Engaging Half Your Workforce: Working with Introverts

In its October 2010 issue, Psychology Today discusses introversion.  Which got me thinking about the way we do business in the West. Our society is skewed toward the extrovert, yet according to the Myers Briggs Personality types, about half of us are introverts.

First, introversion is not shyness.  Introverts gather their energy internally, while extroverts get their energy from the environment around them.  Extroverts are typically talkative, assertive and enthusiastic. Introverts are “collectors of thoughts”,  and prefer long stretches of solitary activity. Introverts tend to need quiet to think, while extroverts need more stimulation around them. In fact, the level of stimulation that an extrovert craves may overwhelm an introvert.

Often in the work place, the most talkative person emerges as the leader. And many people assume that if someone doesn’t say much, they don’t have much to say. According to the research, introverts do have a lot to say. They just prefer to think and reflect carefully, before jumping in.

So this brings up the question, how do we better engage 50% of the employees in the workplace? Perhaps we need to balance our decision-making processes a bit.   For example, rather than presenting PowerPoints and expecting people to respond immediately to the presentation, why not distribute a one page memo a few days in advance?  Then allow people time to craft a response in writing.  Or, separate the information delivery (the presentation) and the decision-making process, giving people time to reflect on the material.

As a die-hard extrovert, I know that increased time for reflection can improve my decision-making, as I’m too likely to jump to conclusions.  Even a few minutes to think quietly in a meeting (or in the classroom) can improve contribution from both extroverts and introverts.

Are you unintentionally imposing your extroverted personality style on 50% of the population?  How might you change to get the best out of the people you work with?


3 replies »

  1. Great observations…as a cusp-dwelling intro-extrovert I like the quiet and the buzz – it depends on the situation at hand.

    I think it is wise that no one confuse silence with the lack of intelligence though … too many of our educational institutions reward fast thinking, not good thinking.

  2. I believe you when you say you are a die-hard extrovert. An extrovert discussing introverts is the same as women discussing men or men discussing women. The essence of the other is missed. If I were to talk about your qualities as I see them I would do you a great dis-service as I know you are much more than what I see – I am a die-hard introvert.
    It’s also true that we are not talkative, we say what we mean and mean what we say and we tend to do it as directly as possible. We are not assertive though we are aggressive as we move with deliberateness through a journey towards its conclusion. Our enthusiasm is long lived and seldom on display. If we believe that what we are doing is of benefit the ‘internal’ enthusiasm will carry us through every pitfall, brick wall, set back and turn about to reach an objective and count it all experience that we’d do again.Yes, we are often called stubborn and arrogant. Fortunately, for the introvert, we believe that what other people think of us is none of our business.
    If you want to get more out of the people you work with (or work for you) don’t turn them into them vs us. The more introverted a person the more direct and personal the request for input has to be. PowerPoint presentations are great, even for the introvert as they also wish to hear the presentation, hear others reactions and input, while all the time fitting the pieces together to see if they have a different angle to approach this from. If they do, their aggressiveness will get it to where it needs to be IF there is someone who will listen to them. Introverts do have a lot to say when it is appropriate TO THEM.
    Don’t worry about stimulation levels as any good introvert knows within themselves that they can walk away, tune it out, play the extrovert and join in or simply decline the offer in the first place. We do love our peace and quiet and we do know that eventually even extroverts have to sleep sometime.
    The old adage may work here,”If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it!” Are the introverts broken? No! Don’t try to fix em. Simply learn how to deal with each member of a team individually. After all, as a manager/supervisor/boss isn’t that YOUR job.

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