Navigating Your Team of Introverts to Success

Do you self-identify as an introvert, extrovert, or perhaps somewhere in the middle on this spectrum?

  1. Introvert
  2. Ambivert
  3. Extrovert

Many people (like me) self-identify as an “Ambivert”. Ambiverts are capable of tapping into their extrovert selves when they need to, or if they are especially passionate about something that requires extroversion. Once the task is complete, the ambivert withdrawls like a turtle into its shell (in order to re-charge). I was a very shy and quiet child but when it came to my passion for performance such as a dance recital or monologue, I could call upon the outgoing part of my personality. Susan Cain’s wildly popular TEDTalk on The Power of Introverts discusses the societal assumption that being extroverted is the superior personality type. We push our children to be outgoing and confident. You see the deeply embedded expectation for group collaboration built into our classrooms and wall less, open-concept workplaces. Collaboration is a good thing, however, we need to be mindful that introverts and extroverts arrive at participation in a group activity, discussion, etc. on different paths.

Generally speaking, an extrovert can “jump right in” to a conversation. They don’t mind be cold called upon by a boss or teacher. They may even crave public acknowledgement, recognition and attention. Introverts on the other hand don’t crave or need high levels of stimulation like their friend the extrovert. They quite prefer working on autonomous activities, having the solitude to think and reflect quietly. There is no right way of being. I’ve been teaching for 11 years now in college and corporate settings. While my mantra is “Improvement doesn’t come from comfort zones” the caveat is that introverts have to first feel comfortable to gain the courage to push themselves outside of their comfort zones. Last night I gave a talk on this topic at Clark College’s Columbia Tech Center. I provided the following 5 Best Practices we can apply in our workplaces, groups and teams including non-work related communities in order to create the psychologically safe space for introverts to build the courage to step outside of their comfort zones.

Five strategies to engage your introverts and set boundaries so that your extroverts don’t steal the show:

  1. Send pre-emptive emails or make phone calls in advance of a meeting you expect verbal or public contributions from your team. If you are in a leadership position: supervisor, manager, director, etc., set expectations for what you are wanting your direct reports to discuss or share and request they reply to your email in writing. This autonomous activity allows the introvert to think reflectively and put in writing their thoughts before they are expected to speak publicly.
  2. Set groundrules or “agreements” for your meetings. Groundrules can be generated by the group, not just the leader. The value of taking a few minutes to do this is BIG. Agreements create “buy in” for the process from all, builds community and cultivates a safe space for individuals to share. The culture of your organization or company will determine some of these groundrules. For example, some companies make “powering down” a rule, while others make listening a priority or limiting comments to 90 seconds or less (a strategy to ensure extroverts don’t monopolize the time together). As a leader it is important that you model all of the established groundrules when you facilitate meetings.
  3. Look for opportunities to pair together like minded or similar personality styles. For example, if you just on-boarded a new employee who clearly lives on the introverted side of the continuuem, look for opportunities to introduce her to the introverted HR Leader who may serve as a mentor, coach or sit on her (future) “Board of directors.”
  4. Leverage Improvisational theater’s #1 principle of “Yes, and…” ~ if you’re not already familiar with this rule, it is a way of inviting reciprocity in your discussions. Extroverts generally have more assertive communication styles and so it is common for an “extro” to respond to an idea by saying, “No, I don’t think that will work, what about… or “Yes, but I think this is the way to go…” Although the extrovert means no harm, the introvert may shut down once they hear “no” or “yes, but” (which also means no). To keep the conversation flowing, acknowledge what an “intro” has contributed and add to it. For example, “I see what you mean, and I’m curious if…”
  5. Be mindful of what you are expecting from others and what they need to arrive at your desired outcome. Be aware of assumptions that introverts are anti-social, disengaged, apathetic, or mellow. If you are an introvert, find the courage to advocate for these or other versions of strategies that will help you and your colleagues rise to the extroverted occasion.