Typically in your day-to-day interactions at work, you will come across or have some interactions with an introvert. For some, this can be frustrating and for extreme extroverts, this can be like a ring-tailed lemur having a conversation with a can of soup.
Introverts vs. Extroverts
Extroverts often display charisma, passion, and charm. They are seen as the life of the party, people assume they make great leaders and everyone looks to them to plan the company picnic or the weekend retreat. Extroverts are seen as more valuable in this society.
Introverts often get the short end of the stick. Sometimes they are labeled as the bummers or downers of the workplace. Their tendency to be quiet and to listen more than they speak is taken as they are judging the rest of the people around them or they hate people or hate fun. None of these is true. They simply see, interact and experience the world in a different way than extroverts.
If an introvert is alone it doesn’t mean that they are lonely. Introverts will socialize and when they do, they often make friends for life. This is due to the fact that introverts and extroverts socialize in vastly different ways. When an extrovert socializes they usually move about the room, talk to as many people as possible, hold court, get laughs and move on. When an introvert “socializes” they are out to make real connections and communicate on a deeper level. They talk and listen. They ask questions that they are truly interested in getting the answers to.
The main difference here is that an extrovert gains energy from being in a crowd. When an extrovert is at a party, they suck up energy and that propels them from person to person, group to group, joke to joke. They feed off energy and this is why they love crowds and groups. Whereas the introvert gives all their energy away in groups. Parties are difficult for introverts because they only have so much energy to give. An introvert needs to balance their social time with their alone time so that they can recharge and have the energy for important things like going to the office.
This is not a piece about denigrating extroverts. Some extroverts are lovely gifted people. This is a piece about understanding, recognizing and finding ways to work with introverts that most extroverts probably never think of.
Myths of the Introvert
First off, let’s dispel some myths about introverts that have somehow been accepted as facts.
All Introverts are Shy- and All Shy People are Introverts
Shyness and introversion are two remarkably different traits. Introverts gain energy by spending time alone. So, they look to this alone time to get ready for the rest of their day. Shyness has more to do with discomfort and anxiety in situations involving social interactions.
Most introverts are not shy. In fact, they may feel confident and at ease around people. They simply need more alone time to balance out the energy they expend in social situations. This could mean a party or even work.
Introverts are Anti-Social
Though they generally need and enjoy solitude the idea that introverts are anti-social or don’t want the company of others is completely false. They simply enjoy social interactions in a different way than extroverts. They have close friends and enjoy spending time with others, on the terms they feel comfortable with.
Introverts Don’t Make Good Leaders or Public Speakers
Introverts actually enjoy and excel in roles that involve leading others. Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi and other leaders throughout history were classified as introverts and they were still great leaders and very gifted public speakers. They are able to focus their energy and use it to be clear and compelling speakers. They also foster a better team environment and they may even work better leading groups than extroverts do.
Introverts Have More Negative Personalities
Yes, it’s true, they do like being alone and because of this people often stereotype them as having more depressive or negative slanting personalities. This perception is usually due to the fact that introverts are viewed from an extrovert’s point of view.
Studies have shown that when an extrovert is in an introvert place for too long; spending time alone, being quiet, they experience feelings of depression and sadness. Thus they believe that everyone has these feelings when in introvert situations and since extroverts are more vocal, the impression is that all introverts are sad, depressed and negative. Simply not true. In fact, introverts are less likely to be depressed when alone and they have fewer incidents of being lonely.
Introverts are More Intellectual or Creative Than Extroverts
Not true. Being an introvert doesn’t innately make you a loftier, or more innovative thinker. Silence can be perceived as moody and it can also be perceived as some sign of brilliance. Not always true. Extroverts are often incredibly intelligent and creative just as some introverts are dumber than a bag of clams.
It’s Easy to Tell Whether Someone is Introverted or Extroverted
Nope, not at all. The truth is that due to our society’s biased toward extroverts, many introverts have become experts at being sheep in wolves clothing. Introverts have become accustomed to mimicking or mirroring the behavior of extroverts in social situations. They learn to act like they are more outspoken and gregarious than they are feeling inside. Most extroverts think introversion involves anti-social behavior and they don’t understand what introversion truly is so, they can be easily deceived by an introvert working hard to fit in.
Working With Introverts
Now that we’ve busted these introvert myths, let's talk about working with introverts and how to make the atmosphere better for them and easier to understand for the extroverts in the company. Here are some tips for making work with introverts productive and pleasant.
Introverts tend to listen more than they speak. When they do speak, they often have put a great deal of thought and time into what they want to say. When they do speak, don't focus on the fact that they have spoken, making it out to be some kind of miracle. Rather, focus on what they are saying and really hear what they have to offer.
At work, introverts don’t want to talk about their weekend or their dating life. They also don’t feel the need to vocalize ideas about every single project that comes down the pike. This doesn't mean they don’t care about work or are not willing to work, they simply listen more than they speak.
It’s All About Energy
Remember the main difference between your introvert employees and your extrovert employees is the exchange of energy. After a lengthy meeting where an introvert is speaking or adding information, they may need to go off to a corner of the office and recharge, Don't mistake this for slacking off or being anti-social, they are just getting their energy back in balance so they can do their work fully.
Send an Email
A lengthy and detailed conversation with an introvert is going to sap their energy and your return on it is going to be less than if you were to send them a detailed email. Introverts are good with detail and they can focus better when they can attack information on their own. A lengthy, detailed email is never a bother for an introvert.
Pardon the Interruption
Introverts are good at focusing on their work and blocking out the world so they can accomplish what needs to be done. That said, what really rattles them is being abruptly interrupted. This can cause an energy spike and throw them off their game. It’s not easy for an introvert to move for their own personal space very quickly to a more open social space. Abrupt interruptions are difficult for them and are detrimental to their working process.
An introvert isn’t going to just sit down and chat with you out of the blue so getting to know them can be hard. If you take some time, do some detective work and find out what interests them they are more apt to open up and have long discussions with you. They may even explain what being an introvert is like so you can understand them better.
You Won't See Me
No, an introvert most likely won’t be attending the company picnic or weekend outing. That’s a lot of energy for them to spend after working in the office all week. So, if they don't show up for the company gathering just understand that and don’t take it personally. Also, don't give them shit about it the next time you see them. That’s not helpful at all. Understand how hard it is for them and just let it go.
Let Them Listen
Introverts are very good listeners because unlike most extroverts, they aren’t just listening for their chance to speak. Don’t force them to speak or call on them in a meeting to speak their thoughts right then and there. When they have formulated their thoughts, when they have listened to all the information, they will share these thoughts and ideas. And when they do … listen to them.
Bring on the Extroverts
Introverts actually work well with extroverts. When an introvert and an extrovert engage in conversation the introvert will take on the role of interviewer. This is an effective manner of communication among employees with regard to team-related activities.
Introverts aren’t freaks and they don’t need nor do they want to be handled with kid gloves. They understand their own need for balance and they will find a way to keep that balance so they can be their very best at work. As long as you take a moment and try to understand them, they will be fine. There is a wonderful book called “Quiet: The Power of the Introvert in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. This is a great read for anyone who works with an introvert, dates an introvert or suspects that they themselves might be an introvert. It is a quick, interesting read and it will shed so much light on what introversion means and how to work together with one. Most of all, be patient and all will be fine.