Speaking up: How to manage introverts in your team
I’m what is called a functioning introvert. Don’t worry, I’m not terrified of people or likely to flee from public spaces. It’s just that, like most introverts, I gain energy from time on my own. That’s where I often generate my smartest ideas and do my best work.
Talking to comms people (often at CharityComms events) I’m struck by how many of us there are in the sector. We’ve all got strategies for making introversion work (or we wouldn’t be at the event to start with). But sometimes others find it tricky to get the best from us.
So, if you’ve got introverts in your team (and let’s face it – you have) here are some practical ways to empower them in their day-to-day roles.
Ask what works
Asking people how they want to be managed is Management 101. But it’s easy to forget when you’re leading a busy team.
“A lot of [it] is about good management,” explains Clare Lucas, head of policy and campaigns at Muscular Dystrophy UK.
Clare says: “Take time getting to get to know the person and what works well for them. Be available and make sure to check in with them on an ad-hoc basis.”
For introverts, this might mean giving them the option of providing ideas or feedback by email or Slack, not just in a meeting. Or giving them proposals early so they can take the time to think about what’s required.
“Email suits introverts better than extroverts, because it does not require direct or instant dialogue,” says Martin Edwards, chief executive at Julia’s House Children’s Hospice.
“Introverts’ writing skills are usually more considered and they have time to process their reply. Introverts also do their best work either thinking alone, in 1:1s, or in very small groups.”
Quick tip: Offer introvert-friendly ways to contribute: by email, in 1:1s or through Slack.
It’s not about confidence
Quiet by Susan Cain is required reading for introverts and the people that manage them.
One of her best insights is that, from school onwards, failing to speak out is seen as a problem with confidence – not a preference for writing and thinking rather than speaking.
With school long gone, it’s a mistake that managers should be careful not to make.
“Telling me I need to work on my confidence immediately makes my confidence hit rock bottom!,” says Clare.
Remember, introverts wouldn’t be working in comms if they weren’t confident about what they do. They might need support to do new things, like deliver a presentation, but it’s probably their skillset that’s holding them back, not confidence.
Quick tip: Remember to thank introverts for their work in meetings, so you’re not just valuing the people who speak up.
Harness their superpowers
All introverts have superpowers that come from preferring thinking to speaking. These include the powers of deep reflection, empathy and considering their next move rather than acting instinctively. These can all be a bonus for your team.
“Introverts are less likely to take uninformed risks than extroverts,” says Martin.
“This doesn’t mean that they’re risk-averse or lack boldness. It does mean that when they present their manager with a bold recommendation, they are more likely to have carefully assessed it, so it is less likely to be a chancy move. Introverts are a safer pair of hands when you want someone to weigh up your bold idea.”
Meanwhile, if you have an introverted team member working in a traditionally extrovert job role, first give them a pay rise (they deserve it!) and doubly value their contributions.
“Introverts in classically extroverted professions (e.g. campaigning and fundraising) are valuable as they can put forward different viewpoints or approaches that others may not have thought of,” says Clare.
Quick tip: Introverts can be amazing at spotting things others have missed – just give them a while to read and absorb what they’re looking at.
Provide a quiet space
Don’t worry: introverts don’t need separate isolation rooms (though if you want to build one, we’d be grateful). But, just as buzzy workspaces where ideas can be verbalised is oxygen for extroverts, introverts value a quiet area.
“Introverts hate open plan offices,” says Martin.
“Try to create spaces or bolt-holes for them where they can go and work quietly. They may want to eat their lunch alone or go out, as they find time alone important for re-charging their batteries.
“Think of them as being like an electric car instead of the extrovert’s noisy gas-guzzler: less obviously exciting, but quieter, more considerate to their surroundings – and needing more down-time to recharge after exposure to people.”
Quick tip: Having a ‘quiet area’ (which can simply be an un-used meeting room) is great for proof-reading, thinking and planning.
Matchmake with extroverts
I love working with extroverts. I find they really value the way I can put things into words and clarify their big ideas. Meanwhile, I appreciate their energy and eagerness to pick up the phone and engage. There’s lots I can learn from them.
So it can be a smart move to ‘matchmake’ introverts with extroverts on projects so they can learn from each other.
Quick tip: Bring together introverts and extroverts for short periods to brain-storm –then let them choose their own way to execute the project.
The next time you come across an introvert in an interview, remember the difference they can make to your team. Their range of talents might not all be visibly present on the surface when you first meet them in person, but they are there for you to harness.
“Introverts may come across as quieter but that doesn’t mean they haven’t got oodles of talent and ideas to offer,” confirms Clare.