An exploration of how managers can better supervise introverted employees — and how introverts themselves can better enjoy their work lives.
by Trina Isakson
The first time I took the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), the results gave me some comfort and understanding. I had been fairly extroverted in my youth, but some long-term experiences traveling and living alone helped me to realize the enjoyment I find when I have time to myself.
For those of you familiar with the MBTI, you’ll understand that I’m an “I” on the E-I spectrum. This means that I’m an introvert. It doesn’t mean that I’m shy, but it means that I get my energy from focusing on my “inner world.” I often get asked, to my surprise (and annoyance), “Are you okay?” Apparently, being deep in internal thought makes me look upset. What? Am I supposed to walk around with a goofy grin?
The results of an MBTI, like any other “personality” test, can be used in a variety of ways. It’s easy to use your “type” to offer excuses for your behavior (“It’s okay that I always turn in work last-minute; I’m a ‘P’’”). Instead, I try use my “type” to understand the habits that I default to and the impacts that my behaviors have on those around me.
But enough about me. Here’s a breakdown of some general E vs. I characteristics:
Characteristics of E’s and I’s
Impact on the Workplace
An estimated 75 percent of the general population is extroverted (Tieger & Barron-Tieger, 1995), and reward systems and job recognition are generally set up to value extroverts. Extroverts get rewarded because their work is apparent. They talk openly and often about what they’re working on and how busy they are. You see them and they just look like they’re getting things done. Lots of meetings, people to see, places to rush off to. They’re good at marketing themselves. And, somehow, I swear they walk louder.
With extroverts, often “what you see is what you get.” They thrive on the world around them, so the world around them knows what’s going on with them.
But what about introverts?
- like working in quiet spaces
- enjoy working independently
- are reluctant to delegate, but when they do, they provide little information
- work well without supervision
- think and reflect before taking action
- sometimes share ideas only when prompted
- listen well
- appear calm under pressure
- have good depth of knowledge
Unfortunately, these introvert characteristics can come off in a negative light. Introverts can appear to not be “team players.” They may seem aloof, slow, serious, secretive or lacking ideas. They seem not busy, not productive or not outwardly stressed enough given the pressured circumstances.
So, how can the best be drawn out of introverts?
Supervisors of introverts:
- Ask their opinion. If you don’t, you may be missing out on a whole slew of great ideas.
- Be prepared. Give them information (e.g., a meeting agenda) beforehand so they have time to process their thoughts internally before having to share.
- Use email. If asking for important input, give your staff time to consider their thoughts rather than putting them uncomfortably on the spot.
- Delegate properly. Give them the authority to make decisions on their own without interrupting and micromanaging.
- Be flexible with recognition. Don’t assume that everyone’s idea of fun and reward is a big party.
- Find out where credit is due. Introverts don’t often sing their own praises, so be sure you are thanking the right people when things go well.
- Share your route of thought. When explaining your opinion or providing instructions, don’t assume that everyone else has gone through the same thought process, as obvious as it may seem to you.
- Prepare. Request or research information before meetings so that you can prepare your thoughts ahead of time.
- Share you successes. Make small daily goals to share a project you are working on, a great meeting you had or a positive outcome that you have reached. It doesn’t have to be about bragging. Share your passion instead of your ego.
- Create space. Whether working on an important project or debriefing from an intense meeting, find a quiet place.
- Share your ideas. Again, make small daily goals to speak up once in a group setting. And don’t fret afterward about whether or not people thought your idea was silly. They’ve probably moved on.
- Seek out other introverts. If you have an event or activity to go to, buddy up with an introvert. Use it as an opportunity to go out of your comfort zone and mingle, knowing you can rejoin your buddy if you need to.
Neither introverts nor extroverts are “better”; they are just different. In order to demonstrate personal and professional leadership, understanding yourself and others is important. Take the time to learn about your coworkers and how they operate.
Additional Implications for the Nonprofit Sector
- Think not only about your staff, but also about your clients. Are programs and services developed and marketed in ways accessible to both introverts and extroverts?
- Think even further about your donors. Are solicitations and fundraising activities developed and marketed in ways appealing to both introverts and extroverts?
- The Introvert Advantage, abook by Marti Olsen Laney. Highly recommended.
- Self-Promotion for Introverts, a blog on Psychology Today by Nancy Ancowitz
- MBTI Type at Work from The Myers & Briggs Foundation
- Caring for Your Introvert from The Atlantic
- Finding Your “Quiet Strength” as an Introvert at Women for Hire
- Fundraising from Introverts at Donor Power Blog