Creating Space for Introverts to Flex Their Superpower
This article is included in Entrepreneur Voices on Strategic Management, a new book containing insights from more than 20 contributors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders.
In the business world, we've all heard and read classic euphemisms which imply that success is directly tied to the quality of being extroverted. In fact, facets like high performance and business potential are directly (and stereotypically) attributed to this quality.
But introverts have their own contributions to make: These people are characteristically defined as shy, quiet, passive or antisocial (though those qualities may not be unilaterally true for every introvert you employ). And these personality attributes make introverts highly adept at strategic planning, creative thinking and problem-solving -- skills that are an asset to any team.
Of course, as the company leader, you have to know how to enable those skills. And that requires a leadership and organizational approach that provides accommodation without objectifying or singling out an introverted individual. From the socializing that goes on in your office space to the dynamic that emerges at team meetings, your managers can potentially impact employee retention for the better by adopting a tailored approach to your introverted staff.
Identifying Introverts in the workplace
The scale of introversion is not always about extremes; an individual may have many extroverted tendencies but still identify internally as an introvert. This can make it rather difficult for managers to identify members of the team who have different needs, to help them perform to expectations.
Psychometric testing is a cornerstone of recruitment and human resource management and is a reliable method of determining the degree of introversion, and best practices for a balanced team environment.
Related: 4 Networking Tips for Introverts
Tip: The Myers Briggs Personality Inventory is also a valuable resource for managers and human resource professionals, and can provide essential management insights.
Globally, there exists a trend that is being driven more by economics and less by employee need: the open-office layout. As commercial business space becomes more expensive, and as businesses grow, moving to a larger building may not be a practical solution. Enter options that help make the most of existing workspaces: telecommuting and the open-office plan.
The problem is that open-office layouts do not work for many introverts. Characteristically, these employees are pensive, deep thinkers who require a place that is quiet and free of stimulation and distractions, to provide their best work. Open offices hinder concentration by eliminating that private buffer; and in these settings, noise becomes a problem that prevents introverts from focusing effectively.
In terms of team dynamic, open-office settings also inhibit the development of close personal relationships between introverts and their colleagues. Uncomfortable with conversations that are audible by "everyone around them," introverts are likely to avoid personal conversations during the workday. They'll avoid those brief, friendly interactions that enhance communication among co-workers, because those interchanges lack the privacy and sense of safety for having a conversation.
Introverts have a lower tolerance to excessive stimuli (which distracts and creates stress for them), and they prefer face-to-face engagements with smaller groups of people.
Tip: Moving to an open workspace plan may be inevitable, but creating "withdrawal space" for work is essential to productivity (and retention). Ensure that you incorporate small pods or offices that can be utilized by individual staff who wish to retreat to a quiet area.
Part of any small departmental, or large organizational meeting, is the prompt to share feedback and ideas. The first people to speak up naturally are extroverted members of your team, who feel more than comfortable being heard in front of a crowd. Extroverts are also better able to process criticism in front of others, which makes them virtually fearless about sharing ideas, comments or problems with their team.
The average introvert, meanwhile, may be frustrated in a public feedback situation. As the deep thinkers in your organization, introverted personnel are not short on ideas, or suggestions for creative problem-solving. However, if the only opportunity that is provided occurs within a very public setting, you can count on your introverted staff to avoid sharing. Not only will an organization miss the value of their contributions, but introverts may feel diminished in value, and excluded from the team.
Tip: Extroverts tend to dominate most meetings, and while their enthusiasm and contributions are important, it is equally important that leadership professionals moderate that engagement, to prevent other members from feeling overwhelmed.
At the end of any small or large meeting, ensure that you offer a method for introverts to submit their feedback, comments or ideas in writing. This gesture can be as simple as encouraging staff who did not have an opportunity to share to send a summary email with their questions, comments or ideas. Being open to contribution by a variety of methods, helps introverts feel less overshadowed by more outspoken colleagues.
Body language and work preferences
It's easy to determine in most cases how extroverts are feeling about a situation, considering that these people exhibit expressive body language and visual cues. Introverts however, can demonstrate a flat affect that may be misinterpreted by both management and extroverted team members.
An introvert, for example, may require more time to formulate an idea, because of his or her personality style. However, many studies have demonstrated that more than 70 percent of individuals with high-functioning intellects are introverted.
The additional time that an employee takes to articulate a response, or to provide an idea, is frequently the precursor to innovation. It is not a lack of responsiveness, but rather an intense ability to handle complex issues and provide results. Given the time to matriculate and organize their ideas, introverts provide highly detailed plans and solutions.
Tip: Team-building exercises and personality sensitivity training can be valuable ways to increase awareness, and combat stereotypes and assumptions. By identifying both extroverts and introverts as a performance asset, both groups can work cohesively (and respectfully) within your organization.
In some research studies, it's been reported that extroverts are adept at managing public criticism far better than introverts. While introversion is not synonymous with shyness or weakness (despite stereotypes), these people find the spotlight to be a stressful place to be in social and professional settings. An extrovert may therefore be able to process a reprimand in front of other colleagues and recover quickly, wile an introvert may experience significant stress and personal offense from the same feedback.
Tip: For important feedback or performance-review meetings, managers, whenever pssible. should communicate privately with introverted colleagues or employees. Not only will this eliminate a deeply humiliating experience for the introvert, but it will also allow them the safety and reassurance to respond to questions.