It’s 2:15 on a Thursday afternoon, and there’s a lively debate going on in the conference room. You and your team are batting around ideas about how to solve a client issue that cropped up and is delaying a project deliverable. The senior engineer on the team wants to stop all other work streams and focus on this issue. One of the other engineers disagrees. The project manager needs clarification on what to tell the client. There are a lot of opinions in the air. There are also several people in the room who haven’t spoken up – they tend to listen more and wait until the debate has died down to offer their thoughts. And when they do speak up, they may not be as forceful or as persuasive as some of the other voices in the room. These are the introverts, and your job as a manager is to make sure their voices are part of the conversation too.
Now, before we go on and talk about this topic, I want to point out that the introvert/extrovert discussion is not binary; most people are not simply one or the other. There is a broad spectrum of personalities and approaches to communication, and as a manager, your job is to recognize where each person on your team falls on that spectrum. But, with that said, some people are more comfortable speaking up and engaging, and others are not. Some people are verbal processers, meaning they think through things by talking, while others need time and space alone to evaluate an idea.
Introverts have been in the limelight lately, particularly since Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was released. In it, Susan highlighted the fact that some of the quietest individuals have the most well-thought-out ideas. Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, also pointed out that the first idea (often the one put forth by the extroverts in the room) is not always the best idea. Our brains have certain biases that guide our initial responses to questions, but by thinking beyond those biases and truly considering the whole picture, we come up with better solutions.
Many people who get into management believe that their job is to tell people what to do. But the truth is that being successful as a manager is not about knowing all of the answers, it’s about leveraging the talent of the people on your team by listening, understanding, and then synthesizing their ideas into the best answer for the situation. That’s why it’s so important to understand and value the introverts and the extroverts on your team.
Here are a few things you need to think about when engaging the introverts:
- Step Back – While extroverts like to think out loud as they process information, introverts will want to come to the meeting with a prepared and thoughtful response. Giving them the issue ahead of time to consider will make the conversation more productive.
- Write It Up – Some introverts may prefer to respond in writing. They may feel uncomfortable standing up in front of the group to talk about their ideas.
- Buddy Up – In pairs, introverts and extroverts can help each other out. The extroverts can help articulate the ideas that the introverts have crafted, and the introverts in turn can help the extroverts see where their ideas might need more work or be missing details.
Research tells us that diversity of perspectives makes teams more creative and more successful at problem solving. But only when those diverse teams value each others’ differences and find ways to work together. As a manager, you’re in a position to bring the team together by creating an opportunity for the introverts and the extroverts to do their best work.
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