Three Things To Remember About Introverts In The Workplace

Three Things To Remember About Introverts In The Workplace

Three Things To Remember About Introverts In The Workplace
By Mark Wager

The biggest strength and the biggest weakness of teams are one and the same. It's the complexity of people that make so many workplaces fascinating but it's also the same complexity that creates miscommunication and misunderstandings in the workplace.

Miscommunication tends to happen when people make the mistake that other people see the world the same way that they do. So when they hear comments or see behaviours they judge those behaviours or comments based on what the intent would be if they themselves had said or done them. We create the context in which we judge other people's actions based on our own behaviours but everyone perceives the world in very different ways. The key to effective communication in the workplace is understanding how different people react to situations. This is a very complex topic which takes days for me to cover when I work with teams so in this article I want to cover one aspect of people's personality that is often misunderstood and that is the introvert.

Introverts are not anti-social
In the Encarta Dictionary, an Introvert is described as a reserved person, a shy person who tends not to socialise much. Yet when you look at introverts in more detail you see a complexity that is often hidden. When a person is an introvert it means that they gather their energy internally rather than externally. I myself am an introvert and by way of example, I get my energy internally and I occasionally deliver team building workshops alongside a colleague who is very much an extrovert and as far from an introvert as you can imagine. These team building workshops can be long, starting early and carrying on through to late evening. I recall one time in which both of us had finished with a group of forty people and we were both very tired. My colleague looked at me and said “you know what we should do to pick ourselves up now?” While I considered my response my colleague had proceeded to answer her own question “We need to take everyone out for a drink.” For her, socialising with a lot of people was the perfect antidote to tiredness yet for me it was the last thing I needed. I had just spent 12 hours talking to people, the last thing I wanted to do was to talk to people even more. What I wanted to do was to go to my hotel room, relax, preferably in silence, regroup and then join everyone for a drink later. The best way to think of it is that introverts have a limit to how much energy they have for social behaviour and once that energy is used up, continued social engagement becomes tiring.
Behaviour like this can easily be misinterpreted as anti-social but it’s about how people have different preferences for recharging their batteries. Introverts need space in order to recharge.

Introverts are not always shy
Another misunderstood idea about introverts is that they are shy but introversion is in fact more about comfort level rather than shyness. When an introvert is in an environment where they are very comfortable then they can be very extroverted. In fact in these scenarios people often refuse to believe that they are an introvert. I know in my case I view myself as a very introverted character but when I deliver speeches on leadership or facilitate a workshops I am in a different world, a world that I’m extremely comfortable in and to be honest when people only look at me when I’m in that world they might view me as having a very outgoing personality.

Introverts are in fact paying attention
I was approached recently by a Manager who complained that a team member wasn’t paying attention during meetings. Now I don’t know whether this is true or not but introverts are often perceived as not paying attention when in fact they are. This is especially common when extroverts are chairing the meeting. Introverts process information internally while extroverts process the same data externally so extroverts often talk through their thoughts to other people as a method of processing information. When an extrovert sees silence they interpret that silence as disengagement when in fact it may just be introverts processing information.

I know from personal experience that its common to see introverts attend meetings and have a good point to make but they would wait for people to stop talking in order to raise their point. There will soon be a "gap in traffic" they think to themselves only to see the topic move on and their opportunity and find out that at the end of the meeting they would still get asked if they were paying attention because they didn't say anything.

We are all complex individuals that can’t be encompassed fully in generic phrases such as introverts or extraverts. We are a collection of preferences, beliefs, values and learned experiences that allow us to react to situations in very different ways. The key is understanding that complexity and the starting point is fully appreciating that not everyone sees the world in the same way that you do. People often mistakenly think that everyone views the world in the same way that they do so. When they see certain behaviour, they reach conclusions based on what that behaviour would mean if they behaved in the same way. We are complex human beings and once we understand that, not only can we understand introverts but we can understand ourselves as well.

So in future, if you want all views within the workplace to matter, listen to the silence of your introverts and give them opportunities to present their views which are often overlooked and greatly valuable for your team.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at

Posted: Wednesday 18 January 2017

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