If you're an extrovert managing an introvert you could be losing out on his or her full contribution because of confusion or misunderstanding about their personality.
Or, if you're an introvert struggling in an organizational milieu that favours extroverts, you could also be losing the chance to make the contribution you intend.
Lisa Petrilli is an introvert, author of an e-book called The Introvert's Guide to Success in Business and Leadership , and someone who has learned how to turn her introversion into an asset as a senior executive at a major health care company and in the fast-paced world of consulting.
She believes there are key facts extroverts need to know about introverts in business, which she shared online and in an interview:
Introverts get their drive from within
Introverts get their energy from solitude rather than from a crowd. This means introverts often need to recharge at midday or after meetings, because they are depleted. During an all-day team meeting, introverts won't want to have lunch with everyone to replay what happened and stay connected. "It's not that we're not loyal team members or that we think that we're better than you. It's so we can recharge and when we come back to the world of meetings we can bring our best self," she said in an interview.
Introverts think on their own
Introverts don't think by batting around ideas. They go inside, pondering. If you ask them a question, they may go quiet, and ruminate for an uncomfortably long period of time. Give them that breathing room – and don't take the silence as a judgment on your idea. Better yet, don't put them on the spot. Talk to them before team meetings, for example, one-on-one, and share your idea so they have time to think it through before being asked their opinion in front of others. "Introverts are very much at home in the world of ideas. We are adept at assimilating ideas," she said. Just give them the chance.
When introverts share, listen up
When introverts share their ideas, it's important to listen: After all that thought, they usually have a lot invested in what they say. "Understand that it's not something off the cuff. It's well thought through," she said.
Introverts don't like to be put on the spot
Don't begin a team meeting by asking an introvert to give his or her thoughts on the matter you just threw out for discussion. That puts them on the spot: You are asking for an immediate answer, and they are quiet deliberators. Meet one-on-one beforehand, indicate what the concern is and that you would like them to think it through before the meeting. This not only helps them but it also helps you, since their answer will be far better than when elicited immediately.
One-on-one meetings work best for introverts
If you want to tap into an introvert's best thoughts, meet one-on-one. And try to meet regularly in that fashion, because that is more their comfort zone than being in a big meeting. Help them to meet with others similarly. Ms. Petrilli notes that introverts avoid networking, and you can help them to succeed in their careers by arranging one-on-one meetings with senior leaders to help them gain visibility.
Introverts like leeway on written submissions
Introverts usually find it comfortable to express their thoughts in writing. So give them that opportunity wherever possible.
Ms. Petrilli stresses that both introverts and extroverts should not see introverts as inferior – just different. "Introverts can perceive the fact they are less comfortable with other people as something wrong. But it's not – it's just our batteries drain in those situations and we need time to recharge," she said.
Not all the responsibility of helping an introvert do their best work falls on the shoulders of extroverted managers. In another blog posting , she urges introverts to make the following pledges:
I will schedule my time to recharge, particularly on days with large meetings or spent with people who drain my energy. (Before conferences, she said, introverts should schedule meetings one-on-one to make better use of their time, rather than try to take part in mass networking.)
I will be open with my colleagues and bosses about my introversion, and let them know that I need to close my door periodically or take lunch alone to recharge.
I will ask for one-on-one meetings with my boss and relevant colleagues before important and large meetings so I am aware of issues that might come up.
I will ask for what I want, even if that means going outside my comfort zone. (When in the corporate world, Ms. Petrilli said, she always asked for the next position she wanted, saying bosses appreciated knowing where she wanted to go. "Make sure people know what you are contributing and what you want and they will help you.")
Once this year I will get out of my comfort zone in a really big way. (This month, Ms. Petrilli will take part in a dancing competition involving nine types of dances with partners and a solo – in front of a large audience. "It will be draining and there will be nowhere else to go comfortably," she said. And that's good – occasionally.)
Extroverts, meet your introverts and understand them. Introverts, meet yourself, and face the challenges of the world.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter