My recent Q&A with my friend Anna was so well received that I decided to write about introverts in the workplace. It is vital, I think, that managers and co-workers alike fully understand some long-held misperceptions about introverts.
Thanks to Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, these misleading impressions about introverts are slowly being revised. This is particularly important in the workplace where extroverted skills like acting and speaking tend to be valued and introverts are often saddled with negative perceptions like antisocial, loner, not a team player, unenthusiastic, and the like.
The classic distinction between introverts and extroverts, according to Cain, is that introverts recharge their batteries by being alone, while extroverts recharge them in company – sometimes, a lot of company. Many introverts have great social skills, but they still feel depleted by too much socializing.
So, on behalf of introverts everywhere and employers who are underutilizing potentially invaluable employees, I did some research and here are a few of the things that I learned:
• Extroverts and introverts think differently. Extroverts tend to be quick-thinking multi-taskers who lean toward impulsiveness and quick gratification. Introverts like to process slowly and deeply before they speak or act and are comfortable with delayed gratification.
• Introverts tend to function best in quiet, autonomous environments, while extroverts do well in more stimulating situations. Offices can be particularly difficult environments to navigate for introverts, who gain energy from and generally feel their most productive in quiet and solitude — and the constant stimulation and social interactions can be taxing.
• Often needing time to think things through before coming to a conclusion, introverts may not share ideas until after a meeting. Those ideas, however, will be well thought out and will quite often provide very valuable insights. It’s important to “circle back” to them after they have had some time to consider things.
• When with a bunch of engaged employees, introverts are really good at letting those co-workers cultivate and run with their ideas. They’re less focused on putting their own stamp on things and more on bringing out other people’s strengths. They also tend to be very good at forming one-on-one alliances with the people and really listening to their needs and input.
• Don’t assume that an introvert lunching or sitting alone is lonely. What may seem like loneliness might be his/her private recharging time. If any of you are thinking about designing the ideal workplace, there is no one-size-fits-all answer and the best solution is to offer a workplace that has a lot of choices, where people can customize their individual environment.
• Play to an introvert’s strengths. They are often great researchers, writers and strategizers. And, they are known to be very good listeners. When you need someone patient, persistent, focused and methodical to oversee a project, chances are your ideal candidate will be an introvert. Because of their listening abilities, introverts may make better salespeople. This skill can make for a better understanding of a client’s needs and expectations. Introverts will also take on the role of interviewer, which can actually lead to an effective way of sharing information and communicating.
• For those of you who are introverted employers, it’s important to remember that your role requires a lot of engagement – that employees crave feedback from the boss. If you love to spend a lot of time behind your desk, make sure to explain to your employees who you are and how to interpret your behavior. Find your own way of giving them positive feedback. Douglas Conant, the former CEO of Campbell Soup and a self-described shy introvert, wrote thousands of letters of gratitude to employees who had served the company well.
To learn more about introverts, have a look at my recent blog, which includes a link to Susan Cain’s TED Talk.