Five Ways to Manage Introverts in the Workplace

Five Ways to Manage Introverts in the Workplace image shy 300x130Some of your most productive employees—people who are organized, good at solving problems, thoughtful, focused, and efficient—may need a little extra support from leaders. That’s because they’re introverted, which makes it challenging for them to work well with others.

A workplace is a social environment. For bosses and managers to create a climate in which everyone excels, here are five strategies they can use to encourage introverted employees to step out of the shadows and become dynamic participants.

See their strengths, not their limitations.
Introverts are often persistent, thoughtful, and hardworking. They are less apt to be distracted, and they frequently amass a great deal of expertise in their field. They make great researchers, for example, or may be good at IT security and problem solving and analysis. But in job interviews, they may seem shy and uncomfortable. When hiring, look at work history and talk to references before making a judgment. On the job, look at actual performance before discounting the wallflower as a poor team player.

Let them shine in the right position.
Assign the right tasks and know what positions your introverts will be best at. To use a baseball metaphor, you would never make a first baseman a pitcher, so it’s important to place your introverts in positions that take full advantage of their personality, work style, and special skills and knowledge. For example, planning the office holiday party would be a poor choice; on the other hand, creating a list of inefficient practices and processes at your company might be a good choice.

Don’t let your extroverts dominate.
Because extroverts are naturally more outspoken and become energized in groups, they can easily take over in staff meetings. Structure your meetings so that extroverts don’t dominate discussions. Make sure everyone gets heard by specifically calling on introverts, or even asking them to do a presentation on their topic of expertise.

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Encourage introverts to take on leadership.
Despite their natural inclination to shun the spotlight, introverted people can be thoughtful, humble, well-respected leaders. Help introverts get comfortable managing others by letting them run one-on-one meetings or small group meetings, as opposed to large staff meetings. Be sure to provide them with specific, constructive feedback on their effectiveness. Supervisors often find that, within a year, the introvert will gain enough comfort interacting with people they supervise that they’ll often make the jump and actually start initiating large group meetings.

Help introverts handle confrontations.
Since introverted managers may avoid conflict, it’s important to teach them that when they address a problem, they are merely addressing issues, not judging a person. Before they meet to address the problem, ask them to provide a written analysis of the issues on both sides. This, in essence, gives them notes for the meeting, and enables them to deal with the facts, rather than get tripped up by intimidation or fear of confrontation.

Discuss This Article

Comments: 3

  • mvg says:

    I’m surprised not to see Susan Cain’s recent bestseller “Quiet: The Power of Introverts” cited at all here, as the content seems to be virtually lifted from that book & Cain’s presentations on the topic.

  • It’s good to be thinking about helping the introverts thrive. They can be easily overlooked. Another suggestion: When you ask a question in a meeting, give 2-3 minutes of silent independent brainstorming time, invite people to discuss their thoughts with a partner or in a small group, then open up the discussion. You will have much more participation from the shy people and anyone who just needs a few minutes to think before speaking up.

  • Louann says:

    I never appreciate it when people automatically associate introversion to shyness. I can speak to people I have never met before and do not know the first thing about and have a very animated conversation and I can be very forceful in expressing my opinions and ideas. The difference is that I am very selective of who I communicate with because I simply seem to know how to observe and read people. I do not remember an instance where after time of quiet contemplation and observation, I have come up with the wrong impression of a person. I have enjoyed meetings that were purposeful otherwise I simply spend the time in my head if no one in interested in being that way. I have also been in the leading position on different occasions. I think introverts may just be more attune to certain things and may be more selective. It takes time to decide if you would like to communicate with a person or not sometimes of if you would like to share you thoughts and ideas or not. I am not saying that it is impossible for an introvert to be shy, but shyness is just something else.

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