How Not to Manage an Introvert

Do you supervise individuals that would describe themselves as an introvert? If the answer is "yes," you may want to take a moment to examine how you manage them. In many cases, we hold misconceptions about introversion, which can lead to ill-fated supervisory decisions. I'd like to point you in the right direction.

While many people confuse being introverted with shyness, introversion is in fact about how an individual handles stimulation. (Introverts will likely feel over-stimulated sooner than an extrovert.) Those on the introverted end of the introversion-extroversion continuum require a slightly different set of workplace conditions to excel -- and it is not difficult to become more sensitive to their needs. Small changes in management and workplace elements can transact into an environment that is more conducive to success.

A few things to re-think:

  • Putting them on the spot. It would be misguided to expect an opinion from an introvert at the "drop of the hat". One hallmark of introversion is the need to sit with one's thoughts and process information. If you offer an introvert a period of time to process, you'll likely take full advantage of their vantage point and skill set.
  • Publicly recognizing them. Stop yourself. Really. Many introverts would rather jump off a cliff than have attention shifted in their direction without notice. If they are about to to receive an award or accolade, let them know what you are planning ahead of time. They'll appreciate the gesture and have time to prepare.
  • That they dislike teams. Introverts are not against teaming or social interaction -- they would just prefer to manage this and contribute on their own terms. This means time to ruminate over issues on the table and providing bit of a lull before they will jump into the conversation. Teaming can become a challenge, in direct opposition to how they would normally approach their work. So be sure to offer opportunities for introverts to start the idea generation process before team meetings and limit over-stimulation.
  • Open offices. Never underestimate the power of a quiet space. (You don't have to be an introvert to appreciate a calm environment in which to process information.) Incorporating spaces within your office design that allow for quiet and privacy is always a wise move. (Read more about that here.) Someone leaning toward the introverted side of the continuum will be forever grateful.
  • That they have nothing to say. Wrong. By nature introverts can be less likely to share their thoughts, which makes it even more important to open the lines of communication regularly. Send them an e-mail, asking how their projects are progressing. Set up a weekly "touch base" meeting. They can reflect on their work and respond fully on their own terms.
  • That introverts cannot lead. Truth be told, you'll be overlooking a lot of potential. Recent research has shown that introverts may be more open to differences in opinion than their extroverted colleagues. As a result, they are more likely to make informed decisions. In fact, it has been shown their hesitancy to monopolize the conversation, can make them powerful team members. Sounds like leadership material to me.

Are you an introvert? What workplace conditions help you to excel?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and speaker. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto. She also writes The Office Blend.