Honor the Introverts and Give Them Space to Be Heard
There is a cultural bias in the United States that favors gregarious extraverts in the world-of-work. They speak up, think quickly on their feet, and rarely hesitate to share their point of view when interacting with colleagues and stakeholders. The perception of extraverts is not always based on the content, or the quality of the information shared, but the style with which it is conveyed – quickly, self-assuredly, and confidently.
The Unintentional Extraverted Diminisher
This bias is unfair and puts the introverted at a disadvantage. I am verbal, outwardly social, and energized by large groups of people and type as an extravert on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator™ an industry recognized psychometric assessment that I am certified to interpret and often use with my clients. I have witnessed unaware and unobservant extraverted professionals monopolize conversations and suck the oxygen from a room by talking too much and not giving others a chance to contribute and be heard. This diminishes others and can shut down the internal processors – the introverts, who may be silenced by the extraversion overwhelm.
As an executive coach, I embrace the differences with introverted and extraverted personalities and how they play a role in effective communication in life and career. I am deeply grateful for the introverted friends, family, colleagues, peers, and clients who have taught me how to honor my extraversion and make room for the introverts. Honor the introverted people in your life and give them an opportunity to shine, which doesn’t require them to conform to your extraverted ways.
The Quiet Power of Introverts
Introversion is one of the major traits identified in many theories of personality. The word introvert is used to describe someone who tends to turn inward, meaning they focus more on internal thoughts, feelings, and moods rather than seeking out external stimulation. While introverts make up an estimated 25% to 40% of the population, there are still many misconceptions about this personality type. It is also important to note that being an introvert does not mean that you are socially anxious, or shy. Here are a few traits to help you recognize introversion.
- Being around too many people drains your energy.
- People think you are quiet and may find it difficult to get to know you.
- You are very self-aware.
- You enjoy solitude.
- You have a small group of close friends.
Here are some tips to demystify how introverts function at work. It is a tutorial for extraverts whose personalities are on the other end of the continuum as well as for the introverted, so you can learn how to be seen and heard authentically.
The Introverted Process – It may seem that introverted colleagues are quiet and subdued. The biggest myth is that they don’t enjoy people, which is rarely the case. Introverts get their energy from within and re-charge their batteries by being alone. While an extravert is stimulated by external activities, introverts are energized by ideas and inner reflection. Processing information is extremely important to an introvert and a wise leader (and savvy colleagues) will grant them time to do this well. Introverts prefer to focus on one problem or task at a time.
To Brainstorm or Not to Brainstorm – Ideation sessions can be common in the workplace, but this scenario is not where many introverts shine, unless they are given time to prepare in advance. Extraverts often talk first and think later because they lead with verbal communication. An introvert will not warm quickly to a spontaneous brainstorm session when there are expected to come up with ideas on the spot. Remember, the process and the time to fully formulate ideas is key in tapping their creativity. Be sure to give your introverts advance warning of an ideation session so they can come to the table prepared and ready to respond. Empower them with advance warning.
Agenda Palooza – Meetings abound in the workplace, and although I prefer doing vs. meeting, I know this is a necessary function for effective communication, at least some of the time. I have learned that introverts thrive when an agenda is available in advance of the meeting. Like a shopping list at the grocery, it keeps the players focused and on track and the participants come to the meeting prepared.
Close the Door – The open concept workplace is becoming very common with cubicle laden floor plans and communal spaces to encourage collaboration. This can be a nightmare for an introvert who needs quiet and private time to re-charge and re-focus. If an office with a door that closes is not an option in your work environment, consider alternative spaces in the workplace where your introverts can go to get away for a brief respite. These small privacy breaks can empower them to be more productive and efficient when the constant stimulation of an open floor plan can overwhelm. Remote work options can often support introverts to do great work without interruption.
Put it in Writing – Sometimes, the classic staff meeting is a necessity, so remind your introverts to follow-up and share their ideas in writing afterwards, if they don’t speak up in the meeting. There should not be an expiration date on great ideas and reasonable post-meeting time to process and self-reflect will allow your introverted colleagues to have their voices heard.
I would be remiss if I did not pay homage to Susan Cain and Jennifer Kahnweiler, the reigning experts writing about introversion today. I encourage you to dig deeper into the nuances of introversion to learn more about your type or the introverted colleagues with whom you work. Jennifer’s book Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference, and Susan Cain’s book: Quiet: The Power of Introverts are must-reads.
Susan Cain – a Champion for Introverts
I heard Susan Cain deliver her now iconic TED talk about the power of introverts and it changed how I engage with people. She included some fascinating ideas on her LinkedIn newsletter recently that I want to re-share here.
“According to the Kellogg School of Management, in a typical large meeting, only three people do 70% of the talking. This means that a LOT of good ideas never see the light of day. Are you one of the other 30%?
If so: believe me, I get and respect your wish to stay on the quiet side — and it’s important to honor your own nature.
At the same time: the world needs you, and it needs your unique insights.
Both these things can be true at the same time.
So, here are three strategies to help you speak more often, and more confidently — while also preserving your right to be you.” – Susan Cain
- Prepare what you want to say – points to make, questions to raise – in advance.
Who cares if everyone else seems to be contributing spontaneously? If you’re the type of person who thinks of what she wanted to say only AFTER the meeting is over, then a little advance prep can go a long way. You can also jot down some bullet points beforehand, if you’ll feel more comfortable with notes you can glance at while you’re talking.
- Speak up early.
I know this may not come naturally to you. But the ideas that get advanced early tend to become “anchor ideas” in each discussion. And the people who advance them become “anchor people” – that is, others start directing their attention, eye contact, and emotional energy to them. This can create a virtual cycle in which you feel more empowered and encouraged to share further. So, try giving yourself a nudge to be one of the first people to speak up. And see if you like how it feels. (Many people have told me that this one trick was transformative for them.)
- Use a quota system.
Decide how often you want to speak in each meeting – once, twice, three times? Once you’ve met your goal, you can keep quiet the rest of the time, if you’d like. Make it a fun, private game with yourself. (And maybe the next time, as part of the game, you’ll decide to increase your quota.)
Celebrate Personality Differences – Keep in mind there is no better or worse personality type. These qualities are innate from childbirth, and the key is to celebrate the differences and understand what drives an individual to achieve optimal communication and effectiveness in the workplace. The clarity preference of extroversion or introversion is on a continuum, so while you have a dominant function, you have both in your comprehensive personality makeup.
I continuously learn from Susan Cain and appreciate her thought-leadership on introversion and the power of communication. Knowing the differences between introversion and extraversion will allow you to communicate better and listen actively, so you have clarity of expectations with your colleagues and your family. Knowing how an individual communicates authentically allows me to honor people for who they are. As an extravert – I am also keenly aware that I need to talk less and listen more.