How to support introverted employees at work
Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton offer tips to help you get the most out of the “quieter” members of your team.
Reading time: 5 minutes
Introverts often get a bad rap. And yet, can you imagine a world where everyone was an extrovert? That could be a bit overwhelming – even for extroverts!
There is a common misperception that introverts need to become more extroverted. It’s important for us to understand that there is nothing wrong with being an introvert.
Variety is the spice of life and the strongest teams generally have a mix of people with different styles and strengths that balance each other.
The truth is that most of us sit somewhere on the introversion/extroversion spectrum rather than being 100% one or the other.
That applies whether we’re using the Oxford English Dictionary definition of introvert or the Myers Briggs definition of introvert:
- OED: a shy, reticent person; a person characterised by concern primarily with his or her own thoughts and feelings
- Myers Briggs: Introverts like getting their energy from dealing with the ideas, pictures, memories, and reactions that are inside their head, in their inner world. They often prefer doing things alone or with one or two people they feel comfortable with. They take time to reflect so that they have a clear idea of what they'll be doing when they decide to act. Ideas are almost solid things for them. Sometimes they like the idea of something better than the real thing.
(The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a personality self-assessment that helps you understand how you’re energised (extraversion or introversion), the way you take in information (sensing or intuition), what things you weigh when you make decision (thinking or feeling), and how you organise your time and world (judging or perceiving). It was created to help people better understand and appreciate differences in personalities and perspectives.)
Rather than trying to turn introverts into extroverts, a more effective strategy is to hire them for roles, and assign them to projects that leverage their strengths and interests – and to create a work environment where they can thrive.
For example, most introverts prefer working solo, communicating in writing, having plenty of time for reflection and recovery, especially after intense interpersonal communication to rebalance cortisol (stress), oxytocin (belonging) and dopamine (pleasure) levels, having a degree of autonomy, and a clearly defined role and objectives.
Introverts are often successful managers because they carefully assess competencies and delegate very effectively
Reduce surprises and allow for sufficient preparation time so that introverts can maintain the right levels of acetylcholine (balance), adrenalin (fear/excitement), and cortisol – where the right mix is essential for stress management and healthy energy levels.
Create agendas ahead of meetings. Let introverts consider and plan their contribution to the meeting in advance. Schedule breaks between meetings. Back-to-back meetings are especially unrewarding and demotivating for introverts, draining energy and engagement.
Don’t overlook the introvert when considering whom to promote. Although traditionally not strong self-promoters, research indicates that introverts are often successful managers because they carefully assess competencies and delegate very effectively.
However, if you manage introverts, it’s important to encourage them to challenge themselves from time to time versus staying in their comfort zone.
Even when in the right role, there are certain situations where people who are naturally introverted are required to engage in more extroverted activities. In those instances, targeted coaching or training can be helpful.
For example, we coached a businessperson in the finance industry who had an exceptional mathematical mind. He was quite introverted, yet had to do a lot of networking – something that caused him severe discomfort because he found it trivial and draining, and didn’t believe he could be true to himself when engaging in “chit chat.”
We worked with him on a centering visualisation called “Finding Your I” that can be used for multiple purposes. It involves envisioning a capital letter I inside of your body (top bar of the I running between the shoulders and bottom bar running between the hips, with the center bar running down the spine).
Let introverts consider and plan their contribution to the meeting in advance
In the visualisation, that “I” can be made of any number of substances based on what works for each person.
In this case, it was intended to bolster his sociability immediately prior to networking events, so he visualised his “I” as a tower of champagne glasses overflowing with bubbly!
Putting that particular “I” in place before networking events immediately made him smile and helped put him in the right state of mind for meeting new people. He now actually looks forward to the occasional networking event.
We also deliver training for the R&D team of a leading global FMCG corporation where the team is very important to the overall business because the business is built on research.
However, when we met them, the team was struggling to sell its research to the business because they were largely introverted by nature and uncomfortable speaking about their work.
As a result, their ability to influence organisational strategy had eroded. They needed to enhance their ability to communicate the business value of the work they were doing.
We introduced them to a framework for effective technical communication, as well as physical intelligence techniques to enhance strength, flexibility, resilience and endurance, designed to address the unique challenges of the R&D role, including:
- Posture, breathing, and vocal techniques to manage their stress levels with specific emphasis on powerful communication.
- Flexibility techniques to foster creative thinking and help them deliver their messages in a more engaging way.
- Techniques for commanding a space and establishing authority in a way that includes everyone and makes people feel valued and heard.
- Resources to build resilience, including a breathing technique that helps when you’re feeling panicked or overwhelmed (and is also helpful when dealing with burnout).
Within months, and in some cases, only weeks of the training, many participants had been promoted up one or two levels and were regularly invited to participate in strategic discussions, viewed as business partners in a position to shape business decisions that will impact the organisation for years to come.
Their research projects have received funding and their recommendations have been green-lighted at an accelerated pace.
The moral of the story is that with the right support and training, introverts can communicate more assertively and with confidence, while remaining true to themselves, and by doing so their value can be more broadly communicated across the business.
Embrace and celebrate your introverts (and all of the diversity across your team), encourage the entire team to do the same, and you’ll be better positioned to adapt and thrive in today’s ever-changing business environment.
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