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How do you define, or frame introversion in a workplace context?

It’s about how we interact with the world around us and integrate with our colleagues. Introverts tend to feel overstimulated by the sorts of events that are all part and parcel of a busy workplace.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t enjoy that activity, or even that they don’t like being in those environments. Rather, they are simply overstimulated, and like to find refuge by going inwards.

Conversely, extroverts are typically energised by being around lots of people. Again, this is not something that introverts resist, as such – but they often find that if they are around big groups of other people for too long, they feel drained.

When introverts find quietness so they can go into their own selves for a bit, it’s because those periods of peace and calm help them to recharge.

How does maintaining a balance between introverts and extroverts help an organisation to be productive?

We all bring something different to the table, and it’s about striking a balance. If you have a situation where most, or all, of the people in an organisation are extroverts, you’re going to run into problems: lots of people will be courting the spotlight and speaking out stridently, with the risk that they could cancel each other out – or take dicey risks.

You will also have lots of people angling to make very quick decisions, rather than giving matters the careful consideration they need.

This calls to mind a saying that I really like: “Introverts think to speak, but extroverts speak to think.” In other words, extroverts don’t have much in the way of an interior monologue – they will often use on-the-spot verbalising as a means of processing their thoughts: ‘straight to air,’ if you will.

Someone who’s introverted will want to get their thoughts in order so that when the time comes to speak, they’ll end up saying exactly what they mean to say. Introverts may seem quiet – but when they do speak, they may say something quite impactful. And that’s because they’ve had that consideration time to look at an issue from multiple angles.

So, extroverts could all be pushing in a particular direction that may not be very efficient – or likely to yield strong outputs – but then introverts will come in with enhancing ideas that spark a rethink?

That’s right. You do need people who can think on their feet and make quick decisions. But quick decisions aren’t always the best.

If you have a balance of personalities, that will bring great results, because you will have a blend of different thinking styles and approaches. So, in productivity terms, you’ll reach a much better outcome.

Which other, key qualities do introverts have?

Introverts are great listeners. In order to be productive, you need people who will listen – because listening is the most important part of communication.

In addition, introverts are more empathetic, so they are naturally able to bring people together to solve problems.

But at a leadership level, probably their most useful skill – again from a productivity standpoint – is that they will let their team members get on with solving problems in their own ways. Introverted leaders don’t crave the spotlight. As such, they allow other people autonomy, which can be very empowering.

How should organisations do the right thing by introverts?

Firstly, it would help to bring introverts into the diversity and inclusion conversation. In many ways, the workplace is heavily biased towards extroverts. Interviews are conducted in such a way that they don’t allow for much thinking or reflecting time. Brainstorming and networking are also very geared towards extroverted staff.

Leaders must be mindful of those points and aware of all the various differences and unfavourable biases, and make relevant adjustments and allowances.

In a meeting, a good facilitator or chair will ensure that everybody's voice is heard. But it’s more often the case that the one who shouts loudest is the one who makes the greatest impact. Something as simple as sending out agenda papers well in advance will provide introverts with time to think and reflect, and then then say what they want to say.

As it stands, though, agendas are typically sent out either just a few minutes before a meeting – or not at all.

Organisations should also rethink how they interview people. An interview isn’t – or, at any rate, shouldn’t be – about catching someone out. It’s meant to identify the best person, in terms of what they’ll bring to the role.

So instead of the adversarial tone that so many interviews tend to have, how about giving people questions in advance? That will enable introverts to put their thoughts in order and give a good account of their strengths.

Voices from our community: Carol Stewart FInstLM is founder of Abounding Solutions, where she practises as an executive, career and leadership coach. Carol is also a facilitator, trainer, speaker and author of Quietly Visible: Leading with Influence and Impact as an Introverted Woman.

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