Managing the Introverted Employee to Best PerformanceIt’s estimated that introverts make up from one-third to one-half of the U.S. population. Despite the large numbers, however, introverts report feeling discriminated against by their more chatty brethren—for example, finding it more difficult to land a job offer or get noticed at work. Society, it would seem, values extroverts and their “outward orientation” to the world much more than it values introverts and their “inward orientation.” In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain writes:

“Introversion—along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness—is a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.”

Cain, a self-professed introvert, knows what she’s talking about. But what does all this mean for you and your team? Why should you care who’s introverted or extroverted? Shouldn’t managing introverted employees be the same as managing extroverted employees?

Extroversion vs. Introversion in the workplace

Briefly stated, to be extroverted is to derive energy from being around others. In The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World, author Marti Olsen Laney, PsyD states, “Extroverts thrive on a variety of stimuli …” Introverts, on the other hand, derive energy from being alone. Introverts like people and are generally quite social (despite all myths to the contrary) but find the stimulation of too many people for too long simply too much. Both Cain and Laney provide scientific proof that our reactions to stimuli are more than a preference. Introverts and extroverts are literally wired differently. These differences go a long way toward explaining why introverts generally loath the spotlight while extroverts seek it out; and why introverts tend to be more quiet and self-reflective than extroverts. The problem is that we’re conditioned to believe that extroversion is somehow “better” than introversion— that a fast talking, self-promotional employee is smarter, more knowledgeable, and more productive than one who isn’t. That’s nonsense, of course. Neither extroversion nor introversion, in and of itself, is a predictor or indicator of greater competency on the job.

How to get the most from your introverted team members:

Do you sometimes get impatient with your quiet employee’s tendency to think before he speaks or to avoid the limelight? If so, you’ll want to rethink that approach right now, because introverts bring serious advantages to the workplace, and you don’t want to discourage them from engaging. Here’s how:

  • Respect your employee’s need to think. To the introvert, thinking is productive work. Don’t make the mistake of assuming otherwise. Just because you pop into the introvert’s office and see him staring off into space doesn’t mean he isn’t getting stuff done.
  • Don’t discount the introvert’s insight. In larger meetings in particular, your introverted employee might take a back seat to her more boisterous coworkers, but that doesn’t mean she has nothing of value to add. While many introverts are practiced at being assertive in the workplace, not all are. Don’t miss out on your introverted employee’s well-thought out opinions because you failed to ask.
  • Remember that introverts are great at building personal relationships. Introverts generally don’t love large gatherings, but they know how to go deep and build significant rapport one-on-one, in part because they tend to be great listeners.
  • Don’t interrupt and don’t rush. Maybe it takes your introverted employee a moment to get his thoughts together, but don’t interrupt while he’s speaking, please. For one, a deep thinker like your introverted employee probably has something very useful to say. For another, interrupting is rude and will rattle your employee further. Finally, it’s disrespectful and damaging to the relationship. Seriously, where’s the fire?

The best teams are diverse, and good managers know that. Don’t make your introverted employees feel like second-class citizens by overlooking their talents and placing too much emphasis on the importance of “getting out there” and being talkative. If you do, you’ll fail to distinguish your best employees (among both the introverts and the extroverts) from those who just talk a good game.

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Jennifer Lucas