It was impossible to make it through 2012 without hearing about Susan Cain’s new book Quiet. In a world that seemed to place more value on the extrovert personality, Cain was keen to highlight the quiet power of the introvert. In this article, we will consider how employers can amplify the strengths of the introvert in the workplace.
A very brief overview of what it means to lean towards introversion
Tending to enjoy their own company and be more introspective, introverts are people who gather energy and inspiration through being alone. Extroverts, on the other hand, are their more gregarious counterparts who seek out social interaction to feel energised.
It’s important to note that being an introvert isn’t synonymous with being shy or antisocial. Of course, an introvert can also be— or initially appear to be— these things, but it’s far from the rule. The key difference is a person’s relationship with social interaction and the impact it has on their energy levels. There’s no one-size-fits-all personality type, but it can be valuable to understand where your employees and colleagues fall on the spectrum.
Introverts in the office
In the workplace, extroverts are quick to share their opinions, work best when collaborating, and enjoy the apparent freedom of an open-plan office. Introverts, on the other hand, may be more reserved, work best alone, and frequently seek out solitude. With the rise of ‘personal branding‘, group brainstorming, and spaces without walls, it’s fair to say that many modern offices are shaped around the extrovert personality. But in the right environment, introverts are confident self-starters, innovators, and leaders. So what steps can employers take to create a better experience for those who lean towards introversion?
Acknowledge the occasional need for solitude
With the constant buzz of conversation and other frequent distractions, the open-plan office can be overwhelming for an introvert. There is an abundance of social energy. With this in mind, employees should have the opportunity to occasionally work in solitude if they need to. This is especially important for tasks that require deep concentration or creativity. For the introvert, seeking solitude might look like working from home, a meeting room, or finding a quiet corner of the office to produce their best work. And with most companies now using instant messaging software like Teams or Slack, it’s easy to stay in contact with your colleagues— even if you can’t see them.
Allow the time and space for formulating ideas
Introverts like to listen intently and internalise before forming a final opinion or idea. These personality types also tend to be partial to gathering as much information as possible to support their decisions. With this in mind, your introvert colleagues will always appreciate some processing time between a request for information and their delivery. This can manifest itself in group meetings, where introverts— who also tend to dislike being the centre of attention— may not initially be as vocal as their extrovert counterparts. Instead, they could choose to get back to you in a 1-on-1 meeting, or with a written message. After all, many introverts feel better able to express themselves through writing.
Delegate tasks to suit the individual
All job roles will involve a variety of tasks and no one person will enjoy doing all of them. Where possible, however, try to play to the strengths of your employees when delegating work. In general, people with introvert traits tend to enjoy tasks that can be completed independently. They also like to ‘get stuck into’ big tasks, and may be happy to work undisturbed for hours.
Cultivate a feedback culture
Your more extroverted colleagues might be happy to share their opinions and feedback freely. For some introverts, this may not come as easily. To make sure that you’re getting feedback from the full range of your employees, you should set up multiple different feedback channels and opportunities. From the yearly employee engagement survey or more frequent pulse questionnaires, you can make sure that you’re giving everyone the opportunity to be heard. It’s also important to respond to the feedback you receive. This lets all employees know that you’re listening to what they have to say.
A final word
The key take away here? Embrace the differences among your employees. Nobody can, or should be, definitively categorised. But understanding elements of your employees’ personalities can increase happiness and productivity in the workplace.