Introverts don’t wear signs, but they’re everywhere. If you’re a manager, chances are you have at least a couple of introverts on your team. (And introverted managers are out there, as well.) Introversion doesn’t mean someone is anti-social or “just shy.” It’s an ingrained part of one’s personality. The first step to managing introverts is understanding that their introversion is not a defect or fault—they merely derive their energy from a different source.
Here are five ways to make managing introverts easier than you’d think:
1) Recognize who your introverts are. Introverts tend to be low key and reflective, and are rarely the first to raise their hand, volunteer for visible tasks like public speaking, or sit at the front of the room. They don’t often share their private lives with the group (an introvert doesn’t run around every Monday morning interrogating co-workers about their weekend, or going into detail about their own), not because they have no interest in anyone else, but because their natural inclination is to internalize and compartmentalize personal vs. work-related matters. While they’re unlikely to network in a social setting, they come to life on social media and email—and do an amazingly good impression of a “people person” when they need to. But be aware that it exhausts them, and they’ll need to recharge.
2) Respect their need for quiet and focus—it’s not personal. When introverts ask for a distraction-free work environment, it’s only because they want to do their best possible work for you—not because they hate you, their co-workers, and/or their job. Introverts derive their energy from within. The ability to concentrate is paramount; distractions cause sensory overload and anxiety. They value quality, thoroughness and accuracy above all when it comes to work, so be sure to provide quiet zones in the office… the same way you provide collaborative spaces for extroverts. Remember that the introvert’s ability to work independently, without the need for constant oversight and approval, makes your job easier.
3) Appreciate why introverts think first, speak later. Introverts don’t just blurt out every random thought that enters their mind. They are thinkers and planners, focusing intently on all aspects of a situation, and also predicting future roadblocks others haven’t yet considered (which is too often perceived as negativity or pessimism instead of what it is—foresight). They don’t wait to “cross that bridge when they come to it.” They already know that bridge is up ahead, so they’ll plan three different ways to cross it. Introverts may not say much, but what they do say is usually well thought out and considered. Encourage them to come forward with their thoughts when all eyes aren’t upon them.
4) Try not to pit them against extroverts. The styles of introverts and extroverts can often be at odds in the workplace, but neither is right or wrong, nor should either personality type be given preference as the “correct” way to be. Both have pros and cons—and can actually complement each other quite well when taken together as a whole. Vocal, effusive cheerleaders unquestionably make vital contributions, and are needed on every team. But you also need people who are not only content, but happy to sit on the sidelines, put their heads down, and get it done. (Think Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.) The “boring” tasks are as important as the high-profile, glamorous ones—the quarterback may be the visible star, but the offensive coordinator is working just as hard behind the scenes—so don’t make work a popularity contest.
5) Don’t treat introversion as a weakness that can be “cured” by shaming or punishment. Always assuming that silence or a neutral facial expression means something is wrong (i.e. seeing the employee as negative, moody, disengaged or “not a team player”) is not a productive way to go about managing introverts. Mistaking introversion for a bad attitude and punishing the employee for it can only harm the working relationship, as well as curtail drive and enthusiasm.
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