The modern workplace rewards extroversion. Having your voice heard and being seen as “participative” are equated with leadership and ambition. It’s a culture that favours the extroverts among us, who draw their energy from and shine with greater social interaction, while sounding the death knell on the careers of introverts, who consider social activity and group situations challenging, energy-expending exercises to recuperate from.
Yet, anywhere from a third to half a general population, including many of history’s brightest minds and great leaders, identify as introverts. It is thus essential that employers know how to bring out the best in introverts under them, to truly benefit their goals.
Provide clear agendas prior to meetings, and make the effort to ask for their thoughts or feedback later, one-on-one
The reflective trait of introverts is a key asset to any team. They tend to take time and space to “process” any issue at hand, before speaking or taking action, which can be regarded as shy reticence and refusal to participate in team discussions.
As a mechanism helping the effective upward flow of information and ideas in his organisation, Ben Horowitz, the co-founder of VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, makes it a point to hold one-on-one meetings with employees where they set the agenda, and do 90% of the talking.
Introverts’ measured approach brings deep decision-making and calculated risk-taking to the table, and makes them key assets when one has important proposals or presentations to compose.
Giving everyone, especially introverts time to formulate ideas is important. A clear proponent of this, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos, gives his executives 30 minutes to read and respond to a meeting’s agenda, before beginning proper.
Respect and allow introverts necessary space and silence at work
Unlike extroverts who thrive off external motivators, introverts find intrinsic motivation in accomplishing their work. Praise and recognition while important, are not their primary drivers at work. Taking time to think through issues on their own too, also means introverts tend to be independent thinkers.
Employers can empower more introverted employees in their roles, by allowing them to work without constant interruption and providing spaces (especially in open-plan offices) for them to retreat to when necessary.
Create a positive work environment where they don’t feel pressured to say anything before they are ready to. The founders of Twitter, Buzzfeed and Asana, have scheduled “No Meeting” days that help provide structure and rhythm to their companies’ workdays.
Large companies like Nike, Google, Pearson and HBO have followed in the steps of Steve Jobs at Apple, creating designated meditation spaces in their offices. Studies have shown the practice helps reduce workplace stress, and lead to more engaged, healthier and happier employees. By being respectful of their “silence”, you give introverts time and confidence to come back to you with better-formulated, impactful solutions.
Consider leveraging alternate forms of communication
Being natural observers in any given situation, introverts also make better listeners with greater relational capabilities. This allows them to demonstrate a greater appreciation of their teammates’ contributions, value and creativity, making them ideal team leads who can bring out the best in a team.
Alternate modes of communication such as e-mail and instant-messaging can empower introvert leaders with the space and time they need to process their thoughts, as well as express themselves comfortably and clearly. Susan Cain, noted author of, “Quiet: The Power of introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking”, posits that texting helps introverts connect with people without having to be “on” with the small talk and ritualised closing, and allows them to think as much as they wish, before responding.