“People are all […] talking on machines and twittering and twottering. All that.
I’m here looking for peace and quiet.” – Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are
Our level of introversion or extroversion fundamentally influences the way we learn, work, and interact. Introverts gain energy from solitude or 1-1 interaction and get depleted from group time or overly-stimulating environments, while extroverts gain energy from engaging with others and get depleted from time alone. Ambiverts fall somewhere in the middle.
Most workplaces create opportunities for extroverts to capitalize on their strengths. Meetings often encourage quick sharing that benefits extroverts, as they process information externally and jump in to contribute the first ideas, anchoring the direction of the conversation. Open floor plans enable frequent interaction and the stimulating sensory environment in which extroverts thrive.
However, despite the popularity of the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test and Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, a tome on the undervalued strengths of introverts, many workplaces still under-serve introverts and do not implement sufficient practices to help them do their best work. This significant oversight presents an opportunity for organizations to create a competitive advantage, as more introverted people represent roughly 50 percent of the general population and tend to be skilled listeners, leaders, and decision-makers.
So, How Can You Create an Introvert-Friendly Workplace?
Here are our top 7 recommendations:
1. Develop personality intelligence and flex skills
Hold trainings to help workers gain personality intelligence, an understanding of their own extroversion or introversion and how these traits show up in others. Apart from self-awareness, employees are especially hungry to develop personality flexing skills – knowing how to adjust one’s style when working with others who have different personalities.
For example, extroverts learn to make space for others and to seek out introverts when they want a problem-solving partner or a good listener. Introverts learn to create workspaces and systems that help them focus and to seek out extroverts to champion an idea in a public forum.
Helping people understand, value, and support each other’s temperaments can be a powerful practice that tips over into other dimensions of difference, as well.
2. Invite employees to start resource groups
Create opportunities for employees to self-organize into groups that help them build relationships and learn with other introverts and/or extroverts. For example, at Thomson Reuters, an employee created a monthly book club focused on Susan Cain’s Quiet. To support your resource groups, provide meeting space, a budget, and/or just a Slack channel.
3. Establish company-wide meeting norms
Normalize meeting agendas so introverts can prepare ahead of time. One team we worked with at Etsy went so far as to create a “no agenda, no attenda” rule.
During meetings, mix up how people can contribute. When asking questions, give people writing time so introverts can collect their thoughts, while extroverts still have something to do. Use timed round robins, giving everyone the opportunity to share their thoughts (or pass). Equal, shorter turn-taking during group conversations correlates with successful team performance. Providing everyone with room to talk can also help overcome other possible power and social dynamics at play that may be contributing to an unequal distribution of airtime.
Invite employees to follow up with meeting leaders with more thoughts after the meeting ends in 1-1 meetings, during office hours, or even via a Questions and Ideas Box (or email inbox).
4. Create low-sensory spaces
Designate quiet spaces, like cozy nooks, rooms, or phone booths. One of our clients, Warby Parker, built an entire library. If space is limited, let people indicate they are unavailable by wearing headphones or putting a visual timer on their desk that shows when they will be free.
Set meeting-free periods each day or week, and allow and encourage employees to choose when they’d like to work remotely. A remote work option enables both introverts and extroverts to choose environments with the optimal level of stimulation to maximize their productivity and energy.
5. Switch up how you help people connect
Companies tend to default to loud, overwhelming, alcohol-infused happy hour as a team-building ritual. Mix up your activities so introverts (and non-drinkers) can have fun while building connections. Introvert-friendly social activities can be anything that doesn’t require unstructured group conversations, e.g., trivia, board games, and group fitness. For longer events and offsites, make sure the agenda includes free time and optional activities.
Create opportunities for employees to bond 1-1 or in small groups. Although introverts can work well on their own, they still crave authentic connections.
And when in doubt, normalize saying “no” to social events with unstructured conversation so introverts don’t feel bad choosing to conserve their energy, and so other team members don’t mis-read introverts as disengaged.
6. Check for bias in your job descriptions and career paths
Make sure your hiring and career growth options don’t have implicit expectations that only extroverts can comfortably meet. Are charisma and small talk skills truly a requirement for your sales managers or might organization and strategic thinking skills be just as valuable? Is speaking in front of large audiences necessary for all leaders or can some leaders excel through written communication?
Share job descriptions and promotion criteria with a wide range of people to get feedback. Encourage managers to ask employees about their career goals and help craft their roles, where possible, to align with their strengths and interests. Employees who feel they use their strengths on a regular basis at work are significantly more likely to report feeling engaged.
7. Launch a brain-friendliness task force
Not sure where to start? Gather a cross-functional and personality-diverse group to interview and survey coworkers. Then, have them recommend ideas for your organization to be more brain-friendly for introverts and extroverts. Encourage them to lead with questions like:
When are you most/least productive at work?
When do you feel most/least connected to your team?
Last but not least, take a moment and consider your own needs. How might you make your own immediate work environment more brain-friendly in order to exert less energy and capitalize on your strengths?