We've got some pretty amazing examples that prove introverts can make it big in the business world--Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, for instance. Yet, it's not uncommon for introverts to get the short end of the stick and get passed over for all kinds of opportunities at work.
Sending an unfortunate signal
On one hand, part of the problem is that, as an introvert, you can fail to be physically present enough to make the memorable impression necessary for others to recall and consider you. You might have a hard time repeatedly spending energy on engaging conversations that demonstrate your personality, skills and ideas. So a common recommendation for introverts who are getting passed over is just to try to get in more face time.
But as Angela Davis and Karen Zamora explored on MPR News with Angela Davis, the other side is that, when others around you are more extroverted, they consciously or subconsciously perceive that you are different. They might not label this difference overtly as being "bad", per se, but the human tendency is to look for others with shared characteristics. This helps establish a sense of normalcy and inclusion as part of a group. And that sense of belonging is imperative to good self-esteem and everyday functioning.
So when you do your thing and hang out intuitively observing on the outskirts of the room, or when you take a pass on the company picnic, you're sending the message that you're not "one of them". Others pick up on this signal, even if it's totally unintentional. And once they perceive you as an outsider, the improper association can cause very real tensions. If those tensions become chronic or escalate, you can lose the joy and opportunity you should have from your job and put your health on the line. In the worst case scenario, the problem can become so severe that leadership insists that you change your behavior or pack up your desk.
And the kicker is--and take this in very carefully--exceptional hard work alone isn't always enough to demonstrate your commitment to the group and desire to be part of it. That's imperative to understand, because introverts often try to use outstanding work performance as a way to earn brownie points, prove their commitment and make up for their lack of interaction. This is especially true for introverts who can draw especially firm boundaries and who believe that work is for work.
The antidote to introvert bias
Biases can be notoriously difficult to fight and change. But in this case, the medicine is relatively easy to swallow, and it doesn't necessarily require plunging headfirst into a chattery gaggle of your teammates.
Whenever you have the opportunity to interact with others at work, make a conscious effort to reach out on a personal level. For instance, understanding that there's more to the conversation than making small talk, show genuine interest and ask how their dinner party went or whether they got enough sleep. Your objective is to make the other person feel uniquely noticed, even in small ways. It's this feeling of being seen and remembered as important that helps the individual you're with see you as worthwhile and trustworthy, and that gives the impression that you can have shared experiences and empathy. Those emotions are necessary for strong bonds.
Many introverts suffer at work because they feel like they have to put on a mask and endure what they hate to be accepted. But acceptance from the group arguably can be won one person at a time. Acknowledge that work involves people and thus will always have a social component, and take time to know each person one-on-one. Once others realize you have a genuine interest in them, use your superpower of listening to make them feel valued and give you a shot.