Designing Work for Introverts

In our most recent offsites and bootcamps, we’ve had a lot of people ask:

“I’m an introvert. I always get feedback that I should speak up more, but I feel uncomfortable doing so. What should I do?”

“I keep hearing from the same members of my team. How do I make sure everyone has a chance to participate?”

We’ve developed a few techniques that will help your whole team—introverts, extroverts, and everyone in between—feel more welcome at the workplace:

  1. Look beyond labels. Don’t assume that just because someone is introverted, they won’t want to take on a task like getting in front of clients or public speaking. Calling someone an introvert may limit both how you perceive their role in the workplace, and how they perceive themselves.

  2. Develop user manuals. Have everyone fill out a “user manual” which explicitly explains how they like to work, as well as any quirks they might have (for example, they look angry when they’re really just lost in thought). This is a useful exercise even for teams who have worked together for a long time—you might work with someone every day but still overlook, or incorrectly make assumptions about, their work habits.

  3. Provide work space diversity. The open office is in many ways the worst of both worlds: it makes it hard for introverts to focus and for extroverts to collaborate. Provide private workspaces as well as lounges or conference rooms for collaboration to help everyone work more productively. If you want to learn more, our friends at Breather put together a compilation of the types of workspaces you should have.

  4. Structure the workday. Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” says that in her office, there are no meetings before 12:30PM. This gives uninterrupted time for introverts to think, plan, and work, but also lets extroverts know that the time to talk things out is coming up.

  5. Use more structured response sessions in meetings. To make sure everyone has their say, we implement rounds for check-ins and responses—we start at one end of the table and invite each person to comment, without interruption from the rest of the table. And during brainstorms, we give people three to five minutes to silently write down their ideas, and only then share out. This gives introverted employees time to formulate their thoughts and helps everyone avoid groupthink.

  6. Hold 1:1s and breaks. Introverts thrive off of meaningful relationships and enjoy one-on-one chats. But the truth is, everyone on your team can benefit from this level of personal attention—which is why you’re already holding 1:1 check ins, right?

 
 

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