How to get more out of the introverts on your team
There are introverts working in every business; they are our clients, collaborators, managers, and even our leaders. Even extroverts can have a few introverted tendencies, even if they aren’t very dominant traits in their personality. After all, introversion and extroversion aren’t absolutes, they are a spectrum—and we all fall somewhere in between, perhaps leaning toward one side or the other.
How can you tell whether someone leans toward introversion? You could find out from personality test results. You might also get a hunch from their behavior. Some introverts are self-professed. Working with several will also reveal to you that not all introverts are introverted in the same way.
Rather than looking at introversion as a one-size-fits-all trait, it’s better to be aware of the many different ways introversion can manifest. There are four types of introverts, according to a new model of introversion covered by the “Science of Us”, with most introverts falling under more than one type:
- Social. Unlike extroverts, who put a lot of significance into social stimuli, a socially introverted person prefers to be in solitude or socialize with small groups rather than large groups.
- Thinking. Thinking introverts don’t necessarily want to avoid social interactions, they just do a lot of internal thinking, often getting lost in their own internal worlds.
- Anxious. Similar to social introverts, anxious ones also prefer being alone, but their preference is largely because of anxieties attached to social situations. From the “Science of Us” column, “This kind of introversion is defined by a tendency to ruminate, to turn over and over in their minds the things that might or could or already have gone terribly wrong.”
- Restrained or Reserved. These introverts “operate at a slightly slower pace, preferring to think before they speak or act.” They tend to reflect more and need a bit of warm up before they get going.
Given the above introversion types, it’s almost as if most workplaces are a nightmare for any type of introvert. There are plenty of social situations at work, from meetings to highly collaborative projects. Employees are also often required to act quickly and be assertive about their ideas. Those who aren’t predisposed to thriving in these conditions might be seen as “shy” or “not a team player.” Managers might rely too much on their extroverted colleagues, and prevent them from accessing the contributions of introverts. In fact, research published in the Academy of Management Journal shows that teams tend to overvalue extroverts and undervalue introverts.
What a shame, since introverts can contribute a lot to a team. They tend to be introspective and can thrive in solo work. Introverts are also predisposed to being good listeners and deep thinkers. The researchers suggest that teams with a healthy mix of introverts and extroverts—and acknowledging their contributions—might be more effective.
The difficulty lies in learning how to manage introverts, especially if you aren’t one.
The challenges introverts face
Leaders and managers who might not identify as introverts should find ways to harness and develop the strengths of introverts in the workplace without antagonizing them or making them too uncomfortable to work well. To do so requires an understanding of how to deal with the challenges introverts usually face in the workplace.
Prefer solo work
Since many types of introverts prefer to work alone, they are a poor fit in a highly collaborative space such as an open plan office. Forcing them into this kind of environment won’t give them the space they need to do their best work. Andy Jex, executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi London, wrote as much in his essay for Campaign Magazine. “If many of the workers tasked with creating our product are introverted, then our strategy of creating environments and ways of working that repel them seem not just counterintuitive but ultimately damaging,” he wrote.
Start by creating an environment that’s more introvert-friendly. Your office should have ample private spaces as much as social, collaborative spaces. These quiet spots will give your introverted colleagues the needed distance to do their work. Ask for general input about your company work spaces, not just from introverts. After all, even extroverts occasionally have introvert tendencies.
Aversion for social activities
Since anxious introverts are drained by social situations and social introverts just have a preference for going solo, they might dislike having too many social activities at work. With brainstorming sessions, meetings, mentoring sessions, and office parties, social situations are impossible to avoid completely. The best we can do is to improve them for everyone.
When it comes to brainstorming sessions, researchers found that people tend either forget their ideas or hold them back. The social nature of these sessions make it easy for people to feel judged, or to simply lose track of their intended input as they wait for their turn to speak. If, instead, participants are asked to list their ideas before the session, there will be a bigger, more diverse pool of ideas available. Everyone who might have been hesitant to share verbally or in real-time can still contribute. This approach might even shorten the time needed for brainstorming meetings. These benefits aren’t just for the introverts, they’re for the entire team as well.
Also, unlike extroverts who might prefer communication styles that are richer in stimuli, such as face-to-face meetings, a study published in Social Psychology found that introverts tend to prefer email. Consider this the next time you need to hold meetings with the introverts in your team. While they might not necessarily like email best, ask them about their communication preferences for different scenarios such as feedback, urgent requests, or information sharing.
Doubt in leadership skills
With introverts having the reputation of preferring to work solo, people sometimes believe the myth that introverts aren’t leadership material. But research shows that around 30% of senior executives and 50% of managers are introverts. Although they’re not the majority, introverts aren’t invisible either. It’s worth noting that leaders like Gandhi, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates display many introverted traits. Introvert abilities such as engaged listening, and deep rumination are useful skills to have in management and decision-making. Introverts also tend to communicate using concrete facts, which, when expressed correctly, might help lend objectivity to emotional or tense situations.
Contrary to popular belief, introverts can also be good public speakers. Award-winning speaker Dananjaya Hettiarachchi, a self-confessed introvert, notes in an interview with Business Insider that an introvert’s ability to empathize gives them an advantage in public speaking. “Introverts are able to structure content in a way that draws energy off the audience.”
If introverts in your team show interest in becoming leaders, listen to their aspirations and hesitations. Encourage them. Let them know that there are many leadership styles, and that they don’t have to be like Tony Robbins or Steve Jobs, who appear more extroverted.
If you’re a leader who wants to fully utilize the introverts in your team, you must do your research. The more you understand the varying personas you have to work with, the more you can help them thrive using their own strengths. Talk to all the members of your team—introverted or not—and find out their preferences. This will tell you can help and how much room you should give them to do their best work.