Managing Introverted and Shy Employees at the Workplace

Leaders sometimes have the wrong idea about managing introverted employees. Here’s what you should know about dealing with introverts in the workplace.

Managing Introverted and Shy Employees at the Workplace
Managing Introverted and Shy Employees at the Workplace

The mainstream media has tricked us into believing that certain personality categories or traits are better than others. One such popular, but misleading, notion is that extroverted people are intrinsically better than those who are introverted. Owing to this, there are certain misconceptions about quiet or shy people, including at the workplace. In this article, we will give you some tips to manage introverted employees as a leader, and also bust some myths about introverts along the way!

How Are Extroverted and Introverted Employees Different?

Extroversion is an individual quality or personality trait that involves a preference for socialising, meeting and talking to many people, and also having a large social network. Introversion is another quality or personality trait characterised by a preference for staying low-profile, keeping things to oneself, choosing indoor activities over outdoor ones, and having a relatively smaller social circle.

If an employee is participating in social events, talking to everyone, and putting themselves out there, they are considered better than those who like to keep a low profile and who just do their work without being “social”. On social media, too, a lot of narratives revolve around why one must choose extroverted employees over introverted ones. This narrative does not create a safe, inclusive space for people coming from different backgrounds, ideologies, and preferences.

How Leaders Can Manage Introverted Colleagues

As a leader, your job is to accommodate every team member equally, accept their uniqueness, and get them to work together for the common goal. This does not necessarily mean that everyone should be getting along even if they have their differences. But, it means that at the end of the day they’re able to respect the differences and work towards a common goal.

Here are a few things that we can do to help your workspace become better equipped to support introverted employees.

Ask for their preferred choice instead of imposing your own choices

While planning tasks, leaders often take into consideration the working styles and preferences of the majority population. For instance, if you plan to move your team to a work area that is crowded, noisy, or otherwise highly stimulating, some people might be just fine with that. However, to an introvert that can be debilitating and it may affect their productivity or mood. As their manager, it is important to consider their point of view and make accommodations if you can.

Also read: How to Get Employees to Participate in Wellbeing Initiatives

Assign them work buddies

Another tip to manage introverted employees is to consider assigning them a work buddy. Employees who don’t feel at their best working in large groups may be more comfortable with one buddy who offers the right balance of support and space. The buddy system will also allow both parties to understand each other’s perspectives and bond together.

Create more inclusive spaces for introverts
Create more inclusive spaces for introverts

Create more inclusive spaces for introverts

Inclusive spaces make everyone feel safe and valued and enable them to openly voice their thoughts. For example, if you know that an employee likes to be left alone when she’s preparing a deck for a meeting, ensure that her ‘alone time’ is respected. On the other hand if another colleague has a habit of doing a mock presentation in front of his peers so that he feels more confident, then he can be encouraged to do that. Everyone’s choices are different and there is no right or wrong.

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Don’t put introverted employees on the spot

You might also notice that some of your teammates are less talkative or participative than others. As a well-meaning manager you might want to call on them to speak in a crowd - but that’s a bad idea. Being put on the spot can be especially tough for introverts considering they already feel uncomrtable with groups. A good way to include their opinion and feedback is by asking everyone to write down feedback on chits and pass it along or by taking one-on-one feedback from them.

Offer them a heads-up

Your introverted colleagues might get overwhelmed or even scared with impromptu plans/ task assignments. Whenever possible, give them an advance notice or a heads-up so that they can prepare themselves better.

Develop a personal rapport
Develop a personal rapport

Develop a personal rapport

Focus on building a personal rapport with introverted employees. One on one conversations, feedback and brainstorming sessions are all great but try to also focus on asking them about their personal goals, dreams and future plans. This could create a healthy bond and they would also feel more personally involved.

Check out How to Be a Good Mentor at Work

Celebrate them silently

Many introverts don’t want the spotlight thrust on them, even when it comes to celebrating their achievements. This is because their idea of celebration can be different from that of others. So, instead of a grand gesture, focus on small, meaningful and personalised ways of celebrating them. It could include sending them a meaningful text, ordering their favorite food, sending them a personalised card, etc.

Understand that introverts don’t need to change

Pop culture and mainstream notions might have had us believing that introverts are not friendly or that they can be moody and unreliable. Nothing is further from the truth: introverts are merely people who have a lower need for social interaction, and who do perfectly well on their own. Try to understand that each individual is different and so are the ways in which they experience things and express themselves.

Give them time

You can expect and hope introverted people to be a part of the community and as a manager, you can also try all you want. But it takes time to build comfort and safety. Give it some time. Try to take things their way and be gentle with them. It can be challenging for introverts to come out of their comfort zone and put themselves out there, so kindness is the key.

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