How do I bring out the best in my more introverted employees?

24 February 2015 -


We ask two leading workplace psychologists how to unlock the full potential of employees who are quieter and shyer than their colleagues

Ever had that queasy feeling that you may not be quite getting through to someone you are managing? That the ideas you are trying to bounce off them don't seem to be returned – let alone with a flurry of interest? Do not despair. Things may not be how they seem on first impression, and it is likely that you are dealing with an introvert who may find it more difficult than other staffers to joust with the bravado of the workplace. With the right combination of effective management styles and a personal development plan, this imaginative employee could be encouraged to help your organisation fulfil its SMART objectives (ie, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely).

Felicity Lee

Chartered psychologist and director of Response Ability leadership coaching

Assuming you are more of an extrovert yourself, be sure not to make the mistake of treating an introverted employee as a problem that needs to be addressed. Introverts simply approach thinking differently. The thinking an extrovert does externally, the introvert does internally. There are good and bad examples of each. It does not reflect job competence, emotional intelligence or suitability for the role. It is up to the manager to harness these and adapt their management style accordingly, so as to enable both personality types to understand one another and work alongside each other productively and effectively.

Extrovert characteristics are often seen as more socially desirable, but a study of personality traits showed that around 50% of the population are on the introverted spectrum – certainly no minority. An introvert’s ability is more likely to be underestimated simply because they don’t make themselves as visible.

First and foremost, always ask the person what works for them. Explore how they would prefer to approach a task and find a way that works for both of you.

Never make assumptions aboutan introvert. Silence is not necessarily a sign that an introvert disagrees or is not interested in what is being discussed around them. They simply prefer to spend more time listening and thinking internally before they step in with a response of their own. They are much less likely to interrupt, talk over or repeat another person’s contribution or waste precious meeting time. They are often more succinct, operate autonomously and consider contributions deeply before sharing them.

In light of this, allow them the space to prepare. If you wish to call a meeting or ask them for some ideas, send an email in advance. This will give them time to collect their thoughts and make the useful contribution you are looking for.

Although you want to make sure you create an environment where all your employees can thrive, the responsibility works both ways. Both extroverted and introverted employees need to be willing to adapt to the needs of the company, and occasionally this will mean stepping outside their respective comfort zones. As long as you show yourself to be a manager who is aware of and receptive to the needs of both types, employees will respond positively.

Lisa Petrilli

Leadership strategist and CEO of C Level Strategies and author of The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership

The most important thing to understand about your introverted employees is that they get their energy differently from their extroverted colleagues. Introverts get their energy from their inner world of ideas. When they have time alone or with just one or two other people to mull over thoughts, reflect on decisions and play out strategies in their minds, they come away from the experience with more energy than when they went into it.

Understanding is key in all areas of people management, so to bring out the best in your introverted employees:

1. Be a great listener

Introverts give a lot of thought to their ideas and when they are ready to share them they’ll want your full attention.

2. Give introverts time to recharge

It’s important for them reflect after being in groups with more than a few people. Large groups of people drain an introvert’s energy, while energising the extroverts. If, for example, your organisation spends an entire morning in large group team meetings and the introvert chooses to have lunch alone in their office, don’t perceive this as a lack of team loyalty or a need for avoidance. They’re simply re-energising so they can engage more effectively in the afternoon.

3. Meet with introverts one-on-one to get their best thoughts

Just as you should share ideas with them individually and give them time to reflect on them. When you do this on a regular basis you’ll get their best thoughts. They’ll be in their comfort zone, and the conversation will be richer and more beneficial to you.

4. Leverage their strength of communicating their ideas in writing

The written word is a comfort zone for introverts. Encourage them to share their ideas openly in writing. By accepting this practice you’ll be encouraging more effective team dynamics because the introverts will know their ideas are being seen.

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