Are You Working Successfully with Introverts?

Have you ever noticed that some people pause a very long time before answering a question – maybe so long that you’re not sure they’re going to?  Or noticed that some staff members rarely participate in meetings, but when they do have something to say it’s profound?  These people are likely introverts.

The cover article of the October, 2010 issue of Psychology Today is entitled, “The Revenge of the Introverts.”  According to research, about half of us are basically extroverts.  That means that half of us get energy from interacting with others, thinking out loud, easily answering questions without mulling them over.  The other half are introverts who get energy from introspection, who reach conclusions by thinking rather than talking, who require think time to answer questions well and tend not to answer at all unless they’ve had time to think. 

As I was reading this article, I considered how many of our workplace practices assume everyone is an extrovert.  Here are just a few:

–         Holding meetings without an agenda that’s been circulated to participants ahead of time.

–         Expecting to have meaningful discussions (whether one-on-one or in groups) without giving everyone time to prepare.

–         Asking staff members questions on the fly and expecting decent answers immediately.

–         Failing to provide individuals with planning and prep time for projects.

–         Brainstorming ideas in meetings without announcing the topics or questions ahead of time.

Why are these activities a problem?  Because introverts generally withdraw from participating, so you lose their comments, insights and ideas.  Introverts determine what they think by thinking (rather than talking) and are rarely willing to share thoughts without preparation.  We regularly manage our workplaces in ways that exclude introverts, and do so at our peril: we end up losing the valuable input of about half our staff.  

So, here are a few things to incorporate in your setting that will use all the brainpower you have – not just half:

–         Distribute meetings agendas ahead of time, providing as much information about each topic as possible.

–         If you need to talk with a staff member, set a meeting and let him/her know the topic ahead of time.  Avoid surprise meetings.

–         Build in thinking and planning time, especially for more complex projects.

–         If you’re going to brainstorm a question, provide the question to participants ahead of time.  If that’s not possible, ask it at the meeting, then give everyone a few minutes to get their thoughts together.  Introverts will appreciate this even if extroverts get bored (believe me, it’s worth it!)

A final thought on this subject: introverts may or may not be shy, and may or may not like people.  Interestingly, there’s actually not a correlation here.  Introverts may seem shy when they’re quiet, but they may just need think time before they speak.  And they may like people a lot – in small numbers rather than large groups and with time between encounters to recharge.  So, keep in mind that you undoubtedly have introverts on your staff.  Be sure you get their input by structuring interactions to give them the best possible chance to be active participants.  ~ Daphne Schneider

2 responses to “Are You Working Successfully with Introverts?

  1. Thank you for this wise counsel. There must also be applications of this for relating in social situations with friends whor are introverts. It’s probaby best to ask well in advance and give them plenty of time to make decisions. Maybe it also would help to pace conversations slowlyand avoid bombarding them with too much data all at once . . . . and so forth.

  2. Workplace Insiders

    Thanks for your comment, Mona. Yes – I think you’re quite right. This applies equally in social situations and personal relationships. I’ve certainly been known to chase my husband (the introvert) around the house asking for an immediate answer to a complex question before remembering this wasn’t going to work! People are people, whether in the workplace or the home.

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