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Time and Space -- A Guide to Managing Introverts

Posted by Sandy Yu on 9.19.2019


Interaction with an introvert can sometimes lead to a lot of…quietness. By nature, one-third of our population falls into the “introvert” category. Without effective leadership communication and an understanding of what makes introverts thrive, managers might find themselves falling into the belief of the common myth that introverts are timid, neurotic, or disinterested in their work.

Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking,” uncovers the virtues of our quiet co-workers and provides insight on how to effectively engage with them. Employers can take a cue from Cain in their efforts to improve employee experience and connect with the less-outspoken people on their team.

Introverts work best when they’re given some space.

It’s easy for leaders to jump into situations to provide direction, check on progress, and generally stir the pot. But introverts prefer having time to contemplate and focus while they churn out their best work. Unfortunately, the dreaded manager check-in can leave your introverted employees feeling on-edge (and guilty for keeping to themselves).

Manage this nuance by scheduling check-ins to gather updates on progress as part of your initial project planning. This allows you to keep your finger on the pulse of your projects and will allow your employees to structure their work time and prepare to report to you. If they’re tucked away in a quiet corner, away from the rest of the team, they’re in the zone and working toward their goal.

Hold conversations in a quiet place.

Introverts, by nature, can become uncomfortable in high-energy spaces, especially when they’re trying to hold a conversation. When meeting with a quieter employee, find a space away from the action that allows you both to focus. 

With a need to formulate their thoughts before they speak and resistance to surprise, introverts will respond best to one-on-one recognition and feedback. If you’d like to publicly recognize a win or have them report on a project to the team, give them a heads up that you’ll be doing so to avoid catching them off-guard. Additionally, make yourself available for follow-up questions post-meetings to allow introverts to ask questions they may not have felt comfortable voicing to the group.

It’s not that they’re too shy – it’s that they want to be thoughtful about their response.

Don’t fill all the silence.

Their exceptional listening skills make introverts some of the most thoughtful responders during conversations, which is why it’s important to give them some breathing room between thoughts and questions.

Though their quietness can sometimes be viewed as disinterest, it’s more likely that an introvert is intently listening and consciously formulating how they would like to articulate their response. A little bit of patience and acceptance of conversational pause can provide managers with the insight they’re looking for.

For the most effective leadership communication with introverts, ask direct questions to your employee, and don’t get nervous if they don’t answer right away. “Take your time,” is one of the most welcome phrases you can offer an introvert during a conversation. Trust that their thought-process is working and don’t be intimidated by the quiet.

Give them time to process demands before requesting a response.

Just like they need time in conversation to process their response, introverts will need time to provide a result to any demands placed on them. They need to step away, form their thoughts, and prepare to deliver their work thoughtfully.

But managers don’t have endless time. When asking something of an introvert, ask them how much time they think they might need to get back to you. Once they weigh in, offer a reasonable deadline for them to work towards.

Even the smallest tasks might require an introvert to focus for a few minutes quietly. Don’t view it as a weakness or inefficiency. Their process is to be thoughtful – not just to deliver the first thing they write down – and when they’re given a bit of time, they’ll do their best work.

Plan everything. Everything. 

Introverts work best when they can take information, process it, and put dedicated thought into how best to respond. Spontaneous phone calls, impromptu meetings, and surprise reports will not only result in a lower-quality work than they’re able to produce, but it will also likely annoy them.

A structured work environment benefits every team member, and introverts will appreciate the time to focus on tasks and check off to-dos. While multitasking isn’t their preference, they’re great at prioritizing and focusing on getting the job done.

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Topics: workplace communication, communication trends, leadership communication

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