How To Nurture The Introverts In Your Team
I was recently really surprised – and pleased – to work with an organisation that wanted to set things up so that both the extroverts and the introverts would benefit from a working environment that suited them and their different needs. In the past, we may have just classed the louder ones as the extroverts, and the quieter ones as the introverts. Today we know it’s more complex than that. They both need quite different things.
It’s all about energy. Extroverts draw their energy from being around other people. I have a friend who literally gets more and more deflated during his holidays as he sees less and less of his colleagues, and people are busy doing their own thing with their own families. In comparison, introverts need to recover from being around other people. Too much stimulation and they can literally feel their energy draining away from them. Or, with some introverts that I’ve spoken to, they get so over-stimulated that they literally don’t know what to do with themselves. These may be quite chatty, confident and gregarious people who seem to fit the widely expected definition of “extrovert” . In reality, however, they need their space.
Conversely, many extroverts are quiet, even shy, people, who need the stimulation of others around them.
So, what does this mean in a work environment?
For most cases, our work environments cater well for extroverts. Open plan offices mean that they can lean over and chat when they need a bit of stimulation. They can wander around and chat through a problem at the coffee machine. There’s no need to escape anywhere. It’s all going on right in front of their eyes.
Introverts on the other hand will experience it differently. Rather than find the office background as an energising buzz, they may experience it as intrusive and distracting. The long walk past everyone’s desk, and needing to deliver perky morning small talk before they’ve even taken off their coat may mean that first coffee is more medicinal than indulgent. External events like conferences or networking situations may be physically and mentally depleting. They may be living with a feeling of being trapped, with no space to call their own. This can feel doubly so if they are working in a hot desking environment, with no way to personalise or make their own safe space.
No right or wrong type
Some of this may feel a little extreme to you, especially if you’re an extrovert. As I’ve grown older I can feel myself moving more and more into the introvert side of the spectrum. But there was a time when I was on the cusp. I can tell you from personal experience there is no right or wrong type to be, but having the right environment certainly makes things easier, more comfortable and – for the employer – it will help get the best out of you.
How can you make your workplace introvert friendly?
- Have somewhere to escape. If you’ve got a board or meeting room that is lying unused for much of the time, allow people to use it to get on with deep or intense work where they don’t need to be distracted. However, don’t make it necessary to justify reasons why they may want some space. Sometimes just half an hour away from people and introverts are fully refreshed and raring to go
- Do not encourage eating lunch at the desk. Make it clear, even if it has to be by your example, that it’s okay to get up and go for a walk, or disappear for lunch
- Let people use headphones if they wish. Quite often it’s as much about cutting sound out as purposefully listening to something
- If networking is a part of the job description, allow people to do it in their own way. Extroverts may blossom at large scale networking events, connecting with a number of people. Conversely, introverts may feel happier connecting through LinkedIn and then meeting up one to one for coffees. Both ways work so don’t be too prescriptive
- Let people do conferences in their own way. While I can be carried through the day on the energy of being at a conference, I need at least one night off alone,. Some of this I may spend reading a book with a glass of wine in the bath, followed by room service and a call home. I don’t feel the need to carry on drinking with people I have been sat next to all day. I would find the idea of going out clubbing horrific. And I would rather have our ‘strategy’ meeting early the next morning rather than after a long day. Make sure the loudest people do not always set the social agenda
- I know in some cases this is the only option, but as a business psychologist, I’m not a fan of hot desking. People often have to spend the first half of their day re-setting chairs so they are at the right height and re-orientating themselves. They will be running the internal commentary of wondering who will be sat next to them that day. People like some comfort and familiar things around them. At least ask your employees what they would prefer if it’s possible
- Be open minded about working from home. Some people are much more productive working from home. That’s including the odd five minutes here to pop on the laundry or make their own lunch. If they have the right environment it gives them the space to focus and to think. One organisation I know, https://supermums.org/, brings it all together with regular online weekly meetings plus daily huddles, where those working from home get together for 15 minutes over Zoom and talk through their mission for the day.
- Encourage open discussions about the experiences of being an introvert or extrovert. Let team members understand each other and their needs.
Helping create the right environment for your team members, and recognise where you yourself thrive, is one of the things we cover in SWAY, the leadership course for women in tech. Do find out more here https://scarletzest.wpengine.com/sway-2020/