It’s Friday, the end of what has felt like a very long week.
We are back in the office three days a week now and it’s been quite an adjustment for this introvert over here. And as much as I know the theory, and have done the research, I still find myself getting frustrated with my introversion and sensory sensitivity.
I want to be a team player.
I want to collaborate and participate.
I want to show up fully and authentically.
But the bottom line is that being back in the office is a lot for me.
It’s not that I don’t love culture and people. I really do! I believe in team and in collaboration and in healthy working spaces. But goodness, I find it overwhelming sometimes. Lots of energy, lots of voices, lots of noise, honestly even the bright light sometimes gets to me. A colleague and I jokingly wore our sunglasses inside last week over lunch just to give our eyes a rest from the light streaming inside.
If I had to sum it all up, I think the words “sensory overload” would be appropriate.
This week I slipped back into old ways of pressing myself to “be on” and to “keep up” and voices of “you should be … louder/more out there/more energised/more engaging (insert the extrovert ideal)” started to show up.
The irony is that I am the only person putting that pressure on me.
Inside Healthy Teams
That is the joy of working in an emotionally intelligent and psychologically safe environment. Where I work I am encouraged to show myself authentically. To bring my strengths and growth areas to the table (we even have a giant wooden table to emphasise this point).
There is space for me, just as I am. I work in a culture that allows me to have days where I am not at my best. An example of which happened just this past week. We all changed places in the office to improve some team dynamics and flow, and I felt totally out of sorts and uncomfortable. Psychological flexibility (another crucial EQ competency) is something I am working on, but my current capacity to ‘adapt to change in line with my values’ isn’t very high. On the one hand I value connection and unlocking teams by ensuring that they are seated in ways that foster innovation and productivity. But on the other hand, I find changes to my environment stressful and overwhelming. A new space, new desk and new colleagues to sit next to was all a bit much for a Monday!
This meant that by four o’clock I had worked myself up into a proper state. So much so that I asked if we could postpone our psychology department meeting to the next day. The thought of trying to make important decisions when my inner world was totally out of kilter was just a step too far for me. Definitely not one of my best moments, but I was met with such understanding and compassion. My team leader simply said he trusts me and that I should call it a day. He knows my work ethic, he knows I am passionate about what I do, and he trusts that I know what is best for me. At Mygrow we have a catchphrase that says “we work with adults” – which means we trust people to get the work done in a way that is best for both them and the company.
On the one hand I value connection and unlocking teams by ensuring that they are seated in ways that foster innovation and productivity. But on the other hand, I find changes to my environment stressful and overwhelming.
So often we speak of cultivating healthy leadership, but I think it is also important to take time to reflect on how it feels to be led by emotionally intelligent, healthy leaders.
The empathy my leaders show me causes me to show greater empathy to myself and others. The curiosity my leaders display makes me stop and ask more questions. Creativity, innovation, compassion, communication, positivity, inclusivity … are all contagious. And I honestly don’t think we can get away from the fact that leading in these areas is where healthy culture starts, for both introverts and extroverts.
It certainly isn’t where it ends, and I am by no means abandoning responsibility as a team member. But without these things coming from the top, transforming culture is an uphill battle. Creating emotionally intelligent, safe teams is a group effort that is greatly enhanced by effective leaders.
Even so I still need to do my part.
Because even within this psychologically safe culture, it’s me who needs to give myself the permission to go more quietly and sometimes take steps back. It’s me who still needs the self-awareness and healthy self-perception that goes hand in hand with emotional intelligence. It’s me who has to practice the self-regard skills of self-compassion and kindness.
My workplace culture extends an opportunity for me to do work differently, but I still have to take up the offer. I still have to risk it. I still have to choose to believe that they mean it when they say ‘come as you are’. And that is uncomfortable. It’s vulnerable to be “seen” at work. And this week, it took courage to let myself be introverted in an outgoing, extroverted, vibrant and sometimes very overwhelming working environment.
My workplace culture extends an opportunity for me to do work differently, but I still have to take up the offer. I still have to risk it.
So in case you needed a reminder – it’s okay to be introverted in a loud and energised world. It takes all kinds. Give yourself permission to do it differently. Put your headphones in. Be okay to sit on the edge of the meeting. Write your thoughts out and give feedback later instead of shouting to be heard in a meeting. If you’re lucky, find a corner to work in or maybe even an empty board room for a few minutes (if you’re anything like me, the world is a much easier place if you have a wall to sit next to!).
A large part of emotional intelligence is learning about yourself. Understanding how you’re made, growing in self-awareness, and realigning your self-perception.
A large part of emotional intelligence is learning about yourself. Understanding how you’re made, growing in self-awareness, and realigning your self-perception. Working out how you fit in a team and what your role is to play.
As I end the week I am grateful to be working for a company that not only is “changing the world” but changing me too, for the better.
You can get access to Beyond Psychological Safety, a resource we put together to give you insight into what psychologically safe teams look like, what it looks like when teams are not safe, and how to move towards a more psychologically safe work environment.