It’s estimated that 30-50% of working professionals are introverts. You probably have some on your team. Full disclosure: I'm an introvert, myself.
We tend to categorize introverts as quietly reserved, while gregarious extroverts steal the spotlight—and sometimes all the oxygen in a room. It can be difficult to elicit contributions and feedback from introverts, while the extroverts easily volunteer theirs.
Here are a few tips for engaging your team’s wonderful introverts, and drawing out their personal best.
What energizes each person? That's the tell
Let’s look at the big differences between your extroverts and introverts. We generally associate one with being outgoing, the other as shy. These are, in fact, gross oversimplifications of the way he/she may behave in a social setting, or how they might react and interact within group settings.
There's research which suggests the introvert/extrovert distinction is more than how one behaves in social settings. Rather, as proposed by the research, it’s how that individual acquires his or her energy to accomplish what's asked of them.
From a management and training perspective, that's a critical distinction. Because the more you can keep your employees and trainees energized, the happier and more productive they'll be and the more naturally they will learn and grow.
(Quietly) Enter the mind of your introverts
In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain provides some adaptive strategies managers, trainers, and leaders can use to energize and encourage introverts.
Discuss and plan
Begin with casual discussions about what a perfect workday or a perfect training looks like for your introverts. Try to get a feel for how they like to get their work done and what they personally need/do to recharge their energy supply daily. Then take what you’ve learned and use it to strategically plan days so they get what they need (within reason, of course).
Rethink the environment
Consider the environment you’re in as well. Modern American workplaces tend to favor large, open floor plans and constant collaboration; ideal for your extroverts, not for your introverts. Try to provide alternative access to private spaces for independent work when the need to be alone arises.
Get them to speak up
Don’t be afraid to challenge your introverts (just a little bit) from time to time. Encourage them to speak up in group discussions. The trick is to make them feel comfortable enough to engage and share. By providing them with topics ahead of group meetings or training, you’ll give them time to prepare contributions while lessening the intimidation they may otherwise feel if called upon without warning.
As their manager or trainer, you can also help your introverts thrive by playing to their strengths. They’re naturally better with tasks involving: memory, planning, problem solving, motor control and self-regulation. Skills like these are welcomed on any team. Fit them tasks they’ll excel at and keep them energized for more.
A checklist for managing and training introverts
- Balance social spaces with private ones.
- Send the agenda in advance and occasionally ask for written feedback to give introverts time to formulate their thoughts and summon the courage to share them.
- Allow people to work and learn the way they want to; extroverts should feel comfortable taking time to socialize, while introverts should have license to work remotely or take breaks from the group.
- Give them advance notice (which is also helpful for older worker and learners, too).
- Help them find a partner/small group.
- Teach them new skills privately.
- Assume you already know everything about introversion and extroversion - make an effort to learn about how personality impacts work preferences and learning styles.
- Overload your team with meetings or group training; give colleagues ample uninterrupted time to work and learn.
- Let a certain dominant personality do all the talking; encourage that person to reflect and listen.
- Publicly reprimand them.
- Demand instant answers.
- Interrupt them.
- Try to make them extroverts.
Respect an introvert’s:
- Unique perspective.
- Need for privacy.
- Need to observe first.
Cultural and environmental adjustments
Dan Cox, VP of engineering at Polyvore, was recently featured in CIO about his company’s considerations for its introverted team members, and the strides they take to ensure both its culture and physical environment promote productivity.
"It's important to embrace the idea that there can be multiple types of communications styles between different people," says Cox. You are likely to be managing or training a blended group of introverts and extroverts. Each will favor a particular method of communication. At Polyvore, they encourage communication across multiple avenues (from in-person to instant messaging) to keep both sides talking.
Nudge them a little
Asking an introvert to take center stage won’t fly with them. However, you can nudge them a bit to get them out of their comfort zones and share ideas. Polyvore’s engineering group developed "Demo Days" – a weekly internal sharing of ideas to the team. Cox explains the extroverts—as expected—jump in to engage the audience. The introverts typically took more of a behind the scenes roll – usually driving the demo. "No one is forced out of their comfort zone, but it gives a regular opportunity for the introverts to get their ideas out there, in a fun and less structured environment."
We know an open, cube-filled floorplan is better suited for extroverts. Your introverts could benefit from an alternative workspace "that allows them to be the most efficient possible." The article suggests work-from-home opportunities, or office design changes to create private rooms employees can book for a period of time. Organizations focused on providing inclusive environments are bound to see a highly energized staff.
Adjusting your management and training for introverts might not be something you've considered much. With these tips, you’re on your way to helping your team's introverts contribute and thrive right alongside their extroverted colleagues.