Introverts have been having a bit of a moment in the spotlight lately. (Ironic, since that’s the place they’re least likely to enjoy themselves.) A few dozen Buzzfeed quizzes, a New York Times bestselling book and even a viral TEDtalk have all recently celebrated what life is like on the shy end of the spectrum.
By now most of us have gotten the message that our introverted brethren aren’t actually confirmed misanthropes or constitutionally awkward.
Introversion and extroversion, as personality types, have more to do with how and where a person gains and expends their energy.
Extroverts get charged up around others and wind down when they’re alone, while an introvert’s emotional batteries are refreshed in solitude and used up in social encounters.
Introverts make up about a third of the population, but modern workplace cultures and practices are strongly geared towards the extroverted personality type.
The ways we traditionally assess, identify, and celebrate communication, creativity, and leadership qualities can lead to overlooking the unique and highly valuable ways that introverts can contribute.
Worse, the current workplace environment can stifle the development and expression of those qualities in introverts before they even get started.
This is a huge loss for both introverted employees and the organization as a whole. The good news is that it’s easy to adjust the way you work in order to help introverts shine.
The best bosses already make a point of valuing each worker’s individual attributes, and this is no different.
What Introverts Have To Offer
If you take a look at the qualities celebrated by management manuals and self-improvement books, you’re likely to see the portrait of an extrovert. Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, describes it as:
“The Extrovert Ideal — the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight.”
From job listings to annual reviews, the language describing a “perfect” employee with leadership potential is familiar: confident, take-charge, charismatic, upbeat, team player, outgoing, enthusiastic.
While some of these are qualities that many introverts possess in spades, their expression of these traits may be very different than expected, and consequently easy to overlook.
Extroverts are happy to push their ideas forward, speak up in meetings, take a risk on untested innovation, and exploit the power of interpersonal relationships and networking.
The value of this working style is clear in a corporate environment, but a quick look at some of the biggest bungles in the business world will show how terribly wrong things can go without balance.
Unchecked egos, unbridled enthusiasm, and unbounded ambition can cause a divisive and inefficient workplace at best, and corporate scandals at worst. That’s where the introverts come in.
The specific qualities of introverts are a powerful counterweight to extrovert excess. What can look like disengagement or hesitation from a distance is actually deep listening and careful thought.
Introverts also believe in self-management/autonomy, so it makes it easier on both managers and the companies. Here’s a quick CultureTalk on the subject:
What may be dismissed as a lack of enthusiasm is actually a profound respect for other viewpoints. These quiet strengths add an amazing dimension to a team if they are appreciated.
A recent study showed that in many circumstances, introverted leaders actually produce better results than their brasher counterparts, largely because they are willing to give proactive and extroverted employees the room to run with their own strengths and ideas.
This isn’t a matter of one style trumping the other, but of the harmony that a careful recognition and distribution of complementary qualities can bring to an organization.
What We Can Offer Introverts
From hiring practices to the day-to-day workflow right through promotions, bringing out the best in introverts really only requires a slight shift in perspective and a few simple changes.
For example, you don’t have to be an introvert to find meetings challenging. Competing opinions or intense brainstorming sessions can create a pressurized environment for anyone, but for introverted team members they can be completely counterproductive.
Reducing the frequency of meetings and capping the headcount wherever possible can help a lot.
It’s also a good practice to go back around the table a few times to give quieter members a chance to speak up after they’ve had some time to process.
It may be easier for an introvert to contribute one-on-one than as part of a group, so make a point of personally inviting introverted employees to meet with you privately.
As introverts often express themselves better in writing, you may also want to consider asking for follow-up ideas by email after the meeting.
Open plan offices, despite their many weaknesses, are a fact of life in the modern workplace. While the distractions, germs, and inefficiencies of this model are a trial for everyone, they are especially detrimental to the concentration and productivity of introverts, who may be overstimulated to the point of severe stress in this environment.
You may not be able to offer a private office to everyone, but consider setting aside a conference room or other quiet space for certain periods of each day, and make it available to those who could use the time alone to think and process.
Under these circumstances, the creativity of an introvert can blossom, and they may be able to get a lot more done in a lot less time.
It’s also good to remember that the rough-and-tumble nature of a dynamic office can be especially bruising to introverts. Interactions that roll off an extrovert’s back may stick much longer with an introvert: a bit of extra attention to office courtesy can go a long way.
Contrary to stereotype, introverts are exceptional team-players. They may struggle with the social aspects of working in a group, but a recent study found that over time they are ranked higher than their extroverted teammates because of their devotion and focus to the task at hand.
Helping them flourish in a group may mean ensuring that they have time and space away to recharge.
A friendly working lunch may be heaven to an extrovert, but leave introverts feeling drained and cornered: it’s okay if they prefer to eat their sandwich alone in a private corner. They’re not lonely or left-out, they are relaxing and regrouping.
It’s also important for leaders to keep a close eye on the group dynamics. Introverts are not only more likely to be the target of workplace bullying, they are also much less likely to report it or ask for help.
In general, helping introverts feel that they are a valued part of the team is important, but may require a slightly different approach. Introverts love people, and they often love company: they just often relate better person-to-person, in a calm environment, and with plenty of time.
A boisterous breakroom or the cluster around the water-cooler that are so valuable to extroverts in building their “work family” can be intimidating or off-putting to introverts.
Taking time to regularly stop by their desk for a quick check-in, remembering special dates with a quiet card, and inviting them out for a coffee now and then are much better ways to build relationships and foster a sense of belonging.
The care and feeding of introvert employees isn’t rocket science, and introverts are not fragile or exotic specimens. Understanding their habits and ideal habitats, and making a few small tweaks to accommodate their differences can have a transformational effect on a company’s cohesion, creativity, and productivity.
Read Full Post »