27 September 2023

Quiet achievers: How to help introverts shine in an extrovert-leaning workplace

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Kara Goldin* says it’s up to leaders to ensure workplace cultures that favour the outspoken don’t silence their quietest and brightest team players.

When you think of a successful CEO or leader, classic extrovert traits come to mind: outgoing, energetic, charming, talkative.

Steve Jobs was famously extroverted, as was Margaret Thatcher.

And while about half of the general population are extroverts, up to 96 per cent of managers and executives display extroverted traits, reveals a study published in Industrial and Organizational Psychology.

Other research estimates that up to 70 per cent of C-suite executives are extroverts.

In contrast, anywhere between 16 and 50 per cent of the population are considered to be introverts – people who find “alone time” energising and might feel drained in social settings.

And while there’s no right or wrong way to lead, introverts have to overcome a strong bias to reward extroversion.

According to a 2006 survey, 65 per cent of senior corporate executives viewed introversion as a barrier to leadership, and other studies have shown that highly extroverted US Presidents are perceived as more effective.

Another study in Financial Review found that analysts issue more favourable forecasts for firms led by extroverted CEOs.

The reality: Research shows that introverts are slightly more likely to surpass the expectations of their boards.

I’m a textbook extrovert, and I’m also the founder and CEO of my company, Hint Water.

But no matter your personality, there’s a good chance that you work with introverts.

If you’re a CEO or manager, you likely have some reporting to you.

I don’t want to surround myself with only people who operate the way I do, because diverse minds make better decisions.

It helps me avoid ‘groupthink’ and blind spots.

This means that I had to consciously create a workplace that helps introverts feel supported and validated, so they can truly shine.

From tweaking your office’s physical space to rethinking how you run meetings, here’s how to make sure all your employees feel comfortable enough to bring their best to the table.

  1. Build quiet spots in the office

About 70 per cent of workplaces use an open office plan, according to the International Management Facility Association.

Sure, this saves money on real estate, but employees – especially introverts – hate it.

A study by Harvard researchers found that open office layouts cut employees’ face-to-face conversations by 73 per cent and increased email and instant message by 67 per cent.

Another study, in Frontiers in Psychology, showed that working in an open-plan office kills privacy and intensifies the perception of intrusion among employees.

Employees without a sense of privacy had lower job satisfaction, work engagement and were more likely to call in sick.

You may not have the luxury of choosing the layout for your office, but you can make sure there are conference rooms or phone rooms that employees can duck into whenever they need a moment to themselves.

If you don’t have the budget to remodel your space, try installing bigger lunch tables in the kitchen or giving employees a coffee break at the same time to boost productivity and improve socialising at work.

And no matter what, try to be understanding and flexible if an employee tells you that he or she needs to work from home for a day to maximise productivity.

  1. Make work events inclusive for introverts

Consider introverted personalities when you’re planning work events like happy hours and team-building exercises.

A lot of introverts get extremely anxious in a cocktail party setting.

But, on the flip side, getting to know their co-workers better can reduce their overall anxiety.

So, what’s the best way to strike a balance and make sure everyone has a good time?

I plan work outings to centre on an activity, such as bowling, pottery making or wine tasting.

Keep in mind that some events, like trivia nights and escape rooms, may prioritise extroverts.

By providing structure to work events, I find that employees who find small talk and networking to be draining don’t feel left out.

When you do host happy hours or less structured gatherings, consider letting employees bring a plus-one, whether it’s a spouse or a roommate or an industry colleague.

This may make them more at ease and sociable in a setting that might otherwise not be their speed.

  1. Lead meetings mindfully to ensure everyone gets heard

If you’re managing introverts, one thing you might notice is that they’re more hesitant to speak up in group settings, especially in brainstorms or large meetings.

This can mean that they don’t get the recognition they deserve or they feel shut out of conversations where they’d otherwise have valuable input.

In Quiet Revolution, the resource created by writer Susan Cain in conjunction with her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking, one article explains: “The typical format of free-for-all discussions favours people who are more comfortable jumping in before thinking through their thoughts.”

“Extroverts are naturally more comfortable jumping in quickly.”

“Their way is not better or worse than ours – it’s just different.”

But you can find innovative ways to lead meetings, brainstorms and all-hands to prioritise all voices, not just the ones who are quick to speak off-the-cuff.

For example, you can share a detailed agenda several days in advance of a big meeting.

Many introverts are most comfortable speaking up when they’ve had time to think about what they want to say, and this is a great way to give them that opportunity.

Notice who hasn’t said much and, before you move on to another topic, gently encourage them to share their opinion.

Finally, think hard before you schedule a meeting.

Ask yourself: Is this really necessary or can it be handled over email?

Introverts can be exhausted by back-to-back meetings.

Keeping calendars clear of anything unnecessary can ensure you’re not optimising your work environment for extroverts only and it gives everyone more time for productivity – no matter what their work style.

* Kara Goldin is founder and CEO of Hint Water. She tweets at @karagoldin.

This article first appeared at www.entrepreneur.com

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