What do Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Charles Darwin, J.K. Rowling and Rosa Parks have in common? They are all people who made an impact on their world. They are also introverts.
In today’s corporate
boardrooms, they might be completely overlooked and go unnoticed. In previous centuries our culture valued quiet
integrity and introspection. However, in today’s culture the emphasis on
personality and striving to be noticed has propelled a certain type of person
to be valued. That person speaks fast, loud and a lot. They think while they
are speaking. This is the extrovert. The introvert, who articulates their ideas
in their mind before speaking, is quiet and reserved, has been pushed to the
background. As a result, it is not always the person with the best, most
creative ideas that is heard, but the loudest. Introverts were predicting the
housing bubble crash long before it happened. Nobody was listening. The result
of this has been a loss of ideas and capabilities of some of the finest
thinkers in organizations. That is a huge waste of talent that companies can
ill afford to lose. Of course an organization will work best if it can harness
the best of all employees, be they extrovert or introvert.
Understanding introverts and extroverts
of the common misconceptions regarding introverts is that they are shy and
extroverts are outgoing. Those traits are only the outward actions and
appearances that we observe between the two groups. Carl Jung, who made the
terms extravert and introvert popular, claimed that the difference between them
was how they gained energy. Introverts gained energy from spending time alone.
When around others for too long they find their energy drained. They are not
necessarily shy or withdrawn, they just need to get away to recharge
themselves. Extroverts, on the other
hand gain energy from others and find their energy being drained when they have
to spend time alone. The other important finding that came from Carl Jung was
that introversion/extroversion are extremes on opposite ends of the scale and
most people fall somewhere between the two. In fact he had this to say about
the two extremes.
“There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a
person would be in the lunatic asylum” …Carl G. Jung
Hans Eysenck claimed that the different levels of arousal resulted in the
difference between introverts and extroverts. He proposed that introverts are
aroused quicker and extroverts need more stimulation to be aroused. This
explains why introverts can become overstimulated and need to get away and
recharge. Finding it harder to become stimulated, extroverts need to work
harder by putting themselves in situations with others, creating novelty,
adventure and change in their lives.
I am in no way suggesting
that organizations, should or need to, totally change to conform to the needs
of introverts as they also have a responsibility to adjust to their
environment. There are, however, some basic things that can be done to help
introverts feel more comfortable, accepted and appreciated in the workplace.
Creating an introvert friendly environment
Organizations can deliberately create an environment that
is friendly to thoughtful introspection and allows introverts opportunities to
make use of their talents and abilities. Everything from how ideas are
formulated and implemented can be set up in a way that shows they are valued
and makes introverts feel that they are important members of a team.
Open discussion forums,
teamwork projects, unstructured meetings and informal company events are
activities that lend themselves more to the outgoing gregarious nature of
extroverts. Here are some ideas for manager, supervisors and leaders to make
workplaces more introvert friendly:
- Allocate time for all members
to speak and be heard. Limit the time and ask everyone to come to the meeting
with prepared items or speaking points. Make it understood that the speaker is
not to be interrupted until the end, at which point anyone can ask questions. I
remember belonging to a men’s group in which we had a talking stick. The man
holding the stick was the one speaking and if another man wished to speak he
asked for the stick. This allowed the man holding the stick to collect his
thoughts and not have to worry about the conversation continuing to another
topic. This would work well for the introverts in your group.
- Ask for written discussion
items to be forwarded to the chair prior to the meeting. This not only helps
introverts who tend to like to think things through but cuts back on time
wasted on chatter and people rambling on and wasting everyone’s time.
- Encourage everyone in your
organization to become a member of toastmasters where they can develop skills
and confidence in public speaking. As well they will develop the ability to
speak succinctly and clearly on a topic. This will help introverts feel more
comfortable in a group. As an alternative, initiate your own version of
toastmasters on the worksite.
- Create opportunities for
everyone to take turns leading meetings. This will give everyone, extroverts
and introverts an opportunity to experience different leadership styles and
interaction, resulting in better understanding of how the other works.
- Ask for written ideas on new and innovative
ways to improve. When giving feedback on an idea, give special attention to
careful thought and creativity in an idea, even if unable to use it. It will let introverts; who put a lot of
attention and thought into ideas; know that those attributes are noticed and
- Give notice of changes and
events that will impact them as far in advance as possible. Remember that it is
important for them to be able to think things through and be prepared.
- If you need to reprimand them,
do it privately.
- When creating ideas for a new
project, be clear on deadlines and that the avenues for communication are open
until that deadline. Often introverts
process longer and more precisely on the details.
- When asking something of them,
give them a chance to mull things over and then ask them to get back to you
instead of giving you an instant response.
- When part of a team, introverts
work best when they are assigned to work on a specific area rather than
brainstorming and working collectively as a group.
- When planning team building
activities, retreats and staff conferences keep in mind that introverts feel
more comfortable and perform better in a small group or individual activities
rather than large group events.
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