Extending one of my previous posts, I’d like to expand on a topic I feel strongly about: understanding your introverted colleagues. About one in four people are likely to be introverted.
What is an introvert? Generally, an introvert is someone who feels drained by social interaction and energized by the conversation in their head. According to Dr. Marti Laney, introverts require silence to concentrate, seem aloof, like to work on complex projects, need to understand why they are doing something, dislike interruptions, work alone, stay behind their desk, and have trouble remembering names and faces. It’s easy to see how introverts are simply bad at marketing themselves.
Dr. Laney writes at length about the physiological differences between introverts and extroverts. These are natural, not learned behaviours, caused by factors such as the size of dopamine receptors in the brain. Introverts are actually physiologically incapable of behaving like extroverts for extended periods of time, and accordingly you should never, ever, attempt to ‘fix’ an introvert to be more extroverted. This leads introverts to feel devalued and inadequate.
Famous introverts include Albert Einstein, Warren Buffett, Charles Darwin, Al Gore, Isaac Newton, Eleanor Roosevelt, J. K. Rowling, and Steven Spielberg. We are in good company.
On the other hand, extroverts like to get out from their desks and talk about their accomplishments, brainstorm, network, enjoy phone calls, develop ideas through interaction, physically move around, be part of the group, enjoy attention, and are attracted to other extraverts. They are much better at promoting themselves. Think of people like Anthony Roberts or Christopher Hitchens.
A problem that a lot of commentators have picked up on is that society habitually rewards extroverted behavior. Television shows like Big Brother and American Idol emphasizes extroversion as a desirable trait. We are pummeled by media messages rewarding individuals who act outrageously or outspokenly, but there is no similar reward system in society for introverted behaviour.
A big frustration for introverts everywhere is being labeled shy. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts, makes an important distinction between introversion and shyness:
“It’s also important to understand that introversion is different from shyness. Shyness is the fear of negative judgment, while introversion is simply the preference for less stimulation. Shyness is inherently uncomfortable; introversion is not.”
She goes on to note that:
“We are not anti-social; we’re differently social.”
This is true. We intensely value friendships and enjoy genuinely connecting. We’d rather have one meaningful conversation at an event than talk to every single person for 30 seconds. This makes networking difficult due to our natural temperament.
If any of the above sounds like someone you’re working with, and you find their introverted temperament frustrating, Daria Steigman wrote about interacting with introverts:
In The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership, Lisa Petrilli has written a book primarily aimed at helping introverts succeed in the workplace. But she also offers advice for managing the introverts on your team (including, perhaps, yourself):
1. Give introverts time to think. “It’s imperative that you give us some time to think about your idea and reflect on it,” writes Petrilli. “It’s also imperative that you not perceive our initial quiet reaction as either (1) that we aren’t smart enough or insightful enough… or (2) that we are not decisive enough to have an opinion.”
2. Meet with introverts one-on-one and in small groups. Petrilli points out that introverts are not comfortable in big meetings. As a result, she says, “meet with us one-on-one or in groups of two or three to run your ideas by us prior to a big meeting. Give us time to think about your ideas and for us to share our own thoughts with you.
3. Never assume. Instead of making assumptions about an introvert’s intelligence or what he is (or is not) thinking, Petrilli suggests that managers instead “always ask. And then really listen.” She adds, “Please do not assume that if [introverts] spend a lot of time alone in their office that they are not a ‘team player.’ Introverts reenergize by spending time alone with their ideas and by creating clarity around their strategies and next steps.”
A key outtake is just taking the time to really listen to what introverts have to say. They’ll love you for taking the time to have a real conversation with them. Introverts are more likely to be creative and have their minds overflowing with ideas; the key is that they need opportunities to channel their creativity, and quiet time to re-energize themselves.
In addition, blogger Brian Kim summarizes what extroverts need to know about introverts (paraphrased):
1. If a person is introverted, it does NOT mean they are shy or anti-social.
2. Introverts tend to dislike small talk.
3. Introverts do like to socialize – only in a different manner and less frequently than extroverts
4. Introverts need time alone to recharge
5. Introverts are socially well adjusted.
Introverts can add immense value to your work team and personal life. It pays to take a little time to understand why they act aloof and uninterested. The thing is: I enjoy working with lots of extraverts! It’s fun! At the same time it’s good to be balanced to have the best of both worlds.
Let’s get along.