BOSTON–When thinking about successful people in the workplace, most think about opinionated, vocal and outgoing employees–not quiet, introspective ones who hesitate to speak up.
”Introverts are often misread, misunderstood and largely ignored,” said Jennifer Kahnweiler, an Atlanta-based speaker and author specializing in introverts during a session this week at the Society for Human Resource Management’s diversity and inclusion conference.
In the workplace those employees with an introverted personality–those who need time alone in order to recharge– experience a number of challenges including negative impressions from others, a constant rotation of people, and a fast-moving environment with quick decisions.
But there needs to be a cultural shift where introverts are accepted–and, at the very least–addressed, in the workplace.
“We don’t want to change introverts; we want to make the most effective influencers and leaders,” Kahnweiler said.
There are a number of tips to do so, she said. Kahnweiler was joined by Stephanie Roemer, director of diversity at Freddie Mac, a company that has focused on introvert inclusion.
Attendees of the session also pitched in with ideas for creating an introvert-friendly workplace. Here is a sampling of tips.
1. Know who your introverts are.
First, HR representatives and managers should know just who their employees are and what type of personality they have.
That will give them a better foundation for a relationship and a better way to gauge how they contribute, communicate and excel.
2. Cleanse yourself of “introvert bias.”
As HR professionals and employers recruit and interview potential employees, acknowledge that the process might not be introverts’ biggest strength.
“Just because they are nervous or avoid eye contact doesn’t mean they can’t do the job,” she said.
The same tactic goes for current employees. Introverted employees might not contribute a lot to certain conversations or make a lot of small talk, but that doesn’t mean they’re rude or not willing to contribute.
3. Give them what they need.
Generally, introverts like some alone time and time to think before they speak.
So enable them those things in the workplace. Give them quiet time, allow them space and let them have some time to prepare for meetings and presentations, as well as time to brainstorm and reflect afterward.
4. Push them to brag (a little).
Introverts are often reluctant to talk about their accomplishments or sell themselves to executives in any way–which is why it’s the extroverts who usually get ahead and get promoted.
Managers should help push introverts to talk about their accomplishments, little by little. “Push them to talk about one accomplishment,” Kahnweiler said. “It gets them talking and builds their confidence, and it goes from there.”
5. Give them a chance to shine.
“It’s not negative to be an introvert but sometimes it’s hard to be one in a culture that values and rewards extroversion,” Roemer said. “We are missing out on talent and potential leaders by only seeing extroverts. We need to stop and access the qualities we value in employees.”
6. Consider mentoring programs.
Introverts prefer small group or one-on-one meetings.
Assigning them a mentor can give them time with a leader or executive they can open up to and trust.
7. Consider changing up your workspace.
Some people do well in open office spaces.
But others, especially introverts, may thrive with offices and doors they can close.
8. Be cautious about meetings.
Meetings might be the worst time for introverted employees who don’t like speaking up or talking in big groups.
So it may be wise to consider creating a couple ground rules for meetings in your workplace, such as no interrupting, incorporating hand raising, or having a ball or some sort of trinket that means it’s a person’s time to talk. (And, of course, you should also consider if all those meetings are absolutely necessary.)
9. Have small brainstorming sessions.
Instead of big meetings, consider smaller group meetings where brainstorming might be easier for introverts in the workplace.
Have each group pick a representative to talk about the ideas from the session to the larger group.
10. Invite and allow workers to come back later for ideas.
Introverts generally prefer to take time to mull over ideas and conversations.
Allow them to do that and tell them they may approach you–or write to you–later with their thoughts.