Helping Introverts in the Workplace

Workplace diversity comes in many forms. A lot of emphasis is often placed on differences such as gender and ethnicity, but diversity in personality type is also worthy of consideration. One of the best examples of this is the broad differences between extroverts and introverts.

Essentially, ‘extroversion’ refers to the state of focusing one’s energy on the outside world, whereas ‘introversion’ refers to focusing one’s energy on the ‘inner world.’

As such, extroverts are more likely to be outgoing, talkative, and assertive, enjoying interactions with others, including within large groups of people at parties and meetings. Introverts, on the other hand, enjoy solitary time, where they can focus their energies inwardly on reflection and creativity. They tend to be quieter and are less likely to enjoy social interactions, particularly within large groups.

Whilst society has always prized people of action and confidence, extroversion arguably became the dominant or favoured personality type in the workplace in the early 20th century. Introverts, however, may not feel comfortable showcasing their talents, and as such, they risk being underestimated or overlooked for promotion, despite possessing the relevant skills.

The modern workplace is arguably biased towards extroversion. Even the language used in recruitment adverts is geared towards extroverts. Adjectives such as ‘confident’, ‘team player’, ‘dynamic’, ‘outgoing’ or ‘enthusiastic’ may be used to describe the ideal candidate. Introverts may also exhibit these traits but display them in different ways.

Introverts may find the following aspects of the modern office uncomfortable, such as:

  • Frequent meetings
  • Lack of audio/visual privacy
  • Presentations
  • Networking events
  • Team building exercises
  • ‘Open’ creative problem-solving exercises such as ‘brainstorming’

This is not to say that introverts cannot participate successfully in these activities or contexts, but they are likely to find it more of a challenge and more draining than an extrovert would.

Everybody is different but many introverts enjoy working in environments where they can get audio and visual privacy. This means having few distractions, perhaps working alone, or with a small number of trusted colleagues. Employers may wish to introduce quiet areas where employees can work away from the busy parts of the office.

Alternatively, introverts may benefit from flexible working arrangements, such as working from home, where they can get on with work in an environment in which they can be more focused and more comfortable.

Meetings can be structured in a way to ensure that all attendees have an opportunity to speak. An introvert may avoid spontaneous participation but if they were assigned specific time to speak (e.g. to lead on an agenda item), they may be better placed to make a meaningful contribution. Introverts are also more likely to prefer meetings with an agenda so that they know what to expect and can prepare their contribution accordingly.

Introverts are often suited to leadership positions because they are listeners, allow others to have input and are focused on the task at hand. They can identify the strengths in others and are less concerned with showing off or putting themselves in the limelight. However, they should not feel pressured into a role they might not necessarily want.

Staff who are introverted can be very effective and loyal team players, maintaining focus and direction. In creative problem-solving sessions, it may be useful to give people the opportunity to look at the problem individually before having a group discussion. This gives introverts the opportunity to use their reflective skills to examine a problem and consider it on their own terms – whereas attempting to solve it as a group simply allows the extroverted personalities to dominate, often missing out on the contribution that an introvert could bring.

It can be helpful for introverts to get into the habit of speaking to colleagues on a daily basis. These conversations could relate to subjects both in and around work and provide opportunities for an introvert to build rapport with individuals and perhaps subtly bring attention to their achievements or talents to their colleagues. In time, introverts can build strong relationships with their fellow colleagues.

An inclusive organisational culture welcomes diversity and maximizes the strengths, experiences, and perspectives of the team.

About the author

Jessica joined RWA in 2018, having graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Film Studies. Her role as a content designer involves developing new and engaging e-learning modules as well as assisting in the creation of articles for Insight. 

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