Last week, I wrote about how an introverted professional can excel as a manager. There are specific skills an introvert can bring to a team that an extrovert typically does not naturally exhibit. Those skills are:
- Introverts are motivated by productivity, rather than ambition.
- Introverts value building meaningful connections.
- Introverts excel at staying focused.
- Introverts solve problems with thoroughness, rather than in haste.
This week, I’d like to share how to best manage or lead an employee who is shy or introverted. This topic is a common one when I coach managers. The question of “why won’t they speak up in meetings” can frustrate a leader who does not understand the needs of an introvert.
Here are 3 ways to manage introverted professionals and work with their strengths to help them succeed.
1. Don’t take their silence personally
Reserved workers might stay quiet in the office, avoiding confrontations and keeping out of office chatter. It’s part of their personality, so try not to make any negative assumptions about them. Just because an employee doesn’t talk much does not mean that they’re unhappy or disengaged. Often, it means that they’re pondering their own thoughts, where they are focused and content.
Everyone has their own approach to work-related tasks and assignments. Understand that introverted employees have a method behind their silence. Typically, introverted employees are more likely to think before they speak or act, which allows them to be thorough in their decisions and opinions.
As an introvert in an extroverted career, I required thinking time away from distractions before I could contribute to a new decision or direction that was discussed in a meeting. I freely tell folks, “I need to think about this and I will get back to you later/or by DATE.”
2. Give them space, but show your support
If you want your introverted employees to feel comfortable at work, give them space while making it known that you are around should any issues arise. Regular one-on-one touch-base meetings are ideal for the more reserved workers because you’re interacting with them in a friendly, personal environment.
Take time to find out employees’ communication habits and strengths and ask them what types of situations and environments do they feel they do their best work. Then, adopt strategies that accommodate these preferences.
3. Minimize anxiety
Communication is important in the workplace, but it’s often a source of anxiety for more introverted professionals. Ask your workers how you can support them.
Reserved employees may prefer asynchronous communication over in-person interactions. With this in mind, you could leverage tools like IM, texting and other forms of communication that allow quieter employees to work independently while still offering channels for support. Find out how your employees prefer to communicate and establish a standard process moving forward.
When it comes to meetings, presentations or large events, ask them how to best minimize the usual anxieties we all can get. Rather than forcing them into situations that cause panic, work within or just outside their comfort zone until they are willing to take further steps.
I spent many years training in hotel conference rooms teaching managers how to manage. I learned that for me, I needed to be in the room first, walk the front of the classroom alone imagining a successful session, then, loiter at the door to shake hands and greet participants when they arrived. These strategies reduced my anxiety and actually allowed me to relax and enjoy the work.
Bottom line: Do not try to change the individual or make assumptions. Ask your quieter employees for ways to help them succeed in their role and keep the lines of communication open.