What do Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Charles Darwin, J.K. Rowling and Rosa Parks have in common? They are all people who made an impact on their world. They are also introverts.
In today’s corporate boardrooms, they might be completely overlooked and go unnoticed. In previous centuries our culture valued quiet integrity and introspection. However, in today’s culture the emphasis on personality and striving to be noticed has propelled a certain type of person to be valued. That person speaks fast, loud and a lot. They think while they are speaking. This is the extrovert. The introvert, who articulates their ideas in their mind before speaking, is quiet and reserved, has been pushed to the background. As a result, it is not always the person with the best, most creative ideas that is heard, but the loudest. Introverts were predicting the housing bubble crash long before it happened. Nobody was listening. The result of this has been a loss of ideas and capabilities of some of the finest thinkers in organizations. That is a huge waste of talent that companies can ill afford to lose. Of course an organization will work best if it can harness the best of all employees, be they extrovert or introvert.
Understanding introverts and extroverts
One of the common misconceptions regarding introverts is that they are shy and extroverts are outgoing. Those traits are only the outward actions and appearances that we observe between the two groups. Carl Jung, who made the terms extravert and introvert popular, claimed that the difference between them was how they gained energy. Introverts gained energy from spending time alone. When around others for too long they find their energy drained. They are not necessarily shy or withdrawn, they just need to get away to recharge themselves. Extroverts, on the other hand gain energy from others and find their energy being drained when they have to spend time alone. The other important finding that came from Carl Jung was that introversion/extroversion are extremes on opposite ends of the scale and most people fall somewhere between the two. In fact he had this to say about the two extremes.
“There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum” …Carl G. Jung
Psychologist Hans Eysenck claimed that the different levels of arousal resulted in the difference between introverts and extroverts. He proposed that introverts are aroused quicker and extroverts need more stimulation to be aroused. This explains why introverts can become overstimulated and need to get away and recharge. Finding it harder to become stimulated, extroverts need to work harder by putting themselves in situations with others, creating novelty, adventure and change in their lives.
I am in no way suggesting that organizations, should or need to, totally change to conform to the needs of introverts as they also have a responsibility to adjust to their environment. There are, however, some basic things that can be done to help introverts feel more comfortable, accepted and appreciated in the workplace.
Creating an introvert friendly environment
Organizations can deliberately create an environment that is friendly to thoughtful introspection and allows introverts opportunities to make use of their talents and abilities. Everything from how ideas are formulated and implemented can be set up in a way that shows they are valued and makes introverts feel that they are important members of a team.
Open discussion forums, teamwork projects, unstructured meetings and informal company events are activities that lend themselves more to the outgoing gregarious nature of extroverts. Here are some ideas for manager, supervisors and leaders to make workplaces more introvert friendly:
- Allocate time for all members to speak and be heard. Limit the time and ask everyone to come to the meeting with prepared items or speaking points. Make it understood that the speaker is not to be interrupted until the end, at which point anyone can ask questions. I remember belonging to a men’s group in which we had a talking stick. The man holding the stick was the one speaking and if another man wished to speak he asked for the stick. This allowed the man holding the stick to collect his thoughts and not have to worry about the conversation continuing to another topic. This would work well for the introverts in your group.
- Ask for written discussion items to be forwarded to the chair prior to the meeting. This not only helps introverts who tend to like to think things through but cuts back on time wasted on chatter and people rambling on and wasting everyone’s time.
- Encourage everyone in your organization to become a member of toastmasters where they can develop skills and confidence in public speaking. As well they will develop the ability to speak succinctly and clearly on a topic. This will help introverts feel more comfortable in a group. As an alternative, initiate your own version of toastmasters on the worksite.
- Create opportunities for everyone to take turns leading meetings. This will give everyone, extroverts and introverts an opportunity to experience different leadership styles and interaction, resulting in better understanding of how the other works.
- Ask for written ideas on new and innovative ways to improve. When giving feedback on an idea, give special attention to careful thought and creativity in an idea, even if unable to use it. It will let introverts; who put a lot of attention and thought into ideas; know that those attributes are noticed and appreciated.
- Give notice of changes and events that will impact them as far in advance as possible. Remember that it is important for them to be able to think things through and be prepared.
- If you need to reprimand them, do it privately.
- When creating ideas for a new project, be clear on deadlines and that the avenues for communication are open until that deadline. Often introverts process longer and more precisely on the details.
- When asking something of them, give them a chance to mull things over and then ask them to get back to you instead of giving you an instant response.
- When part of a team, introverts work best when they are assigned to work on a specific area rather than brainstorming and working collectively as a group.
- When planning team building activities, retreats and staff conferences keep in mind that introverts feel more comfortable and perform better in a small group or individual activities rather than large group events.