It’s estimated that introverts make up from one-third to one-half of the U.S. population. Despite the large numbers, however, introverts report feeling discriminated against by their more chatty brethren—for example, finding it more difficult to land a job offer or get noticed at work. Society, it would seem, values extroverts and their "outward orientation" to the world much more than it values introverts and their “inward orientation.” In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain writes:
“Introversion—along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness—is a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.”
Cain, a self-professed introvert, knows what she’s talking about. But what does all this mean for you and your team? Why should you care who’s introverted or extroverted? Shouldn't managing introverted employees be the same as managing extroverted employees?
Briefly stated, to be extroverted is to derive energy from being around others. In The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World, author Marti Olsen Laney, PsyD states, “Extroverts thrive on a variety of stimuli …” Introverts, on the other hand, derive energy from being alone. Introverts like people and are generally quite social (despite all myths to the contrary) but find too many people's stimulation for too long simply too much. Both Cain and Laney provide scientific proof that our reactions to stimuli are more than a preference. Introverts and extroverts are literally wired differently. These differences go a long way toward explaining why introverts generally loath the spotlight while extroverts seek it out; and why introverts tend to be quieter and self-reflective than extroverts. The problem is that we’re conditioned to believe that extroversion is somehow “better” than introversion— that fast-talking, the self-promotional employee, is smarter, more knowledgeable, and more productive than one who isn't. That’s nonsense, of course. Neither extroversion nor introversion, in and of itself, is a predictor or indicator of greater competency on the job.
Do you sometimes get impatient with your quiet employee’s tendency to think before he speaks or to avoid the limelight? If so, you’ll want to rethink that approach right now, because introverts bring serious advantages to the workplace, and you don't want to discourage them from engaging. Here's how:
The best teams are diverse, and good managers know that. Don’t make your introverted employees feel like second-class citizens by overlooking their talents and placing too much emphasis on the importance of “getting out there” and being talkative. If you do, you’ll fail to distinguish your best employees (among both the introverts and the extroverts) from those who talk a good game.