Journalist Colette Sexton on how companies can nurture introverts.
Do you retreat to your own space to replenish your energy? Do you find social occasions daunting? Do you prefer having lunch on your own at the end of a busy week? Do you need minimal external stimulation? If you answered yes to any or all of those questions, then chances are, you are an introvert.
It is estimated that approximately 30 per cent of us are introverts, 30 per cent are extroverts and the rest of us are somewhere in the middle (ambiverts).
Introverts are excellent company employees, according to Dr Annette Clancy, Assistant Professor of Management at the School of Art History and Cultural Policy in University College Dublin. She pointed out that many of the world’s leaders and artists were and are introverts, including Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, JK Rowling and Steven Spielberg.
“They make excellent bosses because they take the time to think through decisions before acting upon them. One of their key strengths is their capacity to think through and analyse complex scenarios. In addition, they are detail oriented and excellent listeners. Introverts are unlikely to spend their time in endless meetings and prefer to delegate to trusted employees,”
Clashing in the workplace
In spite of this, the modern workplace does not allow introverts to thrive.
“Contemporary workplaces are organised around outdated principles such as ’two heads are better than one’ and the illusion that groups/teams/brainstorming and noisy group-related working styles are better for productivity. This may suit extroverts but they are toxic for introverts who find this kind of working culture anxiety producing and overwhelming,” Annette said.
Often, extrovert-friendly workplace environments force introverts to come up with their own ways to get through the working day, according to Annette. This includes wearing noise reduction headphones or finding quiet spaces where they can hide from their colleagues. Others work for themselves, start their own businesses or put up with the noise and work after hours to try to get their work done.
“Coping with the extraverted workplace can be overwhelming for introverts adding to stress, anxiety and burnout,” Annette said.
A style that suits everyone
However, companies can nurture introverts if they recognise how they work best, she said.
“The first thing is understanding that the groups are not their natural habitat. Are all of those meetings necessary? Are group tasks the most efficient way of getting things done? Introverts are unlikely to participate visibly in meetings but they will come back to you after the meeting with an insightful comment or solution. You may be wasting their time and yours by calling so many meetings and expecting everyone to participate equally,” Annette said.
It might also help to identify jobs that can be completed by individuals or pairs and jobs that need to be done by a group as a whole. While this might seem like a lot of work to appease introverts, it will end up working in your favour.
“Introverts work most efficiently when they can work on their own. Give an introvert a task they can complete on their own and it will be delivered on time and on budget,” she said.