Diversity has become a big issue in the workplace over recent years.
As a leadership coach, I’ve worked with many managers and leaders who are doing their best to incorporate diversity and inclusion in their workplace. Be it regarding age, disability, gender or ethnicity – employers are striving to provide an inclusive arena for everyone to enable a better culture for all. The benefits of this are obvious – happy workplace – better productivity and retention.
And that’s all great. But there’s one area of diversity that tends to be overlooked, and that’s introversion.
Extroverts and introverts – there’s a standard assumption that we know what these terms mean. If you’re extroverted, you’re a social butterfly, confident, outgoing and quick thinking. If you‘re introverted, you’re shy, reserved, disengaged, possibly anxious or even depressed.
Like I said – assumptions. And not true – of either.
In a recent Myers Briggs study, I read that 47% of UK respondents identified as being introvert. That’s nearly half the population!
So, who are these people, and how can you make the workplace better to accommodate their needs?
Extravert or Introvert?
Whether your team member is introverted or extroverted boils down to neurodiversity. Their brains work in different ways, and one of the universal differences between the two lies in their mental energy: how they get it, use it and top it up.
Carl Jung’s theory on introvert/extrovert behaviours is insightful: “Each person seems more energised by either the external world (extraversion) or the internal world (introversion).
In other words, extroverts get their energy from others around them, feeding off the buzz of working in teams, brainstorming, throwing ideas around. They work on a sort of energy ‘trickle charge’, consistently topping up.
They fall into what Joanna Rawbone describes as the ‘say, think, say’ pattern.
Alternatively, introverts are the ‘think, say, think’ types. Sadly, managers sometimes don’t hang around long enough for them to get to the ‘say’ part.
Energised by their internal thoughts, introverts prefer to mull things over, think before answering, lock themselves away (or sit at their desk) to balance the various considerations before arriving at an answer.
If you’ve ever heard a colleague or team member say “I just need to give it some thought” you can bet they’re an introvert. Additionally, being with too many people for too long drains the introvert’s energy reserves, and they need to retire to recharge their depleted battery: “I’m all peopled out for today.”
Ring any bells for you?
Unfortunately, in the workplace, neurodiversity is struggling to be recognised, and many introverts find themselves having to act the part of the extravert to fit in or to be seen as engaged and enthusiastic.
Unconscious bias manifests itself in various workplace scenarios – where introverts can be discriminated against in favour of extrovert behaviour.
Introverts are often made to feel that there is something wrong with them, and it can affect their career success.
Here are just three examples:
- Assessment Centres
Before they are even in a job, introverts are finding things tough. Assessment centres are built to favour extroverts; group discussions, taking the lead, making quick decisions, actively contributing straight away – nothing there that the introvert can do as part of their normal behaviour.
Ideally, assessment should include a reflective test. Introverts thrive when given this sort of task – time to research, listen actively and with empathy, reflect, be the voice of reason and assimilate ideas. All great qualities which any team would be lucky to have.
The extrovert may have the initial idea – but it’s often the introvert that makes it work.
- Training courses
That awful ‘ice breaker’ moment. Or the ‘get into pairs and discuss’ instruction. Who thinks these things up?
If you coach or train teams you will get much more out of them by engaging everyone present (remember, the 47% I referred to earlier). Don’t leave nearly half of your audience battling a desire to run away.
Engaging with introverts means giving them space and time to say what they need to, without feeling under pressure. Checking in with them to make sure they’re getting the right delivery to make the most of the training will allow them the option of contributing when they are ready.
So, for example, if you ask them a question, give them time to respond. You may want to come back to them later for the answer. But normalise that structure – the introvert should not be made to feel they are being penalised for requiring time to process.
As a leader, it’s up to you to create a level playing field.
- Brainstorming and Meetings
Again, these are almost always skewed in favour of the extrovert. It’s the loudest voices that get heard, alongside those who can generate ideas and suggestions on the spot.
And while some of those ideas may be good, it’s worthwhile allowing everyone reflection time.
So, make notes by all means of the ideas that come out of your meetings, but give a little to the introverts – something along the lines of:
“Well, we’ve got some great ideas here, which I’ve noted. Before we get back together to take suggestions further, I’d like us to take a little time after the meeting to think of anything else that might work. If you have any ideas, email me, or pop in my office to discuss them further.”
This allows a more balanced contribution from the team – the creativeness that spontaneous thought can bring alongside more thoughtful and detailed ideas.
There are so many other examples of skewed preferences in the workplace: from open–plan offices with all the noise they bring (there’s always that one colleague who just won’t shut up) to networking events and team away days. All strike terror in the introvert’s heart. But it doesn’t need to be this way.
So, what can you do?
My belief is that to fully embrace neurodiversity, you need to create a level playing field for all your team.
And that starts with you.
Audit your current practices – where do you subliminally discriminate against introverts? It could well be an unconscious bias, but by addressing it, you can look at how you, your team and your organisation can start to make changes.
That means educating yourself and your team and recruiting talent that reflects both traits to provide a truly diverse culture.
Finally, make sure you don’t let these practices slip. Review the changes regularly to make sure they are embedded in your workplace culture and enjoy the wellbeing benefits they will bring – to all of your diverse team.
As Joanna Rawbone mused in her Ted talk on Introversion – Where would Larry Paige, founder of Google, be if he’d had to get a job via an assessment centre?
Or Elon Musk, if his voice hadn’t been heard above the clamour of colleagues?
Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
Introverts are not ‘broken’ or ‘depressed’: they do not require ‘fixing’ or ‘bringing out of themselves’.
So, don’t underestimate the introverts in your team – you should be celebrating them!
Make sure that you, as a progressive and inclusive leader, recognise neurodiversity in your workplace.
Here at Zestfor, we can help you build a diverse and inclusive team with programmes to help you to optimise your leadership skills and personal development and get the best out of your team.
If you would like to find out more, then send a quick email here.
Until next time,
Can We Help?
Zestfor specialises in developing Training programmes and resources scientifically tailored for technical markets – including Pharmaceutical, IT and Life Sciences.
Our blend of in-classroom, online, and virtual live-stream delivery methods will engage and assure even the most introverted team members from the first meeting – whether face-to-face or virtually. To have a brief chat, call us on 0845 548 0833. Alternatively, please email our team here.