HR Management & Compliance

Workplace Introverts: Debunking the Myths

Introverts—they are the new extroverts, right? Quiet, reserved, always sensing and watching. Listening for the next nugget of innovation to grace the lips of a colleague. Or are they tormented by the thought of communication and interaction? Do their extroverted cohorts drive them batty? Or the question that matters, the question I pose is—does it really matter? If we treat people like…well…people, understand their work preferences and all strive for the same shared goals—things will be better, correct? Correct!

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Let’s, for a moment, cast off those titles of introvert and extrovert, sensing, perceiving, feeling, thinking, blue, high D…phew! Let’s talk, rather, about someone’s preference in work environment. After all, we’re working together, right? Now, don’t get me wrong, emotions matter. They have a place and certainly count in the ever-changing habitat of the business person. Empathy is king in a successful business but once we know the emotional characteristics of a person, what’s next? Just knowing that an introvert is an introvert doesn’t help us enough to work together, day-in-and-day-out. Find out who you’re working with. Do they like team work first or have that come later? Do they like to really understand details and order or do they prefer to dive into that first wave rush of chaos that comes with a new project? As a leader, you can learn the preferences of your team and leverage that energy in a way that serves the individual and the organization.

Introverts might seem like an extra tough nut to crack so we’ll focus on them for a moment. Not as outspoken as some of their counterparts, communication can feel awkward. Good news! In reality, there are just a few things going on behind the scenes that a leader can focus on to bring out their best! “Introverts” may show up that way for many reasons so the first step is to make sure you understand them as a person; don’t make them feel like a criminal for being who they are.

Are they quiet because they are shy? Are they quiet because they are new, don’t understand, prefer to listen first? Like we said above, maybe they listen for details because of a proclivity for order. Maybe they are hardcore team-workers and want to make sure everyone has a chance to speak before they move on with the project. The biggest mistake leaders can make is to assume that introverts are just quiet and need to be “brought out of their shell” insinuating that perhaps there is something wrong with the person. Take the time to get to know them. Ask what they do in their free time. Find out what their favorite food is.

Then, start engaging about work. Ask about their preferred work environment. Ask if they listen or talk first in a meeting. Do they like a little chaos or really lean toward order and understanding? Ask if they like structure or the freedom to harvest new ideas—or both! Ask what excites them and, how they unwind. When you really understand the person, you can start to help them shape their experience within the organization and most importantly, create a bond of trust between you (the leader) and the employee.

Once you’ve laid the ground work you can try a few things to maintain engagement between yourself, the employee and the team. Pair the employee with another employee that they might enjoy working with; give them a project that will really get their creative juices flowing; ask for opinions and help. Remember, that perceived introvert may just be unsure about too many things to act boisterously so be ready when you crack them out of that shell!

So here’s the run down:

  1. Get to know the person
  2. Ask questions, show genuine interest in them personally
  3. Understand their work preferences (atmosphere, team dynamics, order or chaos)
  4. Continue to engage them with the team
  5. Pair them with a colleague, give them a project, ask for opinions

Introvert, extrovert, quiet or loud, we’re all looking for a sense of tribe and engagement and the best way provide that experience is to invite them in, ask questions, show you care. Introverts have a small circle and treasure the relationships they build; respect that attribute, embrace it—it’ll be the smartest thing you ever did in collaborating with an introvert on your team.

Meg Manke, MSSL, Senior Partner at Rose Group Int’l, is a culture and leadership expert with years of experience leading companies large and small through transition. Drawing from her background in organizational psychology and mastery of leadership concepts, her ability to recognize opportunity in weakness and present a strategic solution is unprecedented in today’s business world. For more information about Rose Group Int’l, please visit Connect with Meg @meg_manke on Twitter and on LinkedIn.


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