Updated: Apr 19
5 Ways to Engage with Introverts - the "Hidden Half"
Over the last couple of decades, the terms Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion have become common mantras across the corporate world - not just because it is right, fair, and respectful, but because leadership recognizes that such diversity invites unique perspectives, creative ideas, and exceptional problem-solving. The silver lining is that more employees feel engaged and involved.
Only recently has the definition of diversity begun expanding. If engagement with people of color, varying genders, and ethnicities now help drive the company's productivity and success, who else might be left out?
Case For Action
Introverts! This may surprise many managers and even HR and Learning organizations. It appears on the surface many introverts don't want to be engaged. They are happy to work alone. Besides, it doesn't really appear there are many introverts in the corporate world. Probably, most introverts migrate toward more independent and creative careers like art, writing, IT, etc. So maybe the carrot is not that large anyway.
Let me help set the record straight. By all accounts, introverts are 40-60% of the population and most any slice of that population, including your social groups, your families, and your workplace. This is why I refer to introverts as the "hidden half." Often introverts want to stay under the radar. They don't want to be uncomfortable so they steer away from engagement and confrontation. As a result, the company gets much less value from introverts - NOT because they don't have tremendous value to give, but because the typically extroverted corporate culture isn't conducive for introverts to participate.
What is the company missing?
Again, on the surface, many may feel like introverts are quiet followers. But that is often far from the truth. According to the results of our Introvert Talent Quiz (join over 1600 people who have already taken the free quiz and benefited from their personalized report), the most common introvert strengths are 1) Planning & Preparation, 2) Listening, 3) Learning, 4) Thoughtfulness, and 5) Creativity. These traits often result in well thought out, balanced analysis, deeper relationships, and strong collaborative teams.
How many of us have sat through meetings where the most boisterous attendees dominate the conversation. Often they haven't really prepared their thoughts, they are just shooting from the hip, letting their intuition be their guide. Groupthink can often be the result of such conversations.
While such emotional energy can drive some wild brainstorming, if left unchecked the results can be disastrous. Introverts and their innate talents can often serve as a counterbalance. Introverts will rarely be the loudest person in the room. However, they are usually well prepared, observe the meeting dynamics, and collect interesting ideas through the meeting, eventually coalescing them into an important question, point, or conclusion that others had glossed over in the attempt to collect airtime.
How to Engage with the "Hidden Half"
So what can team leaders, meeting facilitators, HR, or Learning organizations do to tap the "hidden half?"
Provide Time & Space: introverts typically need more time and space to process situations. This does not imply lower intellect. On the contrary, they are processing lots of information to form unique perspectives. This doesn't usually happen "off the cuff." Provide meeting agendas and pre-read in advance. Introverts will then prepare their thoughts so they can be more active participants on key drivers. Also, rather than a rapid-fire roundtable brainstorming session, introduce a topic and provide everyone some time to jot down ideas on sticky notes which will then be shared. The results will be much higher quality from all the participants.
Shrink the Room: Many people, introverts, shy, and/or those with social anxiety (these are not the same) can get overwhelmed by large meetings. Frankly, this is just another good reason for everyone to rationalize who is invited to meetings. Meetings with 10-20 people or more rarely get a lot of work done. People are often competing for airtime and personal agendas. It takes a really disciplined meeting leader to corral the group and remain on task. Shrink the attendees to those important to the objective and share agenda and meeting notes with a broader audience as warranted. Leaders should also invite everyone's participation. Some need little help in this area, but before moving on to the next topic, scan the room and ask if anyone else has something to add. Pause for a moment and often you will be rewarded. Introverts aren't anxious to battle for airtime but when invited, they are happy to chime in.
Networking Intimacy: Large social gatherings within your own company or within the industry are quite common. They are an extrovert's paradise and an introvert's nightmare. Extroverts are thrilled to bounce from table to table, gather business cards, and enjoy some lighthearted chitchat. Introverts quickly become overwhelmed. Create smaller gatherings. Encourage one-on-one or small group (<5) networking over coffee. Promote 360 networking; ie, initiated both by employees and leaders. In small sessions, introverts truly enjoy getting to know others. They can develop closer bonds with co-workers and managers. Customer relations can flourish because the intimacy allows them to truly understand each other's drivers and how they can develop solutions that move their organizations forward together. Industry conferences may be a common gathering for many, but provide introverts and others the flexibility to break down engagements into one-on-one or small group coffees or private meetings rather than expect everyone to be working the cocktail room gathering stacks of business cards.
UBU: It's actually quite simple. Focus on the objectives, not the process. Introverts and extroverts, and practically every subgroup of a team or organization, have their own talents. Encourage staff to discover, lean on, and apply their personal talents to the tasks at hand. Applaud their creativity and approach. If forced into a box or norm, many will falter and few will feel engaged and respected. Celebrate this diversity!
Team Bonding Exercises: Most introverts hide. The prevailing extroverted culture is too overwhelming to feel comfortable to be different, so they wear masks all day and pretend to be like the others. This is exactly the opposite of what the company needs. This "hidden half" is not engaged, happy, or feeling valued. In fact, their self-esteem is often crushed because they feel they can't be themselves all day. Meanwhile, the company loses all its insights and drifts closer to groupthink. Create opportunities for open dialog. If you are a team leader or HR/Learning representative, create team learning opportunities. Everyone can take a personality test like Myers-Briggs or a Strength and Talent test like Clifton's StrengthFinders. It's a great topic for team building. The leader must be engaged and encourage vulnerability by leading the charge. If the team manager is not comfortable leading the discussion, certainly invite HR/Learning to help facilitate. The results can be amazing team bonding. People understand more about themselves and each other. When people no longer feel they must hide but are actually encouraged to participate for the value they contribute, the team dynamics change, and productivity soars.
The corporate world is just too competitive not to get everything you can out of every employee. Review your meeting structure, team dynamics, and leadership approaches. Encourage your introverted leaders to be role models and mentors to help change the culture to be truly all-inclusive. Eliminate the "hidden half" and create the "total team!"
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The Questions Introverts Ponder and The Answers Extroverts Need to Hear
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The Questions Introverts Ponder
The Answers Extroverts Need to Hear
Introversion often feels so alone and many of us assume no one else could feel this way. Contained in this book are many of the questions that have been asked, often by introverts trying to understand this personality trait that can at times govern our lives.
Hi Steve! I just wanted to say I'm incredibly thankful that I came across your blog. I currently have your [Q&A] booklet up on my work computer and every single line resonates with me. I've struggled my entire life with introversion, but your guide is helping me realize that I need to embrace it instead of feeling embarrassed! Anyways, your content is awesome and I'm planning on sharing some info with my team. -GK 2/8/2022
I also hear from many introverts struggling to share their introversion with family, friends, and co-workers, either out of fear or just not having the words. I hope this booklet may serve to educate others to better understand the many strengths and talents we have to share.
I hope you will find this booklet an informative read and reference book with a splash of light-heartedness and inspiration as well. I invite you to start with the questions you are most curious about and share from there.
Guest Blogger Daniel Findlay shares incredible socializing tips for introverts.
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