EngagementMany managers and leaders still judge ‘engagement’ by how much their people contribute during meetings, how chatty they are in the workplace and how much they push themselves forward. All these however are the more natural behaviours of an extravert. So the quieter ones, who usually only speak out when they have something of value to add, who thrive on meaningful conversations and who hope their work quality and output speaks for itself, are frequently judged as disengaged.
Can introverts behave in those ways? Sure. Anyone can flex their behaviour, but at what cost?For introverts, using extraverted behaviours for prolonged periods will drain their mental batteries fast and they’ll probably end up feeling not enough because it’s only by pretending that they fit in with the norm. Carl Jung identified that what distinguishes an introvert from an extravert is what drains and charges their mental batteries. So preferred behaviours are those that keep the charge high. That means social interaction and active experiences for the extraverts and quiet, reflective experiences for the introverts. It’s widely understood that better engagement produces better outcomes, so the starting point therefore has to be how ‘engagement’ is defined so that it is equitable and inclusive rather than playing into the extraversion bias.
Gallup defined engaged employees as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.”Gallup identify 3 categories when it comes engagement:
- Not Engaged
- Actively Disengaged
What needs to change in order to engage introverts and increase the likelihood of retaining their skills, knowledge and expertise?There is rarely a question about the commitment introverts have for their work. With their head-down approach, they are as productive, and often more so, than some of their more extraverted colleagues. The question then seems to be about what we consider ‘involved’ and ‘enthusiastic’ to be.
A recipe for change
- Understand what makes your team members tick. Who are the natural extraverts? Who are the introverts pretending to be extraverts in order to fit in? Who are the natural introverts? Whilst many people discount the Myers Briggs Type indicator (MBTI) it is often the tool that helps introverts feel understood, and often for the first time in their lives.
- Take time to help them establish their strengths, but don’t tell them as that’s just a comment on performance. Strengths are the things that they’re good at and enjoy and the enjoyment is absolutely necessary if they are going to deliver consistently to a high standard. Be patient as many introverts have got used to only hearing what they’re not good at or how they should be more outgoing.
- Notice where the bias is at play in everyday practices and processes. Where are the quieter ones being disadvantaged and prevented from playing to their strengths? Typical places to look include unstructured team meetings with unclear objectives, team building activities that don’t have a clear purpose (remember ‘fun’ is subjective!), problem solving sessions with insufficient notice or data, and selection and promotion processes that measure quality not quantity of contribution.
- Educate management and leadership teams to understand this aspect of neurodiversity so that introverts can be included equitably. It should form part of your DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) strategy. Failure to do this will ultimately result in them voting with their feet, but often you’ll not know why.
ConclusionThere are clearly some roles and vocations that suit introverts better but don’t let that stifle talent. Find a way to engage them on their terms and you’ll have loyal, productive employees. Many introverts choose to opt-out of traditional employment and strike out on their own, especially once they’ve had a taste of agile working. Many highly successful entrepreneurs are introverts including those who founded or led some of the biggest tech giants, including Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Marissa Mayer, and Mark Zuckerberg. Don’t rule introverts out and don’t prejudge. They can be successful in all walks of life once we bring awareness to the bias, level the playing field and understand how to engage them. About Joanna Rawbone Joanna Rawbone is the founder of Flourishing Introverts, a platform aimed to support and raise awareness of introversion in both the professional workplace, and personally. Joanna has spent more than 24 years working with 000’s of international clients through her own training & coaching consultancy, Scintillo Ltd. During this time, and through her own earlier experiences, she has seen just how problematic the Extraversion bias in organisations is. It negatively impacts employee engagement, retention and productivity. It also impairs the physical and mental health & well-being of employees with the obvious consequences. Recognising that it was time for action, Joanna founded Flourishing Introverts, a platform to:
- support those who want to fulfil their potential without pretending to be something they’re not.
- educate and inform organisations about the true cost of overlooking their introverts
- promote positive action and balance the extraversion bias
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