Joanna Rawbone on the small but sustainable changes that can make a difference.
Reading time: 5 minutes
Have you ever run a training course where a couple of the delegates don’t contribute very much? Or coached someone who takes a long time to answer your ‘best’ coaching questions?
It can be very easy to take it on as a personal challenge to ‘bring them out of themselves’. But what if that strategy just caused them to retreat further?
‘Overwhelm’ and ‘burnout’ are very much topics of the moment and we know that what overwhelms one person would be fine for another. Do we know if, and how, we might be adding to someone’s overwhelm in our professional work, though?
What if someone’s lack of immediate or eager response doesn’t signal a lack of engagement? What if you’re in the presence of an introvert who requires different handling?
There is still a surprising amount of myth and misunderstanding about introversion, so let’s address that first.
Mental battery power
People often conflate shyness, social anxiety and depression with introversion, but extroverts experience those things too! The difference is down to neurodiversity. As explained by Carl Jung, it’s what drains and what charges our mental batteries.
A simple distinction is that Introverts are energised by their rich world of thoughts, ideas and personal reflection; they are already over-stimulated mentally.
Extroverts, on the other hand, seek external stimulation through active experiences, interactions and change to be energised.
Introverts can often appear lost in thought, while extroverts immerse themselves in conversations. So, the irony is that what charges an extrovert, drains an introvert and vice versa.
When introverts retreat physically or mentally, it’s to preserve or top-up the charge in their mental batteries. It doesn’t mean they’re not engaged, not learning or bored. It’s to prevent burnout!
Introverts are energised by their rich world of thoughts, ideas and personal reflection; they are already over-stimulated mentally
Let’s think about our mobile phones. How many of us recharge them overnight ready for the next day? And how inconvenient is it when the battery runs out before the end of the day?
In the same way that we have become dependent on having a charge in our phone, in our knowledge economy we need our people to have sufficient charge in their mental batteries to be able to do their best work.
That’s relatively easy for the extrovert working in a busy open plan office or customer-facing role, as their batteries are continually being topped up.
But when introverts work in the same setting, their batteries are constantly draining. Functioning introverts have learned how to deal with these situations and have their own recharging strategies.
What causes introvert burnout?
So, when does introvert burnout occur? Technically, it’s when the mental batteries are depleted beyond the point where an overnight, or even weekend, recharge will top them up.
What causes burnout varies from introvert to introvert as it is dependent on their type of introversion. Knowing which of the basic types, or combination thereof, they are is essential for an introvert to prevent or ultimately tackle burnout.
For example, it would be very easy to assume that excessive social interaction, the very thing that energises many extroverts, would result in burnout for an introvert. But Social Introverts will be able to handle social situations with relative ease, pleasure and proficiency.
Engaging Introverts are animated communicators with infectious enthusiasm and quite at home on a large stage, so presentations don’t faze them.
Neither are how we typically think of an introvert are they? And both are situations that would probably cause a Classic Introvert to reach burnout really quickly.
In our world biased towards extroversion, introverts can feel ‘less than’ for not being consistently on their best game. Introverts themselves will know when their tried and tested recharge methods aren’t working and it’s helpful to be aware of the signs and symptoms of burnout.
These include being more withdrawn than usual, inability to deliver to their usual standard, reduced motivation and ability to focus, lack of mental clarity and impaired decision-making.
As trainers and coaches, we need to make space for the quieter voices rather than forcing them
The best way to tackle burnout is to prevent it. This starts with understanding and owning the strengths of our type of introversion. In that way, we can recognise, and in some cases anticipate, the ‘drains’ so we’re consciously alert to them.
This is followed by an exercise that looks to balance the battery draining factors with relevant and practical coping strategies. These prevention strategies can then be planned and scheduled so they become new ‘norms’ for burnout prevention.
But if prevention is unavoidable, schedule some extended quiet time. Getting out into nature can be very replenishing as can a retreat of some sort.
Explain to friends and family that previously agreed arrangements will need to be changed. The more our nearest and dearest understand about our type of introversion, the less we have to defend our decisions and actions. Take time to help them understand; it’s worth it!
As trainers and coaches, we need to make space for the quieter voices rather than forcing them. Given the right environment, the quietest voices can make the most profound contribution; the one that stops us in our tracks.
Recognise which if any of your practices as an L&D professional are contributing to the overwhelm. Enforced ‘fun’ can be one of them as it is so subjective. Team activities and role-play or ‘real-play’ may also contributing elements.
Of course, we know how important those things can be to the process of learning, so it’s the way they are introduced that makes all the difference.
And while we can’t make generalisations about the causes of, or fixes for burnout, as professionals we can value this neurodiversity and create a more inclusive, considerate culture for our learners.
So, take a look at your training and coaching practices. Where are you showing extroversion bias that may be inhibiting development and contributing to the overwhelm and burnout of introverts?
And if you’re an introvert, build in sufficient recovery time between client interventions to minimise the chances of your own burnout.
About the author
Joanna Rawbone is the founder of Flourishing Introverts