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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Terranova

Harnessing the Power of Introverts at Work


introverts at work

Although they comprise more than half of the US population (56%), Introverts are frequently misunderstood, underrepresented, and underutilized in American organizational culture.


We tend to celebrate the bold charisma and entertainment value of extraverted personalities, while undervaluing the Introvert's slow-and-steady approach to relationship building. We revere those who share thoughts quickly and liberally, overlooking the Introvert’s tendency to patiently gather information and organize thoughts before sharing ideas. We reward those who collaborate and contribute on teams ahead of those who successfully work independently and autonomously. Companies, whether consciously or unconsciously, favor an extraverted working style while marginalizing the positive contributions Introverts bring to organizational culture.


If we accept that it’s our responsibility to help our colleagues reach their professional potential, shouldn’t strive to not only to understand introversion, but create a more inclusive corporate environment that allows introverts to thrive? In this article, we explore what it means to be an Introvert, clear up a few myths, and strategize ways to leverage the strengths Introverts bring to the organizational table.   



What Does it Mean to Be an Introvert?

The Oxford dictionary defines an Introvert as:


a shy, reticent person and/or someone predominantly concerned with their

own thoughts and feelings rather than with external things.


Therein lies the problem. No offense to the linguistic elite, but this inadequate definition fosters deep misconceptions about what it means to be introverted.


A more accurate description of an introverted personality is someone energized by an inner world of ideas and experiences, rather than an outer world of external interactions.


👉🏻 They enjoy quiet time to themselves to restore depleted energy from socialization.

👉🏻 They are introspective, taking time to reflect and develop insight before making contributions.

👉🏻 They are outstanding listeners, capable of building deep one-on-one connections over time.

👉🏻 They are keen observers who know how to read a room and pick up on social cues easily.


Introverts are perfectly capable of engaging socially, building relationships, and participating in collaborative efforts with colleagues – they just do so differently than their extraverted counterparts. While extraverted personality types are energized social contributors who know how to work a room, build rapport quickly and make a strong first impression, Introverts will focus their attention on observation, listening and giving others the opportunity to have the spotlight. Their perceptive nature allows them to easily respond to nuanced social information and adapt accordingly, actually making them better at building strong relationships over time than some of their extraverted colleagues.    



Dispelling Introversion Myths

Despite the increasing number of Introverts in American culture (Gen Z estimated to have more Introverts than any previous generation), misinformation, false stereotypes and damaging myths persist about what it means to be introverted in today’s working world.


❌ Introverts are shy - While they tend to pause and take in their environment (and the people in it) before engaging, Introverts can be willing social contributors, capable of building connections networking in public-facing roles. Introverts will be the first to admit cocktail parties may not be their favorite way to spend an evening, but Extroverts shouldn’t mistake the Introvert’s observational approach to social interaction for a desire to be a wallflower.


❌ Introverts are loners - Although Introverts are satisfied, happy and energized by time to themselves, they require connection with other humans just like the rest of us. Don’t mistake their preference for personal downtime or adeptness at independent and autonomous work as a preference for a life disconnected from others.  


❌ Introverts are judgmental - The more reserved and careful approach Introverts bring to work can be falsely interpreted by more extraverted members of the team as smug, judgmental, or superior. Extraverts tend to mistrust those who keep their cards close to the vest and may perceive a cautious approach to communication and problem-solving as a potential symptom of sinister intent. An Introvert’s cautious approach to communication should build trust with colleagues, not deteriorate it.    


❌ Introverts are lonely - Outgoing and relationship-oriented individuals can misidentify introspective Introverts as sad and lonely because they can’t conceive of being happy and being alone at the same time. For Introverts, happiness and contentment come from adequate time alone to be calm, restore energy, and reflect on their inner world. They really do enjoy opportunities to be with their own thoughts and feel energized by adequate time alone.   


❌ Introverts make bad leaders - Anyone is capable of successful leadership, and while Introvert leaders may not prioritize commanding attention and charisma, they do convey gravitas and depth with their executive presence. They build strength, one relationship at a time, and bring a contemplative lens to their professional decision-making. They even understand the importance of work-life balance and often create cultures where time to rejuvenate is a priority. In fact, about 70% of CEOs describe themselves as introverts - Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Marissa Mayer are Introverts, and they're certainly doing something right.



Harnessing the Power of Introverts at Work

Organizational culture has revered extraverted contributions for as long as anyone can remember. We want our leaders to be charismatic, quick on their feet and know how to persuade with infectious energy. We love it when they know how to command a room with their professional presence and set strategic direction with decisive authority. We’ve unconsciously established working norms and expectations that cater to extraverted personality types, while downplaying the critical importance of the balanced, mindful and contemplative style of introverted personalities.


Introverts create value in organizations by:


👉🏻 Prioritizing the accumulation of information, data and knowledge through research

👉🏻 Pausing to reflect and consider before speaking, acting or deciding

👉🏻 Developing deep insight through careful, cautious consideration

👉🏻 Cultivating strong, individual connections with colleagues over time

👉🏻 Working independently and autonomously

👉🏻 Challenging themselves to create value instead of adding to the noise

👉🏻 Being effective listeners who focus on learning over entertaining


So how do we consciously create organizational conditions that balance the scales and give introverts an opportunity to thrive? Here’s a few good places to start:



1️⃣ Recruitment and Selection Process


We value charisma and perceive it as confidence, so we allow ourselves to be entertained and overestimate the importance of quick rapport building in the interview process. At the same time, we falsely interpret contemplative pauses as uncertainty and  misread unemotional nonverbal cues. Educate your recruitment officers about the differences between Introverts and Extraverts early in the relationship-building process with prospective employees, and brainstorm methods to remove charismatic bias from the selection process.


2️⃣ Collaborative Efforts and Teamwork


While initially reserved and observational when working on teams, Introverts are taking it all in and choosing their contributions. They wait for opportunities to create real value instead of talking just to establish presence in the room. Unfortunately, this contemplative approach is often misinterpreted as lacking executive presence and influencing skills. To provide opportunities for introverts to thrive in group settings, consider soliciting their perspective one-on-on and give them time to prepare their contributions for the group. Managers can leverage the full benefits of the Introvert’s contemplative approach if they give them time to think, provide planned opportunities for them to speak, and avoid putting them on the spot. 


3️⃣ Networking and Client-Facing Opportunities


Although capable of being willing social contributors, Introverts thrive in smaller settings and intimate gatherings, even within the context of a larger event. Make one-on-one introductions whenever possible and try to keep networking responsibilities brief, and well-chosen. A three-day conference full of handshaking is likely to make an Introvert completely miserable, so see what can be done to vary the methods of relationship building to capitalize on the strengths of both Extraverts and Introverts in public-facing situations.    


4️⃣ Advocacy for Visibility and Exposure


Introverts tend to speak less, avoid the limelight, and miss opportunities to promote themselves within their organizations. They can be less outspoken when it comes to their own advocacy and will not forcefully promote their own agenda. Organizations should be mindful of this tendency and create opportunities for visibility and exposure. Consider career development plans that support a higher executive profile and coach Introverts on engagement methods that spotlight their contributions.    


5️⃣ Leadership Development


While Introverts naturally create enormous value when it comes to brainstorming, critical thinking, and mindful decision making, they may benefit from support to build skills that do not come as easily to their personality type. Focused training on team building, performance management, conflict management, and influencing skills may foster conditions where Introverts find unique ways to capitalize on the potential in their approach to leadership. 



Despite comprising more than half of the population, Introverts continue to face misconceptions and a lack of support in American corporate culture. However, by dispelling myths and harnessing the unique strengths of introverted individuals, organizations can foster a more inclusive and dynamic work environment. The future of introverts in our organizational culture hinges on recognizing and valuing their contemplative approach to decision-making, their ability to build deep relationships, and their capacity for thoughtful leadership. Embracing introversion not only enhances personality diversity within companies, but also paves the way for a more holistic and successful organizational culture that maximizes the potential of all individuals, regardless of their personality type.


 

Author's Note

When evaluating ourselves as Extraverts or Introverts, it is important to note that these are nonbinary distinctions. We all exist on a spectrum of energy, with Extraverts who draw energy from others on one side, and Introverts who draw energy within on the other.


Most of us - an overwhelming 65% - have both Introvert and Extravert tendencies. These in-between individuals require alone time, as well as adequate time to interact with others. In fact, there are so many people that exist in the mid-range of the Introvert vs. Extravert spectrum that organizational psychologists are coining a new term: Ambivert. An Ambivert is "a person who has a balance of extravert and introvert features" (Oxford finally got one right).




headshot of Danielle Terranova

Danielle Terranova is the voice behind Leadership Lessons with Danielle.

She has been an executive coach since 2015 and owner of Terranova Consulting, LLC since 2019.



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