5 Steps To Make Your Workplace More Friendly For Introverts
Relatively speaking, Introversion v/s extraversion essentially refers to one’s preference for managing energies – Basically it is about “how” you recharge your batteries.
For clarity, remember that every time this article makes mention of introversion or it is referring to how people react to external stimulation.
Extroverts crave it, they get their energy by being out there with others.
Introverts, on the other hand, have a preference for low stimulation environments – such as more reflection or “me” time, deep 1:1 conversation, etc.
Take note of how none of the above points has to do with shyness, confidence or social ineptness, and it is certainly not about being life of the party or the bore of the party.
The differences stated here are actually biological – introverts and extroverts really do have different nervous systems that makes them react differently to external stimulation, and there is now plenty of research to substantiate this.
Everyone Needs A Bit of “Me Time”
Equally true is the fact that are no pure extroverts or introverts. As Susan Cain, the most public face of the Introvert Movement states in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – “Every person fits somewhere on the introvert/extrovert scale. We may fall high or low on the continuum, but more likely we land somewhere in between.”
The use the labels “introverts” and “extroverts” in this article, are used more as a manner of convenience to get the point across, and less with the objective of “boxing” people, or perpetuating already existing stereotypes. Most importantly, under no circumstances does this diminish the fact that that an extrovert also needs “me” time and an introvert also needs “social” time.
Why Introversion Is Important To Inclusion In The Workplace
So now that we’ve covered that background on what an introvert is, what makes “introversion” a topic worthy of a separate discussion in the context of workplace inclusion?
The reasons actually, are plenty.
Look around the modern-day workplaces and they will be hard to miss:
- Open working spaces
- Brainstorming sessions to arrive at decisions
- Meetings where the emphasis is on speaking up
- Networking events
- The pressure to always be “seen” and “heard”
- Being told that “visibility” is important for you to grow your career
The regular office of today, both physically, in terms of its layout and design, and culturally in terms of stated and understood norms, is geared for “groups” of people and not “individuals”.
Talking over reflection. Collaboration over focused work. All of this potentially disadvantages an entire section of people who get their energy from thinking, working, and being by themselves, putting pressure on them to adopt working styles that do not allow them to maximize their potential.
As an introvert myself and a certified MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) practitioner, I have observed this interplay of personality & work from fairly close quarters, and experienced how small changes in working patterns can bring about significant improvements in working relationships and productivity.
Five Steps Towards Making Our Spaces More “Introvert” Friendly
If you are a manager leading a group of people, here are some of the things you can do to bring the best out of your team, introverts and extroverts included:
1. Make Meetings A Level Playing Field
To the extent that most meetings rely on ideating and speaking in a group, they tend to favor extroverts, who thrive on external stimulation. Tilting the balance of power in favour of an introvert will require you to make a few small but important tweaks.
Firstly, before every meeting, send out a clear agenda and wherever possible, pre-read for the meeting, so that everyone can come prepared with ideas to contribute, rather than having to think of them on the spot. If you can’t always send a pre-read in advance, spend the first 10-15 mins of the meeting in outlining the objective and allowing people to jot down their thoughts on a piece of paper before actually starting the meeting.
This will particularly benefit introverts who are at their best when they get time for reflection, and do not have a natural preference to think out loud or in a more spontaneous manner.
During the meeting, keep reminding yourself that the one who speaks the most or the loudest isn’t always coming up with the best ideas. Be quick to identify derailers and silence them, especially if they are controlling the discussion and not giving room to others to express themselves.
After the meeting, encourage the team to write to you with thoughts or ideas that they couldn’t share with in the meeting, either because there wasn’t enough time, or they couldn’t squeeze in an opportunity.
This means you are ensuring that you don’t rely only on what happens in those thirty minutes of meeting time, because chances are then, that you would be taking into account only the views of those who spoke the most and the loudest, who are, not surprisingly likely to be the extroverts.
2. Navigate Open Work Spaces
Most modern workplaces now have moved away from cubicles and offices to open spaces, with the objective of enhancing communication and collaboration amongst co-workers.
While an extrovert can work in perfect harmony with such environments, introverts’ brains are not wired to respond effectively to continuous external stimulation. It is therefore important to have enough “quiet zones” where one can spend time more privately, either working on one’s own, or doing more closed intimate discussions.
Introverts benefit from these spaces. Many introverts working in open spaces would use lunch as an opportunity step out, have a meal, maybe even take a quick walk or two by themselves to clear their head. If this is the case, then calling for a meeting during lunch time is best avoided, unless there is no alternate.
Also be supportive of ad-hoc as well as planned work from home requests, some of these may be coming from individuals on your teams who are more productive when they are working by themselves without constant external stimuli.
Recognize these when you see them and make every effort possible to accommodate. And lastly – make headphones available to everyone on the team – they are an asset to blank out the noise in the workspace and focus on the task at hand. They are also a great way to signal to your co-workers that you do not want to be disturbed.
3. Bring Diversity Into Your Team Networking Events
While all of us recognize the importance and the value of building connections at the workplace, the most common way in which that is done in corporates is by inviting a group of people for food and drinks, and leaving them to find ways of reaching out and having conversations to keep the going evening.
Needless to say, this form of socializing which relies heavily on speaking to people you don’t know very well on topics that you are not always familiar with or interested in, is heavily biased towards extroverts, who as a matter of fact, thrive in such environments.
For introverts, the pressure of constant social connections is exhausting to say the least. On the other hand, introverts do have a preference to connect with specific or smaller groups of people – particularly those who they know closely, or share some common interests with.
They can have lengthy discussions on topics they are passionate about and can find themselves highly re-energized at the end of it. An employer or a manager can channelize this by organizing networking events around specific themes such as sports, books, music, movies, etc.
It is almost like sending out a meeting with an agenda – because remember, preparation can increase an introvert’s productivity significantly. And really, the end objective, which is to help people foster deeper connections, will be met anyway, so why not.
4. Encourage Active Conversations About “Style” Of Working
Share your preferences, ask your colleagues to share theirs, and discuss what changes both of you may need to make in order to work together as a team.
If you prefer structured meetings over ad-hoc discussions, let your colleagues know.
If your team members prefer a more hands-off approach as against active supervision, allow them that space.
If you think a specific task or a project is going to require everyone to change their natural preferences for that period, state it upfront.
Say things like “I know you don’t like being followed up with on an hourly basis, but this one is time sensitive, so we will have to review progress a lot more frequently than what you are usually comfortable with.
Or “I know you are someone who has a preference for structure, but this project is going be all about finding and tuning things as we go along, so think about what you need to do to be better prepared.”
Or “This week will require more face to face meetings so it might be best for you not to work remotely”.
That way, introverts or extroverts, you are encouraging everyone to think about what works for them, what changes they would perhaps need to make, and how they can bring their best to the table under all kinds of circumstances. Importantly, you are also letting them know that “style” is as important as “content” to success in the workplace.
5. Play To Their Strengths
In general, introverts bring certain strengths to the table which can make them very valuable employees. They are tuned to be keen observers, good listeners, and find it easy to immerse themselves in solo work that requires extensive reading and researching – thanks to their natural preference for solitude and depth.
They also enjoy working on and solving problems independently, often coming up with the most creative ideas when left to themselves.
Use their observation skills to keep yourself updated on the going ons in the market or the workplace.
Leverage their listening skills by assigning them as a mentor to the juniors on the team. Ask them to independently review a piece of work and come up with some new ideas on it. In short, be the one who spots talent and brokers it for the benefit of the organization.
Leadership places on all of us the responsibility to get the best out of people. There will always be an opportunity to do so – the key lies in knowing that there is room for diverse work styles and personality types in a workplace, and that not only is it desirable, but also imperative to keep finding ways in which all of them can flourish.
Anuradha Ganapathy is a student of psychology who has been working in the corporate sector for over 19 years now, with the topic of inclusive leadership being particularly interesting for her in the context of a personality trait commonly referred to as “introversion”. Introversion is arguably one of the more understated, and perhaps most misunderstood traits in the realm of personality and leadership.
For the latest HR and business articles, check out our main page.