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We all know when an extrovert walks into the room, don’t we? Wherever they go, extroverts bring a ton of energy along with them. They’re what you might call “big personalities”; outgoing, outspoken and, for some reason, people just seem to gravitate to them. In the workplace, they like to get involved; extroverts are just as happy to share their ideas in an all-company meeting as they are to manage the office slo-pitch team.

And then there’s the introverts. Sure, introverted employees don’t exactly command the attention of a room like their extroverted counterparts, but these thoughtful individuals have a lot to bring to the table. Introverts possess a myriad of qualities and skills that make them excellent employees, colleagues and, if you’re lucky, lifelong friends.

[Wondering which one you are? https://introvertdear.com/introvert-extrovert-test-quiz/]

What you think an introvert is

Shy, quiet, boring. A little antisocial, kind of a loner, the odd one out. Doesn’t share in meetings, never shows up for beers on Friday afternoon, and probably enjoys books, knitting and a properly made cup of tea.

These are just a handful of the assumptions people make about introverts. And, yes, some of us are quiet bookworms, who prefer crocheting to small talk and would choose a warm cup of Earl Grey over a rowdy round of tequila at the local watering hole – but that doesn’t mean that we don’t like people, or that we aren’t engaged or interested in our work and our company!

What an introvert really is

Okay, you know when you’ve spent a little too much time scrolling through posts on Instagram and – whoops – now your phone’s battery is left sitting at just 3%? Yeah, same – we’ve all been there. But there’s a simple solution, right? Just plug your phone in for a bit and let it recharge.

And THAT is the simplest way we can explain introversion.

Contrary to popular belief, loads of introverts don’t actually mind being social – in certain circumstances, and preferably just for a brief time. Thoughtful discussions are interesting to an introvert, whereas awkward small talk is, well, basically a total nightmare.

Introverts generally enjoy connecting one-on-one with people, and engaging in deeper, more meaningful conversations. And then, of course, saying their goodbyes and heading for home sweet home, where they can “recharge their social batteries”.

Strengths of introverts in the workplace

Great listeners

Need a sounding board? Find an introvert. Generally, introverts are incredible listeners. They’re what we call ‘active listeners’, which means they’re really hearing you; focused on learning and understanding the issue and thoughtfully considering ways to resolve it.

Superb problem solvers

Problem solving is basically an introvert’s secret superpower. They think deeply about things, are highly intuitive and notice important details that others may miss. The result? Well thought out decisions based on facts, observations and careful analysis.

Drama-free zone

You’re unlikely to find someone less interested in the latest office gossip than an introvert. Introverts are happy to keep to themselves, focus on their own projects and steer clear of the silly discussions about who-said-what-to-who.

Positive outlook

Partly due to their disdain for chit-chat, introverts aren’t particularly affected by someone else’s negativity. Naturally gravitating towards work that they find interesting and fulfilling, they generally have a positive opinion of the organization they work for and their role within it.

Relationship building

Ironic, right? Infamous for their disinterest in socializing, introverts are surprisingly adept at building strong, lasting relationships. Introverts seek out deeper, one-on-one discussions, and when they engage in a conversation of this type with someone, they are fully present; empathizing and displaying an awareness and understanding that won’t soon be forgotten by either party.

Always observing and learning

Introverts are lifelong learners, educating themselves not just with books, but by seeking out opportunities for personal growth and development, and continually trying to gain a better understanding of the world around them.

Focused and self-directed

If you’ve ever found yourself so immersed in a project that everything else kind of fades away, you’ve had a glimpse into what it’s like when introverts are in the zone. Introverts are masters of working long hours on a project with seriously unshakeable focus. They’re at their best when they’re in a quiet, comfortable environment left to their own devices.

Challenges for an introvert in the workplace

Open concept office spaces

Whoever came up with the open concept office space had to have been an extrovert, because no introvert would’ve ever signed off on this. The noise, constant interruptions and lack of privacy are stressful for many introverts, making it considerably more difficult for them to feel comfortable and productive in the workplace.

A focus on collaboration

It’s not that introverts aren’t team players, quite the opposite, but massive group brainstorm sessions are absolutely not their forte. Introverts are not known for thinking on their feet, they don’t like to be put on the spot and absolutely abhor being pressured to speak before they’ve had a chance to organize their thoughts.

Expectation to be social

If you’ve never declined a lunch invitation from your colleagues so that you could sit alone and eat your ham and cheese sandwich in peace, are you even really an introvert? Introverts aren’t trying to be rude by opting out of group gatherings, it’s just that being around people all day is a lot for them, so when an introvert gets a chance to sneak away and recharge for a few minutes by themselves, you better believe they’re going to take it.

Micromanaging

Introverts are self-directed and, generally, comfortable working on their projects on their own. This means they don’t need someone peering over their shoulder or scheduling constant check-ins. If an introvert isn’t given the space they need to do their best work, they’re less likely to feel fulfilled and, as a result, more likely to start looking for other opportunities.

How to best manage an introvert

Help them identify their strengths

If you’re waiting for your introverted employee to strike up a conversation with you about their career aspirations, you may be waiting a long time. Possibly forever. To learn more about an introvert, you’ll need to make the first move. Schedule a one-to-one discussion and open up a dialogue about what they enjoy, what they don’t enjoy and what they’d like to do more of in their current role.

Give them time to think

Number one rule of managing an introvert: do not put them on the spot. Unlike their more extroverted colleagues, who tend to enjoy bouncing ideas off one another, an introvert needs time to think and process before they contribute an idea of their own.

Let them have their space

No need to micromanage – introverted employees tend to be independent, focused and able to work quite well on their own. Equipped with the proper tools and clear expectations, you’ll likely find that they’re able to manage their projects, meet deadlines and produce quality work without too much assistance. Regular check-ins are fine, of course, but no need to overdo it.

Identify growth opportunities

You won’t find an introvert vying for the spotlight, instead, they’ll be quietly working away behind the scenes, producing some really excellent work that’s, unfortunately, not always recognized. Because of this, introverts are often overlooked for internal promotions. As a manager, try and identify growth opportunities that fit with your employee’s skillset and personality type, and engage in regular conversations with them about how they’d like to advance within the organization.

Post-pandemic introverts

Ever heard of “re-entry fear”? It’s a really interesting concept, actually, which has come about as pandemic restrictions are lifted and the country starts to reopen. The thing is, it’s not a fear of contracting the COVID-19 virus, like you might think – it’s a fear of having to leave our quiet little bubbles and, instead, return to the big, loud, busy world we bid farewell to in March 2020.

It might be hard to believe, especially if you’re an extrovert, but a home-based job is basically an introvert’s dream come true. The quiet time, the ability to work at their own pace in a space that’s comfortable and the sheer joy resulting from not having to make awkward small talk in the kitchen has resulted in many introverts feeling more productive than they ever did in an office environment.

It’s nerve-wracking for some introverts to think about going back to a “normal” office space that never really suited them, especially now that they’ve spent more than a year enjoying the personal and professional benefits of home-based work.

So, what happens now? Only time will tell, as employers figure out a reopening plan that makes sense for both the business and their employees. In the meanwhile, we’ll be soaking up every single second we get to spend working at home, with no one to interrupt our thoughts and disrupt our flow – except maybe the UberEats guy. Sushi’s here!

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