• 6 August 2014

Don’t ignore the introverts in your business - they may be your goldmines

Companies that are structured around dominating extroverted employees are at risk of ignoring valuable input from introverted characters which could be hugely detrimental to businesses, according to cognitive and business psychologist, Dr Lynda Shaw. In her latest blog, she explains more.

There is a distorted perception that to be successful in business you have to have the loudest voice to get noticed. Many businesses are dominated by assertive, extroverted individuals and by all means we need charisma and confident people in business. However, neglecting the input of all staff including introverts is at the peril of the company.

According to the Myers-Briggs methodology, there are 16 different personality types, each with four different attributes. The component that creates the greatest divide, especially in the workplace, is the introvert-extrovert component.  

Introverts may take a back seat because they feel outnumbered by more vociferous extroverted characters but whilst extroverts may bring a more obvious energy to the business,  introverts have a valuable contribution because of their natural ability to reflect and analyse, skills which may not be being adequately utilised in business. Introverts are often misjudged as shy, possibly boring and may not speak up, potentially without opinions and ideas.  An introvert may just prefer to take a back seat initially to enable them to assess a situation. They may be fantastic listeners and are often thorough.

Extrovert v. introvert leaders

Ironically, on paper, corporate executives view introversion as a barrier to leadership, yet according to the book, ‘Quiet: the Power of the Introvert’ by Susan Cain, introverts tend to be more successful in the workplace. Many leaders of Fortune 500 companies are in fact introverts. When employees are passive and looking for leadership from above, it pays for the boss to be an extrovert. In contrast, in environments where the business model revolves around more teamwork and interaction, it may be better to have a more reflective boss. 

Extroverts are more likely to be attracted to and selected for leadership roles, but they’re not better leaders than introverts. Being able to shout the loudest and schmooze does not mean you have the most creativity or talent. Extroverts may have the enthusiasm and assertiveness to get the best out of passive followers, but if they hog the spotlight it may stifle the initiative of proactive followers, leaving them discouraged and the business may miss out on their ideas. Introverted leaders thrive by validating initiative and listening carefully to suggestions. 

Extrovert v. introvert employees

Whilst extroverts report being happier across a great number of situations and in their lives as a whole, studies of working groups show that extroverts actually generate more negative emotions in the work force, as they create slightly difficult relationships with team mates. They start off with a higher status which is lost over time because they fail to make others feel as happy and confident as themselves.

If you walk into any company, you will find many shy introverts who are uncomfortable interacting with strangers or larger than life personalities but love to go out and socialise with friends. Many introverts are very sociable and will create a conversation with random people at parties, but get easily overwhelmed by people who shine brighter or have a louder personality.

Most people are actually ambiverted rather than introverted or extroverted: they’re quiet in some situations and loud in others, and alternate between seeking the spotlight and staying backstage.

So how can businesses ultimately ensure that all staff are valued equally? It is about recognising the team as individuals. A great leader will know the strengths of each of their employees regardless of their introverted or extroverted tendencies and be able to bring out their best qualities, ask for their valuable input and give them tasks that they excel at, as well as ones which may challenge them. 

It is vital in staff meetings that everybody’s input is listened to by the rest of the group so that the conversation is not dominated by the same people, otherwise valuable ideas may be lost which could have been a goldmine to the company.  A team which comprises both introverts and extroverts who are both allowed a voice is the optimum team.

Here are my top tips on how to make your employees feel confident at work:

1. Praise them regularly - It may seem obvious but people like to hear how well they’re doing, even if it’s a quick email or quick word, the nod of appreciation may go further than you think.

2. Train them well - People feel empowered by having more skills and knowledge and therefore become more confident. Think how much more confident you are in an interview or a presentation when you are talking about your expert subject. 

3. Communicate effectively - If there is a clear path and goal that people know they are working towards, they are naturally more likely to feel more confident because they know what needs to be done to get to where they need to be. 

4. Trust - Once you are sure your people know what is expected of them and they have the tools to do the job, trust them. Don’t micromanage. They will thrive on the responsibility. 

5. Give constructive feedback - Once the job is done, give constructive feedback. People want to improve and develop, so they will appreciate your comments if delivered with warmth and respect.