How Not to Manage an Introvert

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Do you supervise individuals who 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 help.

While many people confuse being introverted with shyness — introversion is in fact, about how an individual handles stimulation and processes information. Those on the introverted end of the introversion/extroversion continuum, require a different set of workplace conditions to excel — and we need to become sensitive to their needs.

Small changes in management and workplace elements, can transact into a more comfortable environment which is conducive to success.

A few things to rethink:

  • 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  — often far from the “madding crowd”. If  you offer an introvert a period of time to process, you’ll likely take full advantage of their skills.
  • 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 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.
  • Teaming. It’s not that introverts are against teaming —  they would just rather contribute on their own terms. This means time to ruminate over issues on the table and offering a bit of a lull before they will jump into the conversation. To an introvert, teaming can become a bit of a workplace nightmare, 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 allow points in the conversation where they can jump in. (Try pausing 8-seconds before moving to the next topic.)
  • 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 both peace and privacy, is always wise. (Read more about that here.) Someone leaning toward the introverted side of the continuum, will be forever grateful.
  • They have nothing to communicate. By nature, introverts can be less likely to share their thoughts — which makes it even more important to check in with them regularly. Send them an e-mail, asking how their projects are progressing. They can reflect and respond on their own terms.
  • Introverts cannot lead. Truth be told — you are dead wrong here. Recent research has shown that those on the introverted side of the continuum are more open to a differences in opinion than their extroverted colleagues. As a result, they are more likely to make more informed decisions. In fact, it has been shown their hesitancy to monopolize the conversation, can actually make them powerful team members. Sounds like leadership material to me.

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

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin and formerly at US News & World Report.

19 thoughts on “How Not to Manage an Introvert

  1. Pingback: How to Manage Introverts - 6 of the Best Simple Strategies

  2. Thank you! And again thank you!!
    I am an introvert without apology. I have suffered great injustice at workplace. I failed to cling to the biggest post mainly because I was seen as not having leadership quality defined as responding abruptly, even if deceptively, to all situations. This is beside the fact I have held several leadership positions in the organization and have received accolades – mist of which I deflected to others.

  3. Pingback: Be very very quiet. We are engaging introverted employees. | The Best Practice Manager

  4. Pingback: How Not to Manage an  Introvert  | Planet Mezz

  5. I am an Introvert. I didn’t know until just now. You could have been talking about me. Thank you

    Now I’ve had the time to contemplate a response.

    What we need is an Extrovert to shout this to the word without drawing too much attention to us. But maybe just enough so that we get a little recognition.

    Ssshhhh!

  6. As an introvert with over 25 years of work experience, I agree with 99% of this. I differ some with the teaming part or at least how I initially interpreted it. It’s not that teaming is undesirable. I like teaming. I like being part of a work group. When it comes to actually doing work though, please, let me go off on my own. No “thinking out loud” sessions.

  7. Thank you on behalf of introverts everywhere for bringing this to the attention of those that were not aware. I’ve always felt the quality of one’s contribution was more important than the speed or quantity.

  8. Pingback: Favorites Friday | September 27, 2013

  9. I really enjoyed this article. I am an introvert and get very nervous when I am put on the spot. I appreciate having time to think about responses. Being publicly recognized can make very uncomfortable at times too. This article is spot on and could help managers relate to their introvert employees rather than thinking they are shy, unprepared or disconnected.

  10. I agree with most of this! As an introverted HR Manager who supervises both introverts and extroverts there are definite differences to leveraging the inherent strengths of each and helping them to excel.

  11. To expand on your last item: It is not uncommon that parts of introvert (or shy, or aspie) behaviour is misinterpreted as incompetence (not specific to leadership). Conversely, some forms of “outgoing” behaviour is often incorrectly taken for competence. The paramount example is obviously talking or not talking, e.g. during important meetings. Other examples can be more subtle, with e.g. a tendency to avoid eye contact (common among aspies) being misinterpreted as insecurity in ones own position or even as an attempt to lie, based on the norms and behaviours of extroverts.

  12. As an introvert I thank you, for this wonderful insight. Not just for managers of those of us that are introverts, but also validating that we can contribute greatly to many things. We just need time to process what we need to say, not just everything our extrovert counterparts, can say.

  13. I have to agree with everything mentioned. In my case I like a quiet non-chaotic work environment. I need to be able to concentrate without interruptions to be most efficient. I also hate crowds and being put on the spot. I hate the limelight and would much prefer to be the “back room guy” to being out front. I have also held leadership positions at nearly every place I have worked. I like to build a team of people who respect me first and ask me to lead rather than being placed in a position of power. I am a great leader but most people would not think of that as one of my best strengths because they think of leaders in general as those people who enjoy the spot light.

  14. The first point in the article about not “putting them on the spot” is something that I wish professors would understand. As a student, I am open to participating. However, when discussing complex ideas, I find that I need quiet time to think before I can fully contribute. Thank you for this great article!

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