Striking a Balance: Tips for Inspiring Introverts in the Office

By Breanna Banford, Social Marketing Specialist, Xerox Enterprise Business Group

A colleague recently shared a TEDTalk video from Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Her TEDTalk followed that same theme. I was immediately intrigued because I always felt that introverts (I am one myself) are often forced into a world of extroversion early on in life. We’re encouraged to be social butterflies when we would rather to go back to our cocoon. After watching the video, I thought about how this concept fits in the working world. How can we find that balance between extroversion and introversion in the office environment, to empower both groups of people to work in the ways they feel most comfortable? Secondly, how can we maximize our talents as individuals to benefit the organization as a whole?

The Power of Introverts

Susan stated in her TEDTalk that a third to half of the population are introverts. She also quickly emphasized that introversion does not equate to shyness; a common misconception. Rather, introversion is more about how you respond to stimulation – introverts feel the most engaged and creative when they’re in quieter, low-key environments. And yet, she says  the world is designed for extroversion. Creativity and productivity are assumed to come from group brainstorms and open workspaces. As a self-proclaimed introvert, I am not able to do my best work in those environments. I do my best work when I can focus in my own comfortable space. When I went from working in a cubicle to an office, I felt instantly more productive knowing I could put a barrier between myself and common office distractions, specifically when I knew I needed to focus.

With this new understanding, how can team leaders and managers strike a balance to provide introvert colleagues with a work environment in which they can thrive? Here are a few steps to consider when forming a collaborative team:

  • Hiring Tips: During the interview process, incorporate behavioral questions to better understand how the candidates work best based on the role and responsibilities. What resources do they tap into for team collaboration? When and how are they at their most creative? That will help you better integrate this new member to your team, giving them access to resources that will empower them.
  • Office Setup Tips: The open office setup (think newsroom, desk or cubicle farm) isn’t an automatic collaboration hub. Some people don’t work well in those environments because it’s difficult to block out distractions. After better understanding your employees (see bullet 1), know that some may work better with a place to relish in quiet time. Offer a flex schedule that allows them to work from home or set aside small conference rooms for employees to schedule time to concentrate in a quiet, closed off space.
  • Brainstorming Tips: Instant idea generation is not an inherent quality among introverts so brainstorming sessions can feel stifling when put on the spot to be creative. Share guidelines or an agenda for your next brainstorming project a week before the team meets. Introvert employees can have time to process the information on their own and come to the meeting with the creative ideas that they feel most comfortable sharing with the group.

Overall, it’s important to recognize the differences among your employees to play up their strengths. The more you know about them and how they work well, it’s more likely they will feel inspired and able to contribute beyond your expectations.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts – does this resonate with you? Would it be a culture change for better or worse in your office?

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