Do you have introverts in your office? Great! Introverts are often wise and thoughtful, and they have a lot of really great ideas if you know how to hear them. If you understand introversion and how it works, the introverts on your team can be your best assets.

Every office is made up of a wide spectrum of personalities. For an introvert, coexisting with a mixed bag of people and their social likes and dislikes can be hard—and exhausting—to navigate. It can also be frustrating for a group of out-going, extroverted people to interact with an introvert effectively. When they’re out-numbered by extroverts, as they often are in the workplace, introverts contend with unproductive labels like “anti-social” and “shy”.

These labels, and an introvert’s propensity for listening first and speaking up sparingly, make it harder for them to advance up the ladder. According to the Quiet Leadership Institute (QLI), 96% of corporate leaders self-identify as extroverts, while 50% of workers self-identify as introverts. But just because they’re quiet, doesn’t mean their voices aren’t valuable.

Common misconceptions about introverts.

Introvert and extrovert aren’t words for how much you like people, it actually refers to how your mind functions, how you communicate, and how you recharge your mental and emotional batteries. An extrovert thrives in a room full of people. Networking events are a breeze because talking to strangers is easy and exciting.

But is there a member of your team who tends to be a wallflower at events? Who bows out of getting together after work and spends lunch hour and breaks alone? According to Psychology Today, that person is most likely your office introvert. It’s not that he doesn’t like you, or she feels superior. Introverts need solitude to gather their thoughts and energize, and social situations are overwhelming and draining when they’re expected to behave like everyone else.

Good news. All that mental energy introverts spend not talking is spent actively listening.

Introverts have great ideas, but they do their best thinking alone. They may not strike up a spontaneous conversation, but they are listening and considering what others say deeply. They may not jump into the brainstorming session, but other team members often come to them for advice.

What did one introvert say to the other introvert? Not much. But it was a great idea.

In an interview with the Quiet Revolution, Kate Earle, the Chief Learning Officer at the Quiet Leadership Institute said, “The extrovert ideal is prevalent in Corporate America. There is a bias towards being bold, being brash, being outspoken, being energetic—being someone who really stands out from the crowd.” Take for example, a typical office meeting. Earle says:

“You show up for the meeting, and sometimes a good percentage of those people don’t even really understand what the agenda is for the meeting. You are immediately diving into a topic and being asked to share opinions, make decisions, share feedback, share data, and comment on other people’s points of view and perspectives in the moment, on the spot, with no or very little preparation…. Introverts who are in those meetings have not had time to think about, process, or prepare for what’s being discussed. They are being put on the spot to share their thoughts in a way that they may not be prepared to do. In this situation, you are not getting the best out of your introverts.”

Because of this too-common workplace dynamic, many introverts are choosing freelancing or work-from-home positions. Lucky for them, those kinds of jobs are becoming a bigger part of our economy. But that isn’t an option for everyone, and many introverts would gladly work in an office if only more bosses and coworkers stopped expecting them to be “outgoing” all the time.

How to get the best out of your whole team, introverts included

You can take real steps to give your office introverts the same chance as their extroverted peers to excel at work and thrive as leaders.

1. Ask your staff to take a personality test. Make it fun and easy to share their results. Now instead of thinking Greg is a snob, the team understands he’s an introvert and knows what that means.

2. Announce meetings and distribute the agenda in advance. If an introvert has time to gather their thoughts ahead of time, they’re more likely to participate in the conversation. Now the whole team recognizes the excellence that resides in their brain spaces.

3. Provide a space that works for them, a venue for them to share their thoughts and ideas in their own way. Mindy may seem shy, but if you ask her to meet with you tomorrow to discuss her ideas on a specific issue, she’ll probably surprise you with the perfect plan. Sometimes you can meet, and sometimes you can just engage her via email.

4. Divide up networking responsibilities according to strengths. Once your team has taken their personality tests, you know which ones to send to the Chamber of Commerce mixers and which ones to send to meet one-on-one with prospective new accounts or create warm leads on LinkedIn.

Just because an introvert isn’t big on a noisy room, that doesn’t mean they want to spend their careers alone all the time. Kate Earle states: “Introverts make very powerful leaders. They are very good listeners. They are very good at delegating and analyzing a lot of different perspectives. When they do move into leadership roles, they actually outperform their extroverted colleagues in some situations.”

Just ask Bill Gates, Rosa Parks, Albert Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt, each a groundbreaking introvert.


Recommended Reading

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain