When introverts roamed the earth
Once upon a time, much as the dinosaurs did, introverts roamed freely about the earth and were held in high regard. They were strong, stoic and steady. They were serious, disciplined and honorable people who only spoke to add value. In fact, these were not necessarily the traits of just introverts, but rather, the traits of the personality to be aspired to, the dominant personality of the time. But in the early 20th century, the extroverts emerged. Spawning in murky ponds, they quickly grew legs, bred and spread like wild-fire, challenging the introverts (who were not inclined to fight anyway), for domination over the environment. Unlike the dinosaurs however, the introverts still roam amongst us, perhaps however, not so freely and dominating in their own environment. Ssshhh, if you stop talking for just a moment and look around, you may just see one sitting quietly in a dark and dusty corner. Or if you look closely at a colleague, you may just see their confidence, although aesthetically pleasing, is nonetheless just a fragile façade.
Right now I am reading a book called ‘Quiet – The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’ by Susan Cain. It’s a fascinating read that is really challenging my understandings and subsequently my beliefs about best practice management in the work place.
I wish I were just like Larry
Come on, we all know we are secretly impressed with Larry the Loudmouth who can storm through the door, dislocate the wrist of an absolute stranger and bury them in a barrage of superfluous conversation (not to mention spittle). How about that guy or gal who has a built-in corporate vocabulary translator? The simplest sentence is translated into an unintelligible array of corporate jargon, laced with an intoxicating dose of acronyms, and is no more informative than a TV soap, but wow, it sure sounds impressive. I’ve always wished I could think on my feet like that.
But Cain suggests, for some odd reason, that we shouldn’t assume that garish behavior is necessarily the sign of genius. In fact Cain suggests that some of our most impressive minds are carefully guarded and hidden away inside those persons wilting away in the dark corner of the office. How can that be, they say nothing. I ask them to a meeting and they attend reluctantly but offer no contribution to the process. Sitting there with a frown on their face, staring at their shoes, their arms so tightly crossed their leather elbow pads are bursting at the seams. They can’t possibly be engaged, what can they offer. Ok, so I am being very tongue in cheek.
In essence, with the support of significant research and data, Cain makes a compelling case for rethinking how we judge the potential of employees based on whether their personality is introverted or extroverted. Come on, be honest, our first inclination, given our years of conditioning, is to associate potential for success with extrovert behaviors.
I confess, though I do so reluctantly
I am guilty, but at least I am also honest. I am bearing my soul here. If someone is terribly quiet and reluctant to socialize with the team, or to meet with and present to clients, to join the speakers club, to make confident contributions in meetings and workshops, then I am inclined to wonder about their suitability, their potential to grow into that certain something, that loud, confident, jargon filled wrist breaker that will lead our company ahead of the field.
Were they really introverts! well I never
Famous introverts with amazing minds and who made incredible contributions to humanity through their genius, their intellect, their innovation, their ability to entertain, include (this is an eclectic mix I admit, designed for universal appeal):
Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Christina Aguilera, Michael Jordan, Charles Darwin, David Letterman (can’t believe it), Bill Gates, JK Rowling, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Audrey Hepburn and Warren Buffet. Wild list I know, but I think it makes the point (can’t believe I got Christina Aguilera and Charles Darwin in the same serious sentence). Check out the Huffington Post article on Outrageously Successful Introverts.
Where is he heading with all this, I am too shy to ask
Where I am going with this discussion my friend, I am suggesting that perhaps we have to really rethink how we manage our workforce, not just in relation to the routine daily tasks, but how we approach the more strategic tasks, the matters of growth and development, of change, of innovation and so on.
Working in groups. Is group working not working?
With every wall plastered in butchers paper, and any thing that doesn’t move for more than 5 minutes sticky noted to death, surely our brains are storming and we are set for success. Not so apparently. Imagine the concept that a group dynamic could be counter-active to progress, could stifle innovation, and could be disengaging. How could that be? Well Cain suggests that this is often the case and that there is plenty of researched evidence to prove it. Cain talks about the personalities in the room when a group comes together. There are always the dominators, there are those who become complacent and are happy just to follow like a lemming over the cliff, and there are those who are terrified of social suicide so they utter not a word. In fact, brilliance could be lurking within any of these personalities. As a manager we need to create an environment where that brilliance is free to materialize. Perhaps it just isn’t in a group environment.
On groups, Cain says that there is proof that people in fact “cannot” multi task which is excellent news for me. I will have my wife and daughters read that since I am immediately categorised based upon my gender. But the point is, in a group brainstorming session for example, it’s not possible for people to think effectively about their ideas or to generate innovative options, whilst assessing other group member’s discussion and ideas. In fact, the suggestion is, that in all likelihood the team becomes less productive. The answer just may be brainstorming in solo in order to prepare for and create the perfect brain storm. Many of the most brilliant minds work best in solo circumstances.
Tips for managing our quieter colleagues
- Go easy on the spontaneity. I’d suggest introverts are not fans of a surprise birthday party any more than a surprise brainstorming session. Give them advanced notice/ time to prepare.
- If you must have routine meetings, then it’s important to have a structure including an agenda and to circulate the agenda clearly allowing people to arrive prepared.
- Think about the workspace. Introverts don’t need a gallery, in fact they just don’t need distractions. In the amazing office where I work, we are very open plan as is the new generation of offices, but we have a large number of meeting rooms of varying sizes where people can work quietly. Some people in my team even work from home during a time where absolute quiet is essential for focusing on solutions, finessing reports etc and that is where they are most productive.
- If optimizing networking/sharing of ideas is of paramount importance, then provide common spaces in the work place that encourage chance meetings. A coffee machine, a TV, a table with magazines, all encourage everyone out of the woodwork. It’s not that introverts don’t like or want to be around people. That’s not the case at all. They need quiet in this noisy world in order to reach their full potential and to become fully engaged in their roles.
- As is always the case with employee engagement, keep the lines of communication open and regular. However, choose your communication style, questions by email with time for considered responses is good practice.
- Allow introverts to lead. Regardless of what you may think, their ability to take a carefully considered approach and to openly welcome input from their team makes them very engaging and capable of developing and maintaining strong and respectful relationships.
If you like what you’ve read here today, I would love to read your comments and would really appreciate you sharing this article through your many social networking circles.
Other reading I recommend
Susan Cains Book ‘Quiet – The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’
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