As a child (that’s cute little me, right) I loved nothing more than to spend the summer holidays working my way through all the books in the library. I never really got it when my parents asked ‘Why don’t you ring up a friend and invite them over to play?’
I haven’t changed much since then. I’d still rather be at home with my head in a good crime novel than out at a party. It’s not that I’m shy, but like around half of you reading this, I tick the boxes that define me as an introvert. The first time I watched Susan Cain’s TED talk ‘The power of introverts‘ I found myself nodding along.
In a work context, what’s the impact of being an introvert? And what’s the impact for extroverts? Here are five ideas for you extroverts to unlock the power of your introvert colleagues:
1) Be flexible to bring out the best of both
Extroverts draw their energy from spending time with other people, while introverts need time to recharge their batteries after being with others. As colleagues and managers we can be most helpful by understanding this and giving our team members the time and space to work differently.
For example, extroverts may thrive in meetings where they can socialise and share ideas, whilst introverts might do their best thinking while taking a quick stroll.
For managers, it’s useful to remember that extroverts are said to get on with their work quickly and are happy multitasking. Introverts, by contrast, are said to prefer concentrating on a specific task, working more slowly and carefully.
2) Build diverse teams
Diversity is not just a business buzzword; evidence shows that diverse teams are more successful. Diversity is not just about the obvious things like age, ethnicity and gender, but includes personality, cognitive style and many other factors too.
When recruiting new team members, it can be easy to inadvertently hire people like us. But when we go out of our way to build a balanced team with different personality types, it’s a win-win.
3) Get to know your colleagues
Recently I told a group of people who I’m just getting to know that I’m an introvert. They were surprised. At our monthly LeanIn meetings I appear bubbly and outgoing and often put my hand up to lead the session. Little do they know that it takes a huge amount of energy and mental gymnastics to do this. The lesson here? It might not be immediately obvious how your colleagues prefer to work, but asking them only takes a minute.
4) Help introverts to find their voice
You might have noticed that in meetings some people dominate while others stay quiet. It’s not that your silent colleagues have nothing to contribute, though they might take a little longer to formulate their idea.
You can help your colleagues to contribute simply by noticing their quietness and asking if they have anything to add.
In larger meetings you could also get everyone to write their ideas on post-its that go up on the wall. This gives introverts a bit more time and space to formulate and contribute their thoughts.
5) Understand I’m not being rude, but…
The modern workplace is often open plan, which is perfect for extroverts. But for those of us who need to get our head down to get our work done it’s not always ideal. If you work with introverts, actively encourage them to find a quiet place where they can go if they need to really focus on something. If it’s possible in their job, introverts might also work better at home, without all the office distractions. And, colleagues, if you see me with my headphones on, please don’t think I’m being rude, that’s the way I work best.