Sheldon Cooper, the infamous (and some argue, obnoxious) character of The Big Bang Theory, is without a doubt one of the smartest people on the planet. He certainly doesn’t lack for confidence in his intelligence, but early on in the show, Sheldon was a bit of an introvert when it came to his personal life. Sheldon had few friends (Leonard, Howard and Raj were pretty much it) and his social life consisted of visits to the comic book store, sci-fi movie nights, an occasional visit to the train museum and community video games.

That all changed when Sheldon was forced to interact with new members of his social circle like Penny (Leonard’s fiancee), Bernadette (Howard’s wife), and most of all, Amy Farrah Fowler (an online dating setup that turned into Sheldon’s first romantic relationship). Being forced into these interactions meant Sheldon could no longer hide behind his comfort zone. He had to adapt his conversational skills, deal with people challenging his beliefs, understand his strengths and weaknesses, and try new things.

What’s the point of all this BBT talk, you ask? Sheldon’s character is the perfect example (albeit fictional) of what an introvert must do to become a critical player in the workplace. Not every introvert craves this kind of autonomy at their job, but for those who do and who struggle with how to achieve that, our go-to peer relationship expert, Amy Breuer, Chief Communication Officer of Dickens Communication & Consulting, has six surefire tips to help you build your confidence and improve your workplace relationships.

Know Thy Self – “Being an introvert can actually be a powerful thing but just like anything else, you must first understand your own personality,” says Breuer. The first thing you need to do is acknowledge that you ARE an introvert and realize that it’s okay to be one. Not every powerhouse executive is an extrovert. But it’s also imperative to understand the limitations that being an introvert naturally brings and to be willing to put in the time and effort to overcome. Breaking though your own barriers and ‘getting out there’ will be an important step in your development.

Speak Up (or get a mentor who will do it for you) – One of the biggest challenges of being an introvert is making connections. You may feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable at the idea of having to network or make cold introductions. There are two ways to overcome this. One, practice in arenas where you already feel comfortable. If you’re a regular at the Wednesday night bowling league, try to make small talk with more people other than your team members. You can try to use the bowling league as common ground and then ask other questions once you get a conversation going. You might fail a few times but that’s okay. It’s practice for when you try to take it to the corporate stage. The other way is to enroll in your company’s mentorship program or to find one on your own. Mentors are often extroverts by nature and, if they’re volunteers, they’ll gladly take you under their wing and make introductions for you.

Feel Comfortable With Your Strengths – Being the most outspoken person in the room doesn’t always mean that person is leadership material. In fact, introverts may hold one key trait that can help them build better relationships – they know how to listen and learn. “A meaningful listener is someone who is present in the moment, who takes the time to listen, doesn’t put time requirements on the conversation, listens without assumptions, sincerely wants to help others be their very best,” explains Breuer.  There is something incredibly validating about having a co-worker listen to your ideas/complaints/suggestions/opinions without judgement and without adding their own two cents. It’s rare to find someone who is willing to listen without a deadline and with good intentions. Introverts are naturally inclined to be dynamic listeners and that’s a tool that can’t always be taught.

Leverage the Strengths of Others – Just as you were able to identify and accept some of your own strengths, it’s important to do the same for your co-workers or team members. “Know your circle and identify personality traits in others that perhaps you could brighten within yourself. We are each uniquely different and while your go-to close friends may have similar personalities, finding others within your network that are different will allow you to grow the most,” advises Breuer. “Do you have friends that are planners, analytic, artistic and/or spontaneous and often the life of the party? Leverage their expertise and ask for help.”

The entire cast of characters in The Big Bang Theory have undergone this evolution themselves. Most notably and most recently, Penny made a huge transformation from unemployed actress to pharmaceutical sales rep. Although Penny is an extrovert, she had serious self-doubt issues and didn’t think she was smart enough to jump into the corporate sales world. Her friends, however, helped Penny discover how to use her strengths and advised her on the experiences they’ve already had in Big Pharma and research. With her personal team on her side, Penny successfully made the transition.

Don’t Use Your Introversion as an Excuse – We all have our own personal limitations and challenges. How we choose to overcome them is part of what defines us. If you’re serious about breaking out of your shell, then you need to avoid making excuses. Yes, this is often easier said than done, but it’s the truth. If you need more help than what you feel you can accomplish on your own or with your co-workers, then seek assistance from a job coach, therapist or mentor. Asking for help is a strength, never a weakness.

Play With Your Personality – Think of this as practice sessions for your new and improved personality. Pick a day and/or a time to stretch yourself and do something uncomfortable. Start small and stick with it. Even 5 minutes a couple of times of week is enough to jumpstart your transformation. Here’s some ideas to help you get started:

  • start a conversation with someone in a checkout line
  • meet someone new (like a bartender or tennis coach or ceramics instructor)
  • do something spontaneous
  • accept an invitation
  • do something unpredictable
  • throw a party
  • go to a concert
  • make a plan with another introvert

Have any more tips for the Sheldons of the world? Leave a comment below.

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