Working with and Managing Introverts in the Workplace

Working with and Managing Introverts in the WorkplaceWelcome to this HR Blast on understanding introversion. The Pandemic and home working has given prominence to a number of issues around introverts in the workplace that were previously noticed, but never a priority to manage or really understand.

ED&I experts often embrace the concept of neurodiversity* and understand the value for both society and organisations if we attract into our organisations those individuals who are ‘neuro diverse’ but, bizarrely, we have yet to see anything about the management and support of, plus value placed on, introverts in any equality, engagement or inclusion polices. It is thought that between 33% and 50% of the population are introverts.

*Neurodiversity simply means thinking differently from the way the majority (referred to as neurotypical) expect. ADHD, Autism, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia and Tourette’s syndrome are all examples of neurodiversity.

Challenges for introverts in the workplace…

…who, as we say above, probably make up nearly half of our employee base.

  1. The belief or confusion around whether all introverts are also shy and unassertive.
  2. Understanding whether intrinsically motivated people the same as introverts.
  3. Allegations of low capability thrown at introverts due to their not challenging as often as their extrovert colleagues
  4. Understanding whether remote working is always the perfect environment for introverts.
  5. Introverts say that they are not fully engaged and included in the workplace which is predominantly set up for extroverts to succeed.
  6. We hear introverts say that few introverts ever make it into senior positions.
  7. Natural ‘introvert’ skills are not as valued as they should be. There is all too often a presumption of low skill and/low intelligence/low potential.

So let’s straighten out a few myths and give you a few top tips from some actual Introverts…

Introverts: the realities and myths

Shy versus introvert

Shy: someone who is nervous or timid in the company of other people. Fearful of social judgement. Introvert: a typically reserved or quiet person who tends to be introspective and enjoys spending time alone.

Ironically we did find one dictionary definition of ‘introvert’ that stated – someone who is shy or timid! Perhaps this is where the confusion comes from?

Either way please don’t make the assumption that someone who is introverted is also shy. They are often not. In the first instance when addressing an issue as a manager or HR professional you need to explore what you are trying to support with. For example, we have heard many stories of introverts saying they feel uncomfortable putting the camera on in an online team meeting. Not putting the camera on is in fact lack of confidence (or shyness) and is not related to whether someone is an introvert or not. As another example, we have also come across instances when an introvert Director has been deemed lacking confidence and ‘charisma’ due to being less ‘visible’ in board meetings. By ‘less visible’ of course we mean that whilst others are prepared to talk over each other and interrupt each other, he was not and as a result his voice was seldom heard. The big mistake his company made was believing he did not have opinions or ideas to share just because he wasn’t the loudest in the group.

Intrinsic motivation

Those who are motivated intrinsically are in psychometric terms predominantly the same as those who are introverted (as defined/popularised by Carl Jung in the 1950’s). Here is a summary of extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation:

Extrinsic motivation of ‘extroverts’ comes from ‘external factors’ such as:

  • From other people
  • Situations
  • Events
  • Environments

For example, some workers may be motivated by rises in pay, accolades, promotions, bonuses, holiday time, or being given a bigger office than someone else.

Intrinsic motivation of ‘introverts’ comes from ‘internal factors’ such as:

  • Personal pride
  • Their love of the work itself
  • Strong work ethic
  • Particular value system

For example, some employees are more motivated by the quality of the work they have done (been given the space to do), the values they demonstrate at work, their ability to spot errors or include detail that others might miss etc.

Low capability

Allegations of low capability are insulting to those who are introverted. It is a myth that those who talk less are less capable. Volume of speech and quantity of words does not equate to intelligence or capability! In fact, sometimes quite the opposite 😊

Is remote working the perfect environment for introverts?

Ah a tough one this so our answer is both yes and no!

It can be the perfect short-term environment for introverts who are feeling over-stimulated, need to focus or are under huge time pressures as the home working environment is often calmer (if they aren’t surrounded by family members or noisy neighbours!) and quieter than the office. However, introverts can end up feeling isolated and disconnected at home so for longer-term advantage it is well known that visibility in an office is great for building relationships with colleagues, being offered training and/or promotion opportunities, learning from others etc. A hybrid approach is probably therefore the best approach.

Considering how to engage and include introverts

If you put an extrovert in charge of your Christmas festivities, team building or training activities then the events are likely to be more appealing to extroverts than introverts. If your engagement strategy is all about socialising etc. then it may be missing the mark with introverts. Have a look at the top tips at the bottom of this article about you might switch into activities around interests.

Logically you might suggest asking one or two introverts to help manage your next team event, however, when asking for volunteers to organise activities that engage or include, it is more often than not the extrovert employees who volunteer! It can be a huge challenge to get introverts to step forwards and volunteer.

Also, if we adopt the line of many of modern educational establishments that what we prize above all else is collaboration, charisma, extroversion, and continual stimulation then you will no doubt miss many opportunities to engage and include your introverts. It is unclear who ultimately persuaded the world that visible actions and energy rather than reflection and quiet consideration are a more valuable trait, but whoever it was has a lot to answer for when it comes to how we perceive and value the introverts in today’s workplace.

In one particular experience, long-term low self esteem of an introvert arose across nearly 2 decades of parents, family, friends and school saying that being quiet and reserved was a social failing that also, to some, implied reduced intelligence. 20+ years of criticism will make it hard for anyone to hold their head up high and be confident in today’s workplace. No wonder courses on building confidence are more populated by those who are introverts than those who are extroverts! Let’s all work hard to stop telling them to be more extrovert and to stop assessing their intelligence based on their quiet approach to life!

Introverts in senior positions

Attainment of the most senior positions in organisations is genuinely hard for those who are heard less, have less visibility, whose opinions are sought out less and who, in some circumstances are seen to be weak, less capable or less intelligent.

Sometimes too, we observe more weight being given during an internal selection process to those who have ‘fought’ for a position rather than those who already experienced and skilled but who have an expectation during the selection process that their value will already have been noticed and understood. That said, many introverts will not apply for a senior role simply in order to attain the giddy heights of a picture in the company accounts, an impressive job title or bigger office.

If they do apply, it will mostly likely be because the job itself appeals, not because of a shiny name on their new office door.

Introvert capability, intelligence and competence

What we learn after reflecting on how introverts are perceived is that their treatment in today’s workplace is often less than fair. High Performing Teams are generally made up of diverse people with diverse interests, backgrounds, skills sets and styles. We must not exclude introverts from teams otherwise there is a danger we will never have the team members we need to create and sustain a really High Performing Team, after all it is the High Performing Teams in our organisations that drive success, profitability, sustainability, growth and equity return.

And finally, here is what a few introverts say…

Tips for working with or managing introverts (written by introverts!)

  • Top Tip #1: Avoid meeting invitations with no clear purpose/agenda. Introverts want to know if it will benefit them to attend, as every meeting zaps energy! They like to see what will be covered so they can think about how they can contribute in advance and prepare/think about what they are going to say.
  • Top Tip #2: Workplace social events. Consider a theme or activity for social events so the focus isn’t just on being social. Are there any common shared interests in your business or team? If not try something that everyone can get involved in -bowling, baking, films/theatre, sports, walking/walking for charity. There needs to be more focus on how to include people, not by age or department but by shared interests.
  • Top Tip #3: Ease of communication. Introverts may find it uncomfortable or difficult to contribute when others are talking during meetings or discussions, or might need time to reflect. So allow some dedicated time for questions or thoughts at the end of the meeting, or encourage written feedback via email following the meeting.
  • Top Tip #4: Home working. If something requires a lot of concentration/deadline pressures then introverts may prefer to work from home where they can be alone, or if this isn’t an option, a spare office or private space at work so they can have a few hours away from the open plan space.
  • Top Tip #5: Ideas. Ask me to submit my ideas in writing after a period of reflection, rather than put me on the spot in front of others. Don’t equate lack of spontaneity with a lack of ideas or creativity. I just think differently. I also value quality over quantity.
  • Top Tip #6 Silence. Don’t make me say it again and again, but just know and accept that at times I love to work in silence.
  • Top Tip #7: Team working. Small groups rather than large groups every time please – or better still allow me some time to work on my own before the team comes together for an activity.
  • Top Tip #8: One to one meetings. If you want to get the most out of your introverts, know that one-to-one’s are your friend! This is likely to be where you will get the most out of your introverted employees as they will be in a quieter, calmer environment (however, be sure to inform them about the meeting prior to it happening to enable them to prepare). It’s also important to leave space for the room to breathe, don’t be afraid of a bit of silence, they are just processing information and formulating a response. This environment also allows you to get to know them better, introverted people prefer to build deeper one-on-one connections with others and value these highly.
  • Top Tip #9: Preparing for meetings where solutions are needed: Ensure the manager lets the employee know in advance that at the meeting they will be looking for solutions, this will ensure there is a clear focus during the preparation.
  • Top Tip #10: Meeting Ground Rules: Agree ground rules prior for meetings, so those who are introverted feel more comfortable and confident contributing.

Do you have any top tips of your own? Leave them in the comments section below 👇

Interested in more learning? Watch this.

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