You don’t look like an introvert were words once said to me when I told someone I was introverted whilst networking, and I thought to myself what on earth is an introvert supposed to look like.
There are many misconceptions about introversion that have shaped the way many people view introverts and how they treat them in the workplace. This conversation highlighted this. Because I was being social, it was assumed I couldn’t be introverted.
The misconceptions include, all introverts are shy; introverts are aloof; socially anxious; social misfits; socially recluse; don’t like public speaking, and so on. Whilst these can be said of some introverts, they don’t apply to all. They can also apply to people who are extroverted.
These misconceptions can create an unfavourable bias towards introversion. Not only this, many of our everyday work practices are better suited to extroverted types. Meetings, networking, selection interviews, open plan offices, brainstorming are some of the areas in which introverts are not necessarily at their best.
As leaders, an awareness of these biases and how they play out, enables you to review your practices to make sure that introverts in your organisation are not put at a disadvantage.
Introversion and extroversion sit at opposite ends of a continuum and we all have a preference as to where we fit, depending on the situation and environment we are in. Although someone may have a preference towards introversion, there may be situations and environments where they display some of the typical extrovert behaviours.
Introverts find it mentally draining spending too long in overly stimulating environments. Afterwards they need time on their own to go inwards and re-energise. Whereas extroverts thrive from external stimulation and being around people. That is why networking events and other large social gatherings may drain the energy of someone who is introverted if they spend too long at them.
Because they feel drained, they may withdraw and appear less social. This can be mistaken for shyness or a lack of confidence. Additionally, introverts typically don’t like making small talk, preferring depth of conversation over quantity.
Workplace practices that are not favourable towards introversion
With a preference for thinking and reflecting before speaking, the way that networking events, meetings, brainstorming and selection interviews are conducted, does not allow for thinking and reflecting time. In these situations, there is an expectation that on the spot responses be given.
Many organisations have moved to large, open plan offices over recent years, but these can be a nightmare for introverts. The buzz from the noise and being surrounded by lots of people creates over stimulation which is draining. It does not allow introverts to be at their optimal.
When I first started publishing articles on LinkedIn about the challenges introverted women leaders face, I was inundated with comments and messages from introverted women and men from across the world. They shared with me their stories of the challenges they experienced because they are introverted.
This led to me creating an online community for introverted women who are senior leaders and resulted in me writing my book Quietly Visible: Leading with Influence and Impact as an Introverted Woman. I also did a TEDx talk called Introverts Make Great Leaders Too.
Some organisations are addressing the issue
Some organisations have recognised the bias that exists and to address this, have formed employee networks to support their introverted staff. One such organisation is the UK Civil Service that has a cross-government introverts’ network. The aim of the network is to: –
- raise awareness and understanding of introversion
- show the power of introverts, introverted leadership and introvert-friendly working
- foster better understanding between introverts and extroverts
- # build a supportive community that helps develop introverts
There are some organisations putting practices in place that help remove unfavourable bias towards introverts such as letting interview candidates have questions beforehand, or changing the way meetings are conducted to allow for individual thinking time.
By leaders examining, questioning and challenging the decisions they make regarding both introverts and extroverts and why they made those decisions, it helps to increase their self awareness of any biases they may hold.
When looking at how to make sure their organisations are inclusive, many leaders only consider the traits that fall within the protected characteristics. Because of the unfavourable bias towards introverts, consideration needs to also be given to ensuring there is diversity of personality as well. They need to make sure that particular personality types are not viewed more favourably than another.
Carol Stewart is an Executive, Career and Business Coach, Speaker, Trainer and Facilitator. She is the founder of Abounding Solutions and author of Quietly Visible: Leading with Influence and Impact as an Introverted Woman. She was named a LinkedIn Top Voice UK in 2017, 2018 and 2019.