Have you ever been tasked with managing introverts in the workplace?
As a business leader, you’ll undoubtedly encounter diverse personality types and working styles among your team members.
People typically fall into one of two camps: People who are more outgoing (extroverts) and people who are more reserved (introverts).
Regardless of whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, managing introverts can involve certain challenges:
- How do you help someone to stand out who may be naturally resistant to the limelight?
- How can you effectively coach introverted employees so that they expand their skill set and work contributions, gain more attention and have a stronger likelihood of being promoted or recognized professionally through some other means?
- How can you create a work environment that inspires them to give their best each day?
So what is an introvert exactly?
What defines extroversion versus introversion could easily consume an entire book.
Within each term, there are different types of sub-personalities and a spectrum on which individuals reside. Comprehensive psychological assessments are dedicated to uncovering a tendency for extroversion or introversion, and the ideal job descriptions and working conditions for each unique person.
However, for the purposes of clarity and simplicity in this medium, when we reference introvert here we refer to the broad characteristics that society commonly attributes to these individuals:
- Systematic and structured
- Cautious (they don’t usually feel comfortable going by their gut; instead, they want to verify first)
- Preference for planning ahead
- Thrive in being alone and working independently, because they gain energy from quiet reflection
Despite the popular perception, introversion isn’t about being quiet and shy. It’s more about how a person approaches people and tasks. Although they’re more reserved in their approach, introverts are equally creative, passionate, energetic and articulate as extroverts.
Why introverts make great employees and leaders
Introverts can be valuable assets to their companies. Many occupy leadership positions at companies around the world.
A list of qualities associated with introverts that explain why they make great employees and leaders:
- They tend to be good listeners.
- They excel at thinking critically and usually think carefully before acting.
- They’re often less emotional, especially in stressful or challenging situations.
- They tend to explore problems from many angles and are able to get to the bottom line of an issue.
- They’re conscientious about their work in that they take time to ask the right questions – and it could involve an extensive line of questioning – to ensure they fully understand their tasks.
- They emphasize quality and accuracy in their work – they want to get it right.
- They set very high standards for themselves.
- They’re more compliant with following rules and procedures.
- They usually have superior written communication skills.
- They’re typically detail oriented.
Qualities that can hold introverts back in the business world
On the other hand, with these positive qualities come some less favorable tendencies that can hinder introverts from gaining notice for their contributions or advancing to leadership positions.
These qualities are the reason why managers sometimes need to coach their introverted team members:
- They can appear hesitant to share opinions and ideas with others.
- They can seem paralyzed by over-analysis, fear of mistakes or the quest for perfection.
- Their need to verify can result in them coming off as distrustful.
- They can be slow to give approval or make a decision.
- They can be more rigid in adhering to rules when occasionally some flexibility is necessary.
- They can micromanage or be overly critical of fellow team members.
- They can be resistant to face-to-face communication, instead relying on less personal forms of communication such as on text, email or social media – even when that method may not be optimal for a particular situation.
- Their preference for working alone is at odds with the team-based, collaborative approach that many employers favor. It can also prevent them from making valuable professional connections or enjoying opportunities to gain attention when needed.
Do’s and don’ts of managing introverts
Do: Become savvy at recognizing introversion.
True, you’re probably not a professional psychologist who’s qualified to diagnose personality types. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t pick up on key indicators that someone likely leans toward introversion:
- This type of employee won’t be the first one to speak up. Instead, they’ll listen more than talk. But when they do speak, they’ll ask questions intended for clarification and avoid long, verbose comments.
- They pay attention to details.
- They don’t reveal much emotion.
- They’re more methodical and structured in how they like to complete tasks.
- They don’t need a lot of interaction with people. They want to be able to ask their questions and understand their task, and then focus on their task alone.
Do: Understand why it’s important to support the introverts on your team – and what’s at stake if you don’t.
The essence of good servant leadership is to try to meet the needs of the people under you.
It’s critical to help people achieve their goals by understanding their perspectives and what they’re trying to accomplish. You want your employees to feel valued and supported for who they are and what they can offer your company.
People who don’t feel valued and supported:
- Become unhappy
- Make mistakes
- Don’t produce good work
- Bring negative energy to their team
- Leave sooner or later
None of this is good for your company.
Do: Leverage your employees’ natural tendencies.
- Do your introverted employees feel more comfortable asking a lot of questions upfront?
- Do they like to take time to ponder before giving you their opinion?
- Do they need extra time to research before discussing an issue at a meeting?
- Do they have a favored process for completing certain tasks?
Let them do what they do best. Allow them to work how they feel comfortable.
Understand the motive behind their actions, which is usually that they just want to do a good job. So give them what they need to succeed.
Ultimately, it means a better work product for you.
Do: Create an environment in which everyone feels comfortable speaking up and sharing, and in which all communication styles are respected.
Managers must set the expectation from the outset that everyone on the team knows it’s OK to be themselves.
Each person should understand that they bring a unique style for thinking and sharing. That is, after all, the power of a team.
In meetings or other group settings, some people will talk more and some will talk less. The people who talk more can annoy those who talk less, and the people who talk more may wonder why others aren’t talking as much.
You should uproot the idea that people who do things differently are wrong or inferior. An environment of trust and mutual respect is critical.
Introverts may try to stay quiet in a meeting. Left to their own devices, they may not say anything at all.
However, it’s important that you draw them out and encourage them to voice their thoughts. Your team can benefit from their perspective and better understand who they are.
And speaking up more can help introverts gain respect among colleagues and be seen as more valuable to the company.
Tips for encouraging introverts to speak up:
- Share topics of discussion in advance so they can come to a meeting prepared and not feel put on the spot.
- Tell them it’s OK to take time to think about an issue or a question.
- Ask them directly what they think once others have shared their ideas.
- Strongly discourage negative feedback from other team members. It’s one thing to objectively explain why an idea may not work, and it’s another to allow teasing, sarcasm or personal critiques. There should be no overt inhibitors that prevent people from wanting to contribute.
Do: Tailor your communication for introverts, and encourage your extroverted team members to do the same.
Tips for communicating with introverts:
- Don’t disturb them in the middle of a task unless necessary.
- Provide time for them to gather their thoughts and process the information you’ve delivered.
- Offer thorough answers to their questions and detailed explanations for tasks.
- Choose your words carefully when making corrections. Be tactful.
- Be specific in your praise and in your critiques (without being overly flattering).
- Don’t react negatively to a controlled, less emotional response.
- Honor their need for privacy and dignity.
- Allow them space to recharge without interruption after a conversation.
- Demonstrate acceptance and tolerance.
Do: Encourage training to expand specific skills.
We all have skills we need to master to achieve personal and professional growth.
For introverts, good training opportunities could focus on:
- Learning about different personalities and working styles (for example, how to work well with extroverts)
- Public speaking and how to give engaging presentations
- Networking effectively
Do: Help introverts establish and reach reasonable goals and standards.
With their focus on perfectionism, accuracy and quality, introverts can be incredibly hard on themselves. This is a good thing – to a certain extent. People should take pride in their work.
But when it causes “analysis paralysis” or leads to frustration, discouragement and burnout, you have a problem.
How to avoid this:
- Help your team members set realistic and achievable performance goals.
- Guide them in adjusting standards for themselves. Clearly stating your expectations can help them determine if their standards are in alignment with yours – or if they’re going overboard.
- Explain to them which tasks deserve more attention.
Don’t: Lose your patience.
It’s a fact of doing business:
We must work with people who are different from us.
Whether we’re polar opposites from our colleagues or a bit too much alike, it’s not uncommon for managers and direct reports to butt heads or become annoyed with how the other works.
However, always keep this in mind: People aren’t doing things against you; they are usually doing things for themselves. We do what we need to do to cope within an environment.
As a manager, helping your employees do their job well – and meeting their needs so they can accomplish their goals – should be meaningful to you if it’s meaningful for them.
- Slow down and be patient.
- Answer questions.
- Clarify instructions.
- Make it clear that they’re worth your time.
Don’t: Think you can change an introvert’s personality or conform them to your individual working style.
Training is the act of developing a specific skill while leveraging one’s natural talents. It should never be confused with trying to change who someone is at their core.
Trying to do so will only undermine your employee’s confidence, foster resentment and cause unnecessary stress.
Don’t: Push an introvert into the limelight if it’s undesired and unnecessary.
Unsurprisingly, many introverts don’t want to be under the spotlight.
Heaping attention on them can embarrass them and make them uncomfortable. They could be perfectly content operating behind the scenes, and you should respect that.
Unless being the center of attention is directly related to their job function or professional status – for example, being featured in a publication or speaking at a conference – then don’t force it.
When it comes to day-to-day recognition of a job well done, be creative and more subtle in how you honor introverts. Peer recognition is a great, more personal and quiet way of passing on the kudos.
Don’t: Fail to meet the standards you set for others.
Introverts have high expectations of themselves and others – including you as a leader. If your team second-guesses your capabilities as a leader, it can undermine morale, promote disengagement and cause people to leave.
- Hold true to your standards, as well as the rules and procedures you’ve set.
- Keep the promises you’ve made.
- Be excellent at what you do.
Summing it all up
Introverts have many outstanding qualities that their managers can leverage and develop to their companies’ benefit.
While managing introverts, your responsibility is to help develop their natural skills and boost their comfort and confidence level in the workplace — so that they can achieve the credit, respect and career advancement they’ve earned.
In the process, you can help the various personalities on your team to collaborate more harmoniously and effectively, enhance the quality of work and improve employee retention.
For more information on how to better support, develop and motivate your team, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to leadership and management.