perhaps once a day) notice something positive about another and express the impact on you. Now this may sound like work and for many introverts, especially ones with very clear scores for introversion, it is. Statements to others need not be long and complicated or gushing with emotion. If that happened, suddenly your colleagues would be asking you what was wrong! Your comments can be short and to the point but ensure they are positive and give the reason why they were positive (e.g., the impact on you or a client, customer, etc.)
  • Identify times when emotional expression is easier. Ask yourself, "What is it about this situation that encourages me to speak more and relay more information about myself?" When you identify that element, apply what you have learned to those around you at work.

4. Are there EQ-related issues that are not possible to manage?

Introverts can learn the skill of emotional expression. They can learn to share more of what they think and feel thereby meeting others halfway. What is unobtainable is for an introvert to become an extrovert. Introverts trying to do so will find themselves running out of energy fast!

Another difficult and almost unobtainable skill is for introverts to work in a job that allows no quiet time or time away from others. Introverts need not interact with every conversational colleague but if they are in situations where there is zero time for reflection, all is lost. Being constantly "on" is the same as being constantly drained.