This post originally appeared on Forbes
Open floorplans. Collaborative work streams. Large brainstorming sessions. This is the reality of our work style today. It’s an extrovert’s dream—easy moments to interact, continuous feedback loops, and numerous opportunities to present opinions. But for the roughly 50% of workers who identify as introverts, it’s a drain on their energy, time, and talent.
Workplaces used to prize introverts as the ideal in a “culture of character,” but now, in what we call the “culture of personality,” according to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, we’ve seen a move towards “magnetism and charisma” as idyllic—and quite extroverted—traits. In fact, a recent study found that 64% of workers believe their organization doesn’t fully harness the unique talents of introverts. And when people aren’t fully utilizing their strengths, they feel less engaged. Can you afford this level of disengagement from your employees?
As leaders, we need to understand our employees in a way that helps them thrive and to set them up for success. Here are three keys to play to the strengths of the introverts on your team:
1. Give Them Time And Space
In Quiet, Cain says that introverts’ deliberate style of thinking naturally lends itself to sharp, creative, innovation that is particularly productive. In fact, many creative leaders are known to be introverts and have leveraged their private space to conceive cutting-edge creation. Like Steve Wozniak, who invented the first Apple computer from the “confines” of his cubicle. Psychological studies have proven that we inherently mirror those we are in groups with—and thus new ideas are often born in solitude. Allow the introverts on your team the room they need for “deliberate practice” by giving them ample time to prepare for meetings, and by letting them get back to you via e-mail after they’ve had time to regroup, instead of answering your question on the spot. The right amount of time and space will help the introverts on your team reach new creative heights.
2. Let Them Play To Their Strengths
While they may not be the first people who come to mind when you think of networking, introverts tend to have a knack for establishing deeper, more genuine connections. It can be a huge asset to the workplace, especially when it comes to building relationships and loyalty among clients. It’s also a pro in terms of teamwork—introverts often delegate shrewdly, make more careful decisions, and strive to patiently understand the various perspectives of their team. In his book Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work, David Rock cites research that suggests effective leadership strategies—such as mentoring and empowering a team—as being more consistent with innately introverted traits. Instead of writing the introverts on your team off as unfit leaders, allow them to exercise their unique moderating styles of leadership. You’ll be surprised to find the strength of the diplomatic bonds and seamless strides they make.
3. Maintain Balance
As with everything, it’s important to have balance. Research indicates that in a typical six person meeting, two people do more than 60% of the talking—and this problem only escalates in larger groups. The psych concept of dominance complementaritysuggests that groups are more “cohesive and effective” when they have a balance of dominant and submissive members. And while dominance isn’t synonymous with extroversion, the same concept can be applied to different leadership styles on your team. It’s important to reward both types of behavior—not just the louder ones—for their unique contributions, and find the best dynamic within your team, once you are familiar with their individual strengths. Most research points to that sweet spot of productivity occurring between introverted leaders managing a more extroverted team and vice versa.
Successful introverts often find their own tricks and practices that help them adjust to their environment, but there are strategies that leaders can employ to make them feel more comfortable and capable of fully offering their unique contributions to the team. As leaders, we should welcome the colorful spectrum of personalities that compose our teams, and strive to maximize each individual’s strengths and how they drive vibrant innovation.
Jan Bruce is CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, the digital coaching platform based on the science of resilience.