Introverted individuals make for 30-50% of the workforce. But since, characteristically, they prefer to stay away from the limelight, it’s very easy to underrate or sideline them. In the international bestseller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain claims that only a few aspects of today’s culture favour the introvert, especially in the workplace. While the bold and outspoken grab eyeballs and get applauded by peers and managers, the shy and quiet ones are unfortunately neglected. They often attract questions: Why isn’t he vocal in team meetings? Why does he remain quiet most of the time? Is he not happy? Is he not doing his work properly? Is he not enjoying his work?, etc.
It’s only their demeanour that makes them misunderstood. Yes, they may not blossom in a crowd of boisterous employees. They may not network or take risks as effectively as their celebrated extroverted counterparts. In an organization with a large number of non-desk employees, the percentage of introverted employees can be quite high. Mostly because, historically, they have been sidelined due to their silence, kept out of loop of team conversations, and not encouraged much. So they naturally feel awkward getting into a meeting or conversation with their desk counterparts.
But given the apt space, time, and conditions, introverts have the potential to work productively very much like the rest. In no way are they an impediment to the organization. In reality, introverts are highly creative, focused, committed, trusted, and observant. They make for great problem-solvers and decision-makers. In fact, in some cases, they are a notch higher than extroverts. Research shows that companies headed by introverted CEOs outperform those headed by extroverted ones. Some introverted but highly successful business leaders include Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffet, Tim Cook, etc.
To tap the unique potential of introverts, they have to be identified and understood first. Once that’s done, a tweak in the employee management strategy is required to get the best out of them.
All introverts are miserly talkers. More so, if they are not a part of a continuous office-going contingent (frontline staff or remote workers), they may not open up freely in a public gathering. In stand-ups, they might feel nervous to put forward a point or try to keep a telephone conversation very short. But lack of words does not mean lack of ideas or lack of engagement. Introverts might not be great talkers but they are great listeners. They like to do their work quietly and not make a hue and cry about it. Often they are silent because they are thinking over and organizing their thoughts, and waiting for the right moment to voice them out.
Building that right moment for introverted employees is extremely crucial for the management. With an introverted employee, silence must be dealt with expertly to turn it golden. Private discussions often help. What introverts are unable to say in public, they can voice it out openly in a one-on-one discussion. Also, since introverts are more comfortable in writing/ texting than speaking, a messaging platform for employee communication helps them immensely instead of group meets or voice/ video calls.
Mind you, introverted employees aren’t the first ones to turn active on such a platform. It will need a bit of pushing for them to join a community. Initiative from the leadership works well in such cases. If HR and business leaders communicate regularly on the platform, they, in a way, evangelize the app for the introverts at work. Once they start messaging on the platform, it’s important to make them stay comfortable. So, keeping messages informal and casual is a great idea. Over-moderation can make introverts lose interest and kill off the enthusiasm. On the other hand, if the admin ensures all or most messages by introverts on the platform are responded to, they feel their voices are acknowledged and valued by the company.
While it’s mostly comfortable for introverts to use technology to connect, an overuse might make them unhappy. Cain suggests: “The trick, when it comes to introverts, is using tech in ‘just right’ doses.”
Introverts mostly choose jobs that don’t require them to speak at length or communicate with others. But some might get stuck with unconducive teams. For example, an introvert who could have been comfortable in housekeeping might not like it in a customer-facing delivery team. In these circumstances, they tend to forcibly act like extroverts that can be exhausting and very stressful, and, often, come with minimum results. Isn’t it much better to assign jobs that they are comfortable with and good at? For instance, instead of putting introverts in large teams, it’s better to assign them to micro-teams with like-minded individuals. Or instead of expecting their active participation in daily stand-ups (where they might feel nervous or get overshadowed), ask them to report via text messages or once in a while.
HR leaders and managers can take the initiative to identify introverted individuals, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and come up with an optimal arrangement that’s profitable for both the employee and the company. With its Project Aristotle, Google found that psychological safety was the “secret sauce” to create a high-performing team. If an introverted employee feels comfortable in his role and environment, he can bring out the best in him without any worry.
Introverts might not like too much limelight. But they crave for motivation and encouragement from their peers and leaders. And a bit of it can go a long way in getting the best out of them. For example, a great logistics or security job, if applauded, can see better commitment and pay higher dividends in the future. Similarly, if it’s a business requirement for an introvert (like in delivery/ front office) to be vocal in public, proper training and coaching can help. And an appreciative shout-out for a housekeeping staff in front of his colleagues or on the floor can act as a great morale booster. It might embarrass them but they will certainly feel valued and more engaged. Encouragement is key. Giving continuous feedback in private instead of annual performance reviews helps in building trust with introverts and keeps them engaged at the workplace.
Introverts and extroverts make mistakes alike. However, the former finds it tough to defend themselves in most scenarios that demand explanation. They feel nervous and often get into a mess or, simply, remain silent. They find it difficult to voice out their opinions when it matters the most. So, instead of judging them right away, if they are given a patient hearing, they might come up with logical explanations and even a better strategy or solution to avoid making such mistakes in the future. Pointing out their weaknesses in public is a strict no-no. This makes them anxious and may scar them for a long time. An offline review of it is a better way to handle such tricky situations.
There are a number of myths surrounding introverts: They are considered as “slow”, “unsocial”, and even “less productive”. It is the responsibility of managers and top leaders in an organization to bust these to realize introverted employee potential. According to experts, introverts compare old and new experiences while making a decision, which makes the process slower. However, it results in well thought-out decisions. Also, introverts might dislike social gatherings but they are not aversive to team-building activities where they get to know colleagues better through simple, fun tasks. Introverts also focus on the long-term benefits than on short-term results. So, an immediate reward won’t distract them. Their sight will be set on achieving a more productive and bigger goal.
There’s no template for successful employees at the workplace. One’s outward appearance is not always indicative of his intrinsic capabilities. It’s a cardinal sin — and a business error — to underestimate introverts only because they aren’t the loudest ones in the team. A bit of work on them can turn their ‘weaknesses’ into strengths. In a world dominated by extroverted individuals, introverted employees can turn out to be the surprise package.