Diversity & Inclusion

Helping Introverts Help the Company

Managers often hire people who mirror them behaviorally; when they don’t, they tend to get frustrated and criticize the employee because of his or her work style. Performance-based concerns are valid, but if the employee is “getting the job done,” it’s a different matter. Diverse work styles and thought processes, say experts, can offer a team a broader perspective and better solutions.

One of the most underutilized types of employee? Introverts, says Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength. “With an appetite for talk and attention, extroverts dominate the workplace,” she says. “Meanwhile, introverts — with their quiet smarts and successes — sit on the professional sidelines, routinely ignored, overlooked, and misunderstood.”

Extroverts may dominate the conversations, but not the numbers. “By all accounts [introverts] outnumber extroverts. Even high-powered executives — a full 40 percent — describe themselves as introverts, including Microsoft’s Bill Gates and uber-investor Warren Buffet,” Kahnweiler says.

Additionally, three out of four introverts say extroverts are more likely to get ahead where they work, a finding from an online survey Kahnweiler conducted.

Eight Ways to Identify an Introvert

There is no magic bullet or “one size” method for managing introversion, says Kahnweiler, president of Atlanta-based HR consultancy AboutYOU Inc. It is possible, however, to help introverts build on their quiet strength and succeed. The goal, she says, is not trying to changing their personalities or natural work styles, but embracing and expanding who they are.

Who are they? Here are eight defining behaviors Kahnweiler says you should watch for:

1. Energized by solitude. Introverts need and want to spend time alone. “They often suffer from ‘people exhaustion’ and retreat to recharge their batteries,” she says. “At work, they prefer quiet, private spaces and like to handle projects on their own or with a small group.”

2. Think first, talk later. Introverts think before they speak. Even in casual watercooler chats, they consider others’ comments carefully and pause and reflect before responding. “They dislike interruptions, especially when they are ‘thinking things through,’” Kahnweiler says.

3. Process internally. Introverts have an interior pull — they want to understand the world around them before fully experiencing it. On and off the job, they tend to process their thoughts and feelings in their head, she says — revealing them cautiously and carefully when they do.

4. Focus on depth. “Introverts seek depth over breadth. They like to dig deep — delving into issues and ideas before moving on to new ones,” Kahnweiler says. “They are drawn to meaningful conversations — not superficial chit-chat — and know how to tune in and listen to others.”

5. Low-keyed. Introverts are usually quiet and reserved. Unlike extroverts, they have no desire to be the center of attention, preferring to “fly below the radar” instead. “Even in heated conversations, they tend to stay calm — at least on the outside — and speak softly and slowly,” she says.

6. Less demonstrative. Introverts are seldom outwardly emotional or expressive. They can be difficult to read, and their feelings are frequently misconstrued. “It’s been said that they are like a fur coat — with the fur on the inside,” she says.

7. Let their “fingers do the talking.” Introverts prefer writing to talking. On the job, they opt for e-mail over the telephone and “stop and chat” only when necessary. “Adverse to undue conversation and small talk, many gravitate to social networking websites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter,” Kahnweiler says.

8. Keep private matters . . . private. “Introverts are the anti-open book,” she says. They keep personal matters under wraps, sharing very little with a select few. In business, they can be equally private — staying quiet about their ideas and alliances.

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