It seems that every action-packed drama nowadays features a fearless extrovert who jumps into perilous situations without a thought for tomorrow. They make a lot of noise and get a lot of glory, but let’s face it: they wouldn’t last ten minutes without an introvert. There would be no Rocket without Groot, and there would be no Arrow without Felicity. And where would Gotham be without the introverted leadership of Batman?
Whether it’s behind-the-scenes support or front-and-center leadership, introverts play as vital a role in the workplace as they do on the big screen. But just exactly how big is this role? Well, the short answer is not big enough.
It’s Time to Liberate the Introverts
An introverted disposition can bring with it inherent qualities and traits that present value to any field of work. And with a sizable portion of the population identifying as introverts, there’s plenty of introverted brainpower to go around.
As writer Susan Cain explains in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, our society has an inherent “bias against introversion.” From education to politics, most of our major institutions have been designed for extroverts to succeed. Speaking loud and speaking much have been placed as alternating rungs on the ladder of modern corporate success, and if that’s not your approach, you better find a way to fake it.
In her interview with Scientific American, Cain puts it this way: “Introverts are to extroverts what American women were to men in the 1950s—second-class citizens with gigantic amounts of untapped talent.” Why? Because “introverts learn from an early age to act like pretend-extroverts,” and it’s tougher to succeed when you’re acting rather than just being what you truly are.
Why You Need Introverts at Work
So, what happens when historically extroverted environments (like the American corporate workplace) do make space for introverts to be what they truly are? For starters, a lot of good ideas. From Eleanor Roosevelt to Albert Einstein, introverts in high places have been solving some of the world’s greatest problems for centuries.
Here are three reasons why you should make space for introverts to succeed at your company.
- Introverts are more likely to make informed decisions. Because they often spend more time listening than talking, introverts collect a lot of ideas and information before they make a decision—especially if it’s a big one. This can lead to better decisions that account for important nuances from the start. Additionally, according to researcher Adam Grant at the Wharton School, introverts “tend to be less threatened by others’ ideas.” So when it comes to making the final call, introverts are more likely to support the idea that’s the best rather than the idea that’s their own.
- Introverts make excellent leaders in fast-paced industries. Thanks to the aforementioned thinking power and listening skills, introverts can bring a levelheadedness to fast-paced industries where that may otherwise be lacking. Rather than looking for quick fixes, introverts strive for the right fix. “Give them a difficult problem to solve, and they’ll work harder and longer than extroverts,” says Cain. This kind of discerning thinking power will benefit any institution, and it can even temper the perspective of extroverted workplaces that might otherwise fall into the psychological perils of groupthink.
- Introverts make teams more productive. Would Apple be the brand it is today without the vision of Steve Jobs backed by the quiet, creative genius of Steve Wozniak? Introverts bringing out the best in extroverts is a priceless balance that appears throughout history and is even backed by science. According to a study published in Academy of Management, high-performing, extroverted teams are more likely to increase their productivity if they’re under the direction of an introverted leader.
Keep these three strengths in mind the next time you’re thinking of how best to utilize an introvert on your team—introverts are usually more capable of affecting progress in the workplace than they give themselves credit for.
“Soft-spoken leaders may get the most out of proactive employees—so save the outgoing, talkative managers for teams that function best when they’re told what to do.” —Adam Grant, Francesca Gino, and David A. Hofmann, Harvard Business Review
How to Support Introverts at Work
As we discussed before, extroverts and introverts can complement each other in extraordinary ways, but for an unassuming introvert working in a primarily extroverted work space, this truth may seem to go unnoticed. How can we make it clear that both extroverted and introverted types of thinking and working are welcome at work?
If you need a few ideas on how to support introverts at work, consider applying the following techniques.
- Give introverts time to prepare. Introverts thrive when they understand the complete context of a situation or problem, but even something as simple as a meeting agenda can help them feel more prepared to think through a topic and offer their own perspectives to the group. Sending out an agenda anywhere from a day to a half hour beforehand will go a long way in facilitating introvert contributions. For meetings that involve brainstorming sessions or other creative discussions, structure the meeting in a way that allows ideas to be contributed privately as well as publicly. You can do this by providing a shared document for employees to contribute to on an individual basis, or by balancing the brainstorm with time to think silently.
- Let introverts have space to think. If your typical work environment is fast-paced and noisy, carve out physical spaces where introverts can work without all the external stimuli that clutter their minds. Don’t take their need to work in quiet as antisocial or avoiding the team. Allowing work-from-home days, providing comfortable furniture in your office, and deliberately designing your space—adding quiet nooks for introverts to work or keeping loud areas like breakrooms away from desks—will help introverts on your team to thrive.
- Redefine your idea of what’s necessary. Before you dismiss an introvert for a position or assignment, think beyond what is traditionally accepted or sought after at your company. Are there untapped creative opportunities this person might bring to light? How could the particular problem you face stand to benefit from an introvert’s unique perspective? Giving introverts the space and opportunity to put their own stamp on their approach to work and management can bring you the creative innovation your industry and workforce craves. Furthermore, having this space and opportunity will help introverts feel happier and valued in the workplace, leading them to feel more productive and less burned out.
Imagine the creative output our companies could generate if introverts were provided with the same organizational support and voice as extroverts. Given the extroverted bias of corporate America, it will take some effort to establish the aforementioned support systems, but the reward will certainly be worth it.
“In our culture, snails are not considered valiant animals—we are constantly exhorting people to ‘come out of their shells’—but there’s a lot to be said for taking your home with you wherever you go.” —Susan Cain, Scientific American
A Brighter Future for Introverts
Despite the wonderful traits that introversion brings to the table, Harvard Business Review reports that a startling 65% of senior executives view introversion as a barrier to corporate leadership. Outdated perceptions of what is “necessary” are only holding us back. The business benefits of a diverse leadership have been proven time and time again. A more connected world brings a more diverse marketplace, making the wide knowledge base of a diverse leadership essential to not only the success of business but the success of society as well.
As the world becomes increasingly cognizant of the lack of diversity in leadership positions in areas like gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation, and cultural/religious background, we need to bring disposition diversity to the table as well. To move our organizations forward to the innovation they desperately require to compete, we will need the creative firepower that comes from both extroverts and introverts working together throughout every level of the organization.
It’s time for leaders everywhere to recognize talent in all shapes and sizes so our leadership can reflect the diversity of our humanity. Introverts have too long been an underutilized resource of the American corporate environment—it’s time to let them prove just exactly how much they’re worth.
Clearlink is constantly striving for a more diverse workplace where everyone feels comfortable to contribute—even introverts! In addition to booths, couches, quiet nooks, and more, Clearlink offers unique career paths that allow individual contributors to be compensated at the same level as managers. If you’re interested in joining the Clearlink team, check out our current job openings.