Last summer, I traveled to Virginia for a hospital pharmacy internship. I was so excited (& nervous) to meet my co-interns. I love getting to know people that grew up outside of Florida, and I knew we would be working closely together during the internship. One of them was even going to be my roommate. Looking back, I still believe they were good people. But last summer, I was reminded of how competition can bring out the worst in others.
Only four of us were accepted into the internship. We all came from top pharmacy colleges and were leaders at our campuses. I saw this as common ground, but making lasting friendships was definitely not their mission.
It was a toxic environment, and I experienced all the different ways coworkers can undermine introverts like me. I also found ways to cope with unhealthy competition and come out of the internship stronger, but it wasn’t easy.
I’m not writing this to warn you or make you feel fearful of competition in the workplace. As we see in organized sports, healthy competition is possible. But as we see in our everyday lives, unhealthy competition is real.
It’s hard for introverts to open up about this because no one wants to look like they’re overreacting. We all have heard, “Maybe it’s all in your head.” And often it’s not, but in order to stay professional, we keep it to ourselves until it boils over.
This post will talk about examples of unhealthy competition, AKA “low blows” that coworkers may use to undermine introverts. It’s important to see these as red flags and separate yourself from the situation. You are not the sum of how people see and treat you.
What others think about you is usually a reflection of their own deep-seated insecurities and fears. Keep this in mind. Focus on your personal goals, and you’ll come out stronger as well.
1. Keeping Us Out of The Conversation
“Don’t proceed to underestimate me just because I’m not dominating the conversation.”
— Rachel Ginder
Introverts tend to be quiet during conversations, especially at work. Most work conversations barely touch the surface and don’t dig deep enough for introverts to be genuinely interested. So when introverts finally find common ground, we get excited.
Some notice our excitement and give us the time to say what’s on our minds. Others don’t, and the conversation abruptly changes. This is just a part of everyday life for introverts. We usually learn to shrug our shoulders and remind ourselves we didn’t want to talk anyway.
But competing with your coworkers is a whole different ballpark. Your coworkers may notice that you take longer to process the conversation and see it as a weakness. They might even use it to their advantage. Here are some common methods they may use to keep you out of the conversation: speak faster, talk louder, or even try to speak on your behalf.'Don't proceed to underestimate me just because I'm not dominating the conversation. - Rachel Ginder'Click To Tweet
How to Cope:
- Take your time and focus on the point you want to make–don’t let anyone make you rush this process
- If you’re in a meeting, raise your hand–your coworkers may ignore you/talk over you but your boss won’t
- Focus on your Introvert strengths, including personal connection: if you have a great idea/strong opinion but hate speaking in big groups, plan a one-on-one meeting with your boss or the project manager
- If your coworker speaks over you or on your behalf, stay calm & collected–if there’s one thing you can control, it’s your reaction to their unacceptable behavior
- How to Not Be A Pushover: A Guide for Introverts
- Time Management Tips for Career-Oriented Introverts
- The Key to Successful Networking for Introverts: 7 Reasons to Attend A Conference
2. Being Dismissive
“There is no one more courageous than the person who speaks with the courage of his convictions.”
— Susan Cain,
During work meetings or conversations, introverts often don’t speak up. When we finally get the courage to speak up, it’s usually because we’ve thought about it and are confident in our opinions or ideas. Coworkers can feel threatened by this confidence. Often because they don’t expect it. In order to feel superior again, they might dismiss what you say.
For example, last summer I worked with one co-intern on a research project. At the beginning of the project, we needed to brainstorm an efficient way to approach data collection. Whenever we had a chance to talk, I explained which data I thought was important and why. Then I would ask him what he thought. Every time I asked, he would walk faster to get in front of me and repeatedly say, “It doesn’t matter.” He completely dismissed my opinions.
This is an unfair way to compete with others and the perfect example of unhealthy competition. Everyone deserves a chance to contribute, and your coworkers should respect your opinion.'There is no one more courageous than the person who speaks with the courage of his convictions. - Susan Cain'Click To Tweet
How to Cope:
- Remember that your opinion is valid whether or not it is accepted
- Give yourself permission to speak with conviction
- Be honest with yourself and how being dismissed makes you feel–let those emotions take its course, but remember that your co-worker’s actions are unacceptable
- If your coworker continues to be dismissive, go directly to the one who calls the shots then share your opinion/idea
3. Isolating Us
“Fitting in and belonging are two separate things. Fitting in involves people changing themselves in order to be accepted. Belonging allows people to be accepted as they are.”
— Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection (A 30-Minute Instaread Summary)
Isolation is a tough balance for introverts. We love solitude, but we hate feeling lonely just like anyone else. No matter how much we don’t want to admit it, we all crave the feeling of belonging.
Since introverts don’t socialize much in the first place, it’s not hard to isolate us. Cliques form in the workplace just as easily as it did in high school. Although cliques aren’t always made with the purpose of excluding others, it’s often the outcome.
Whether or not exclusion is the intent, it can make introverts feel lonely and isolated. And some use exclusion as a tactic in competition with others.
If you’d like to read more on belonging, check out this book from Brené Brown. She breaks down why we’re hardwired for connection and how we can reach a sense of belonging through the power of vulnerability.
'Fitting in and belonging are two separate things. Fitting in involves people changing themselves in order to be accepted. Belonging allows people to be accepted as they are. - Brené Brown'Click To Tweet
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How to Cope:
- Ask yourself, “Are they your people anyway?” For me, the answer is usually a hell no
- Focus on your Introvert strengths, including personal connection: find a mentor or mentee
- Remember why you are there: Is it to earn a living? Is it to gain experience? Usually, it’s not to make friends
- Remind yourself that cliques usually don’t include higher-ups, and they have no control over what matters, such as your income and benefits
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
— Henry Thomas Buckle
People love to figure other people out. Introverts can be hard to figure out because we tend to be quiet and reserved. This can lead to others making up stories and spreading rumors.
Gossiping is a nasty way to bring anyone down. I haven’t knowingly had this happen to me since college, so I try not to be paranoid about it. Usually, I can write it off as pettiness and call it a day.
For introverts, the toughest part is never getting the chance to speak up for yourself. Gossiping often creates an unsafe space, and it can be difficult to speak up for yourself without causing a scene.'Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. - Henry Thomas Buckle'Click To Tweet
How to Cope:
- Focus on your truths
- Remember you don’t owe anyone your story
- Be honest with yourself and how being talked about makes you feel–let those emotions take its course, but remember that your co-worker’s actions are unacceptable
- Have a growth mindset and focus on your short & long-term career goals–you can’t change your coworker’s unhealthy behaviors, but you can focus on what you can change by building upon your strengths
5. Talking Down to Us
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
— Eleanor Roosevelt
This is a common way for coworkers to undermine anyone–introverts & extroverts alike.
Talking down to anyone is unacceptable. Unfortunately, it’s another easy way for coworkers to feel superior. Some even talk down to others unintentionally out of habit.
It can be difficult for introverts to understand that people can say hurtful words without meaning them. Introverts usually think slowly and speak with intention. When we say something out loud, we mean it. This is especially true in a professional setting.'No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. - Eleanor Roosevelt'Click To Tweet
How to Cope:
- Remember you deserve to be treated with respect
- Be honest with yourself and how those hurtful words made you feel–let those emotions take its course, but remember that your co-worker’s actions are unacceptable
- Focus your energy on building healthy relationships with those that build you up instead of break you down
- Don’t try to hurt them back–there’s no winning with condescending people
If any of these unacceptable behaviors get out of hand, don’t be afraid to address them with your coworker. When I’m too scared to stand up for myself, I remind myself that I deserve to work in a healthy environment. No one can tell you what is or is not a healthy environment. You define what a healthy environment is for you.
If you have a hard time standing up for yourself, check out my 8 steps on How to Not Be A Pushover: A Guide for Introverts. I dive deep into how to create healthy boundaries and use your Introvert strengths to stand up for yourself.
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