Organizational Effectiveness

Leveraging Introverts in the Workplace


Most of us have heard of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Abraham Lincoln, Audrey Hepburn, Larry Page, J.K. Rowling, and Albert Einstein. These and many other of the most world’s most remarkable business people, politicians, scientists and authors are self-identified introverts.

In this two part article series, we aim share a greater understanding of introverts in the workplace, be they colleagues, managers and or you, the reader.

Introversion is not shyness

Often confused with shyness, introversion is not about discomfort in interacting with people. While introverts do enjoy socializing, they become over-stimulated by interactions faster.

Research has now confirmed that introverts have no special advantage in intelligence. However they process more information than extroverts during more interactions and situations. To digest this information, they prefer quiet environments and small, intimate groups for interacting.

This might explain why some of us either avoid or leave large corporate networking events within an hour, while others are just getting started.

Diversity in working styles and the role of work culture

At work we encounter introverts, extroverts and ambiverts but we are often misclassify our colleagues, and sometimes even ourselves.

Whereas just 50% of the general population is extroverted, 96% of managers and executives display extroverted personalities. And the higher you go in a corporate hierarchy, the more likely you are to find highly extroverted individuals.

Behavioral experts are suggesting that this could be because of the work culture in our geographies.

Like individuals, cultures have different styles.

Individualism, dominant in North America and Germany, promotes the direct, fast-paced style of communication associated with extroversion. Collectivistic societies, such as those in East Asia, value privacy and restraint, qualities more characteristic of introverts.

According to Anio Sallinen-Kuparinen, James McCroskey, and Virginia Richmond, who researched communication styles in the U.S. and Finland, “In verbal cultures, remaining silent presents a problem.” – Psychology Today

In conversations, introverts usually listen, process information, and wait for their turn to speak. In cultures where individual performance is perceived through spoken words, such behavior can be misunderstood for poor communication or even poor performance.

Well observed characteristics of introverts

As organizations begin focusing more on engaging and promoting employees within diversity and inclusion programs, they have a greater imperative to engage, retain and leverage the strengths of employees with different preferences of socializing, communicating and problem solving. Some typical characteristics of introverts in the workplace are:

  • They usually prefer problem solving by talking through the issues logically, step by step, behind the scenes.
  • Introverts need quiet time to process and recharge. Picasso and Dr. Seuss both talked about their need for solitude.
  • In social interactions, introverts are excellent listeners and are often seen as empathetic people.
  • They take in information that is being shared but often miss out on weighing in, as they are usually busy analyzing the topic in their own head.
  • According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet, ‘Introverts are known for their persistence‘. They will usually wrestle with a puzzle long after it has been forgotten. Albert Einstein famously said ‘it’s not that I am so smart. It’s that I stay with problems longer’.

When we form a better understanding of those that are different from us and also acknowledge their capabilities, we can find ways to connect with team members and managers while also leveraging our own strengths. Working together then becomes more productive and even, more fun.

In our next article, we will explore ways organizations and managers can increase help introverts feel more included. In the meantime, also read our Networking Tips for Introverts.

We hope you enjoyed this article. Please share this with your co-workers, friends and family, and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter for more insightful content.

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