Why Introverts Are Good For Business
Assertiveness and charisma are the most common traits seen as essential for leadership and business success, which makes it easy to overlook the people quietly working away in the background as their bold, gregarious counterparts take the spotlight.
And with a workforce that comprises a third-to-half introverts, the bias toward outgoing and highly social leaders is evident, with only 2 per cent of top executives identifying as introverted. A 2006 Harvard Business Review survey found 65 per cent of senior executives believe introversion was a barrier to leadership.
With modern offices taking open, flowing layouts, the popularity of brainstorming sessions and increasing encouragement for people to speak up, it’s small wonder that people with extroverted qualities continue to hog the limelight.
Contribution to Business
But with the right tools, introverts have proven they too can be great leaders and hold high profile roles: look at Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain examines how introverts make a significant contribution to your business with their ability to delve deeply into complex tasks, showing diligence, creativity and focus to analyze and solve problems.
About 65 per cent of workers don’t believe introverts get the chance to show their true potential, so not only do you miss out on the opportunity to realize the depth of their talent and skills, you risk making them feel disengaged from the business because they feel undervalued and under-stimulated.
Helping your introverted staff thrive with small changes in the way you allow them to approach their work can make all the difference. And you’ll end up with a happy, engaged worker all while benefiting from all they have to offer.
Create Space and Quiet
Most contemporary psychologists agree the key difference between introverts and extroverts is their sensitivity to external stimulation. And there’s a scale: not all introverts shy away from social interaction, and some extroverts have subdued dispositions. Even highly social introverts can be sensitive to their surroundings, so somewhere away office traffic with relative privacy and quiet is ideal (i.e. no through fares or next people constantly on the phone).
Providing an introvert with space (including autonomy over their work) allows them to work uninterrupted and use their deep powers of concentration to tackle detailed projects.
The option of booking a meeting room to work can also work wonders if there’s an impending deadline or complex task to compete. Studies have shown that being disrupted can be the biggest barrier to productivity, so let them know that you understand they may not respond to emails or calls immediately because they’re focused on the task at hand.
Meetings and Brainstorming
It can be difficult for an introvert to speak up when surrounded by colleagues who are more comfortable verbalizing their thoughts, but their quietness doesn’t mean they haven’t got anything valuable to add.
Help your quiet workers make their contribution by circulating discussion points beforehand so they can prepare. Allow time for them to speak before being spoken over by someone more vocal, and welcome their input after the meeting by discussion or in writing.
Take advantage of their listening skills and ability to analyze the information presented, because they’re likely to come back to you with a well thought out solution or insight.
Don’t Overcrowd Their Schedule
While leaders who identify as introverted like Barack Obama and Al Gore have succeeded in high profile roles, it requires them to "step out of character" for short periods. And stepping out of character means needing "breathing time" in between.
Allow space between meetings and calls so they get a quiet five minutes to sit at their desk, go to the bathroom or duck out for a coffee. Small breaks allow time to recover from excess stimulation and are critical in allowing them to replenish and re-energize so they can be at their best.
When it comes to functions and networking, allow them to choose the events that hold the most significance and make connections in a way that best serves them. Instead of working the room, they may end up with deep conversations with a select few.
You’ll end up with an employee who can be selective and happy, rather than over-committed and exhausted. Their ability to listen and observe may mean your business gains insights it didn’t have before, and you could end up with a long term customer from the connections they make.
Many introverts prefer communicating in writing because it allows them to organize and articulate their thoughts and express them with succinct elegance. A tap on the shoulder or a ringing phone can be highly disruptive if they’re deep in thought and you may get a more meaningful response with a quick email instead of a 30-minute discussion.
But remember to meet with them weekly or bi-weekly to check in. While introverts dislike disruption during work, they still need human interaction. Studies have shown in-person communication is 34 times more effective than email, and reduce the risk of worker loneliness and low engagement.
Given The Chance, They Can Surprise You
With practice, there’s no reason they can’t be the ones giving the presentations instead of handing out brochures at the door. They may never be completely comfortable, but with practice (and recovery), it becomes easier over time.
The key is practice and preparation, so provide them with encouragement and opportunity. Lots of organizations offer public speaking training to help start becoming comfortable addressing groups of people, and opportunities to present internally gives them the chance to hone their skills.
But let the choice be theirs: forcing someone to present to clients or chair meetings in the name of personal development if they’re ill-equipped will alienate rather than encourage them. A happy employee is an engaged employee, and studies have shown that a 5 per cent increase in employee engagement can lead to a 3 per cent increase in revenue the following year.
Quiet author Susan Cain believes that while large group gatherings can overwhelm an introvert, they can thrive and be effective in one-on-one settings. If they know you genuinely care, they’ll reciprocate by giving you their commitment, engagement and their very best work.
And given the chance, your quiet workers can act out of out of character and surprise you. So reward them for their efforts by embracing who they are and provide an environment that allows those gifts to come to fruition.