I'm an introvert. Despite being a results-oriented, diligent employee when I worked in the corporate world, my personality put me at a severe disadvantage alongside my extroverted colleagues.
While introverted employees like me are often viewed negatively, they can and do contribute to the workplace in meaningful ways when managed appropriately for their personalities. Here are lessons learned from three companies that have figured out how to understand and manage shy employees:
Develop emotional intelligence.
HighGround, an employee-engagement platform headquartered in Chicago, Ill., employs people with a variety of personalities. The company invests in training its leadership how to develop strong relationships with every type of person.
"We've found that when managers exhibit emotional intelligence, they're able to recognize when employee nuances may require a tailored management style," Andee Harris, HighGround's chief engagement officer, said via email. "We also train our managers to read nonverbal cues rather than wait to be approached."
She pointed out that through frequent one-on-one check-ins, management can better understand how to effectively coach introverts and develop trust. When introverted employees trust management, they're more comfortable starting conversations about their performance.
It's also important to use a variety of ways to communicate with introverts. Harris said asynchronous communication methods, like Slack and email, allow introverted employees to work independently, but still offer channels for support and feedback.
However, understanding these employees is a team effort, not just a task for leadership. The entire company needs to learn how to work with them.
Start by providing managers with emotional intelligence training so they are more aware of when introverts need help, and can approach them proactively. For example, the popular Search Inside Yourself course from the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute teaches participants mindfulness and emotional intelligence skills.
Also consider hosting an emotional intelligence seminar and workshops for all employees. A supportive, trusting community is key to guiding employees through self-development. When all team members learn emotional intelligence and put it in action together, everybody wins.
Focus on strengths.
Dux Raymond Sy, CMO and CTO of Jersey City, NJ-based software solutions company AvePoint, doesn't like to categorize employees as "introverted." He says that that sets them up to feel they are at a disadvantage.
Instead, leaders who focus on employees' inherent strengths, Sy told me, can help individuals succeed in a way that's natural for them.
To uncover its own team members' natural talents, AvePoint partnered with Gallup to provide access to CliftonStrengths assessments. This tool encourages companies to focus on positives rather than negatives. "This is especially powerful for performance and productivity, as goals, team collaboration and development opportunities can be established based on factors that are more closely tied to success," Sy said.
Encourage your employees to share their strengths with their colleagues. Post a "strengths chart" in a high-traffic area in the workplace where employees can write their "superpowers." This gives everyone a visual means of seeing what everyone brings to the table. When introverted employees see how their strengths complement those around them, they're likely to be far more engaged and prepared to succeed.
This is important for the overall company culture. To build a strengths-focused culture, assign employees to act as "strengths advocates," who lead team-building initiatives and help educate everyone on how to align their greatest talents with their job-related responsibilities.
Set up introverted employees for success.
Nicole Farley, chief legal officer and director of HR at Chicago-based insurance agency Insureon, said that her company empowers introverted employees and sets them up to succeed by giving them the right environment. "Seating an introvert amongst a group of outgoing and loud employees may intimidate them," she said in an email. "By placing them with a quieter group of employees, we are giving them their own space to think and create, which is key."
Don't dictate seating arrangements. Ensure that your workplace provides a selection of both quiet and collaborative areas; then allow everyone to choose which work environments suit their personality, help them be their most productive and make them feel comfortable.
Make comfort a priority for all employees in every aspect of their workday, including meetings. Given the social aspect of meetings, they tend to make introverts uncomfortable, especially if they're forced to think on their feet or speak.
"When we know that an introverted employee is scheduled to have face time with a member of the senior leadership team or the CEO," Farley said, "we give them as much of an agenda as we can in advance. This way they can feel prepared if they get called on during the meeting."
Encourage teams to hold informal huddles at the early part of the day so everyone understands what to expect and can review the schedule. This is especially helpful for introverts, but all employees will benefit.
At the end of the day, call another huddle so the team can reflect on what was accomplished, discuss issues that arose and look ahead together. This gives introverts time to process what is expected of them the next day and determine how they want to manage upcoming tasks.