A Fresh Look at Introverts

When we think of diversity, we think of race, gender, sexual orientation, and age. But as we try to include the contributions of an increasingly competitive workforce, we must ensure that everyone has a voice, including the one-third of us who are introverts. “Introversion is different from shyness,” says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. “It’s not a fear of negative judgment; it’s a preference for quiet stimulation.”

Due to their quiet nature, introverts can be overshadowed by their extroverted counterparts, putting them at a disadvantage in the workplace. They are often not thought of as leaders and can be passed over for promotions. Still, some of the world’s greatest innovators and influencers have been introverts—from Bill Gates, to Rosa Parks, to Steven Spielberg.

With any unconscious bias, we tend to negatively judge behavior that differs from our own style or culture. “Introverts are to
extroverts what American women were to men in the 1950s—second-class citizens with gigantic amounts of untapped talent,” Cain says.

Integrating introverts in the workplace is essential to creating an inclusive environment. Provide your introverted team members with tools that encourage them to participate, and you will be rewarded with greater insights and new perspectives.

As a leader, pay attention to how your team communicates. Make sure to poll the room and allow everyone time to respond to information. Don’t penalize team members for not attending the post-meeting reception or the pre-meeting breakfast. By giving introverts this flexibility, you are ensuring they can bring their whole selves to work.

Instead of suppressing her introverted self, Belinda Grant Anderson, vice president of Workforce Development & Diversity for AT&T, worked to gently modify her behavior. “I had to learn strategies to accommodate the extroverted style,” she says. “It can be done, but it takes additional energy.” For example, in large social settings, she focuses on spending time with one or two key people instead of trying to work the whole room. At the end of the evening, she has made a few strong connections rather than several more superficial introductions.

If you’re an introvert, what can you do to shine in a group of extroverts?

Give yourself permission to recharge. Don’t feel badly for retreating to your room instead of heading to the cocktail party.

Try to desensitize yourself by practicing public speaking in a safe and constructive environment.

Assess your current style and think about how you might be perceived by the group. Consider getting a coach to help you navigate your extroverted environment.

If you have difficulty speaking up or being heard in meetings, try sending a message ahead of time to share your thoughts, and then refer to it during the meeting. This will allow you to more easily articulate your position to the team and will show your manager that you have valuable contributions to make.

Use the buddy system! Have an extrovert champion you by asking for your feedback throughout the meeting. It makes the extrovert appear more inclusive and gives you an opportunity to speak up.

Meredith Moore is director of external relations and brand outreach for McDonald’s. She resides in Illinois and recently discovered that she is an introvert.

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