Are You Harnessing the Power of Introverts?

By David Hassell

It has been said that our world caters to extroverts. That we often fail to notice the quiet through the loud, and subtlety through the brightness. We often choose talking over listening and broadcasting our thoughts over engaging in real conversation.

But have you ever stopped to wonder what we’re missing in all the noise?

The Not-so-Secret Power of Introverts

If you haven’t watched Susan Cain’s popular TED Talk, The Power of Introverts, go watch it now — Cain’s insights are valuable to introverts and extroverts alike.

In her talk, Susan speaks of the experience of navigating an extroverted world as an introvert, feeling as though introversion is considered a negative quality of leadership. “It is our colleagues’ loss” she explains, “and our community’s loss, and — at the risk of sounding grandiose — it is the world’s loss, because when it comes to creativity and leadership, we need introverts doing what they do best”.

In addition to being excellent listeners that can help improve communication at work, introverts are also known to be highly creative and independent in terms of their work attitude. Cain explains that research has found that introverted leaders often deliver better key results  than their extroverted peers, because when introverts are managing the performance of proactive staff members, they are more likely to let those high potential employees run with their ideas.

Creating an organizational culture of respect in your workplace will go a long way towards harnessing the unique powers of both introverts and extroverts to improve employee performance.

In fact, Cain points out that some of the most creative minds of our time were profoundly introverted. Research has found that these individuals are “extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic.” Their ability to be alone without distraction and focus intensely on the task at hand fosters their creativity. As Cain explains so perfectly, “culturally, we’re often so dazzled by charisma that we overlook the quiet part of the creative process.”

But what does this mean in the workplace?

Learn to Value Silence in Your Work Culture

While introverted staff are less likely to speak up in meetings or other public forums, they are keen observers who reflect carefully on their words before speaking. But unfortunately, this careful silence is often trampled on by extroverted colleagues anxious to get a word in, or worse — seen as a sign of weakness and disinterest. So how can management and leadership tap into the potential for remarkable employee performance from these quiet thinkers?

Serial entrepreneur Ilya Pozin has managed his fair share of staff and had this advice to share in a recent Inc article: “Do not interrupt them. Although this holds true in conversation with anyone, it’s especially critical with introverts: Since they take a lot of time to think before speaking, it is insulting to interrupt them once they finally speak up. Cutting off an introvert is a great way to ensure they won’t want to respond to you in the future, so don’t do it.”

Creating a work culture of respect will go a long way towards harnessing the unique powers and unlocking the excellent employee performance potential of both introverts and extroverts.

Make Employee Feedback Comfortable

Managers who know that they have particularly introverted staff on their team might be wise to gently solicit employee feedback from the individual, offering them a comfortable way to introduce their thoughts into the conversation. That being said, introverts often require time to reflect on their responses — so avoid putting them on the spot.

Instead, change your management strategy and make the effort to set up alternative feedback channels that all staff — introverts and extroverts alike — know that they can use at any time to share brilliant ideas or critiques. Feedback tools and channels (like 15Five) allow team members the opportunity to go away from meetings and take time to reflect. Not only is it more comfortable for them to express themselves, if you give staff time to collect their thoughts, you will be getting high-quality employee feedback and well-formed ideas.

Embrace Your Inner Ambivert to Unlock Maximum Employee Performance

Here’s the tricky part: extraversion and introversion aren’t two dichotomous ways of being — they are on a spectrum. And, in the middle of that spectrum, you will find the ambiverts; a person whose personality has a balance of introvert and extrovert features. /ˈambəˌvərt/

“Ambiverts are the people who are not too introverted and not too extroverted and are the most effective salespeople. Because they are the most attuned. They know when to shut up; they know when to speak up. They know when to push; they know when to hold back. I think most of us are ambiverts” says Daniel Pink in this post for

According to new research conducted by Adam Grant at the University of Pennsylvania, these multi-faceted individuals might outpace their introverted and extroverted colleagues in certain areas when it comes to employee performance. The study followed introverted, extroverted and ambiverted salespeople over the course of three months. While the extroverts fared slightly better than their introverted peers in achieving work objectives, the hourly rate of the ambiverts exceeded that of the extroverts by 24%.

The lesson that we can learn from Grant’s research is that balance is the secret weapon to maximizing our personal, and our team’s, productivity. While we live in a world that tends to value extroverted personalities, it is important to remember that our introverted colleagues have desirable qualities that we can all benefit from in order to unlock our full employee performance potential.

Is your office environment introvert-friendly? Share your thoughts with the 15Five community.

Image Credit: Auntie K

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2 Comment(s)

  1. Jennifer Kahnweiler
    May 6, 2013 at 2:32 PM

    David – So honored to be included among these great authors. I am even more impressed at how you wove together the key themes and findings about introverts in the workplace. As we all try to make a difference by challenging the status quo, creating change, inspiring others and provoking new thought, it is clearly in our interest to tap deeply into our introverted side. Thank you!

  2. Michaela
    May 14, 2013 at 3:36 PM

    Thanks for posting. I really identified with the part about colleagues being too eager to interrupt introverts. It definitely does discourage us from communicating our ideas in the future.

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