I started a new job last month and had the first meeting with the team I supervise over lunch. My team consists of three amazingly smart and productive women, so I was thrilled with the opportunity to get to know them and discuss our professional futures together. Within 60 seconds of arriving at our table, these women announced definitively that they are all Introverts.
As a career development professional that has studied personality and honors the individual types that make us all unique, I was thrilled that my team put this out there at the start of our professional relationship. They were teaching me how to treat them, and I was delighted.
It's important to understand that I am a clearly-defined extrovert. I am active, outward, social and energized by large groups of people. I don't want to go deep into the details of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator™ - although I am certified to interpret this assessment and use it regularly in my career and executive coaching practice. But, suffice it to say, I embrace the differences in personality and how they play a role in effective communication in life and career.
Since my new team announced their introversion with confidence and poise, I write this piece to encourage you to take stock of who is on your team. This teachable moment is worth sharing and I offer some tips for extroverts that may find themselves in the great company of introverted colleagues. Honor your introverted colleagues for who they are and give them an opportunity to shine, which doesn't require them to conform to your extroverted ways.
The women on my team, although unique in their own ways, share the introverted personality qualities of being reflective, inward, reserved and private. My goal is to honor their work styles so we can be collaborative in the most effective and communicative way. Here are some tips to demystify how Introverts function at work. It can be a tutorial for extroverts whose personalities are on the other end of the spectrum.
The Introverted Process - It may seem that introverted colleagues are quiet and subdued. The biggest myth is that they don't enjoy people, which is rarely the case. Introverts get their energy from within and re-charge their batteries by being alone. While an extrovert is stimulated by external activities, introverts are energized by ideas and inner reflection. Processing information is extremely important to an Introvert and a wise leader will grant them time to do this well. Introverts prefer to focus on one problem or task at a time.
To Brainstorm or Not to Brainstorm - Ideation sessions can be common in the workplace, but this scenario is not where many introverts shine, unless they are given time to prepare in advance. Extroverts often talk first and think later because they lead with verbal communication. An introvert will not warm quickly to a spontaneous brainstorm session when there are expected to come up with ideas on the spot. Remember, the process and the time to fully formulate ideas is key in tapping their creativity. Be sure to give your introverts advance warning of an ideation session so they can come to the table prepared and ready to respond. Empower them with advance warning.
Agenda Palooza - Meetings abound in the workplace, and although I prefer doing vs. meeting, I know this is a necessary function for effective communication, at least some of the time. I have learned that introverts thrive when an agenda is available in advance of the meeting. Like a shopping list at the grocery, it keeps the players focused and on track and the participants come to the meeting prepared.
Close the Door - The mezzanine workplace is becoming very common with open floor plans and communal spaces to encourage collaboration. This can be a nightmare for an introvert who needs quiet and private time to re-charge and re-focus. If an office with a door that closes is not an option in your work environment, consider alternative spaces in the workplace where your introverts can go to get away for a brief respite. These small privacy breaks can empower them to be more productive and efficient when the constant stimulation of an open floor plan can overwhelm.
Put it in Writing - Sometimes, the classic staff meeting is a necessity, so remind your introverts to follow-up and share their ideas in writing afterwards. There should not be an expiration date on great ideas and reasonable post-meeting time to process and self-reflect will allow your introverted colleagues to have their voices heard.
I would be remiss if I did not pay homage to Susan Cain and Jennifer Kahnweiler , the reigning experts writing about introversion today. I encourage you to dig deeper into the nuances of introversion to learn more about your type or the introverted colleagues with whom you work. Jennifer's book Quiet Influence: The Introvert's Guide to Making a Difference, and Susan Cain's book: Quiet: The Power of Introverts are must-reads.
Celebrate Personality Differences - Keep in mind there is no better or worse personality type. These qualities are innate from childbirth, and the key is to celebrate the differences and understand what drives an individual to achieve optimal communication and effectiveness in the workplace. The clarity preference of extroversion or introversion is on a continuum, so while you have a dominant function, you have both in your comprehensive personality makeup.
Knowing the differences between introversion and extroversion will allow you to communicate better and have clarity of expectations with your colleagues and your family. I won't ever assume that my way is the only way with my new team of introverts and knowing how they function best allows me to showcase the talents of these incredible women. As the solo extrovert on this team, it's my responsibility to teach them how to treat me as well!
Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is the Director of Professional Enrichment at the Indiana University Alumni Association and hosts the national CBS Radio Show Career Coach Caroline on Tuesdays at 5pm ET Caroline also contributes to AOL Jobs, CNN Money, and More Magazine online and is working on a 3-pert series for Public Television on career empowerment for women. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.