In praise of the office introvert

Susan Cain's recent bestseller, Quiet — The Power of Introverts, makes a compelling case for understanding and valuing introverts better.

Do you have co-workers who reflect and mull over every decision and problem? Someone who clearly prefers listening to talking?

Someone who doesn't contribute much in meetings and group discussions in spite of their expertise?

Or are you the person who quietly wishes you could get away from the noise and distraction of co-workers?

This is the reality for introverts in an extroverted work world.

Office culture geared toward extroverts

Susan Cain's recent bestseller, Quiet — The Power of Introverts, makes a compelling case for understanding and valuing introverts better. 

Introverts make up a third to a half of our workplaces and yet many organizations haven't quite figured out how to get the most from these valuable employees.

Researchers tell us we are all a blend of introversion and extroversion and we all work against our preferences from time to time.

Those on the extroversion end of the scale are quick to share their opinion, thrive on noisy busy workplaces and welcome interruptions. They are most at home in many of today's workplaces.

No wonder extroverts seem to do well on the job. The documented bias for extroversion is alive and well. Many workplaces test, recruit and promote the gregarious and outgoing. They organize the office layout, meetings and training as if everyone was extroverted.

By doing so, employers deprive themselves of the valuable contribution the quiet and soft spoken can bring to the table. This is especially true when using spontaneous or poorly executed brainstorming as a problem solving or innovation tool. Extroverts are often left to dominate the exercise

Great ideas are left unsaid by those who need preparation, thinking time and effective facilitation.

I remember working with a brilliant senior executive who didn't say much in our boisterous management meetings. But every time we had a contentious, difficult or mission critical decision he always came up with the solution the next day or at next week's meeting.

An agenda prepared in advance and ensuring reading materials went out ahead of time ensured we had the benefit of his superior intelligence, we eventually realized.

Managers would do well not to misinterpret the quiet or soft spoken. Studies have reminded us time and time again that introverts are often our most innovative and highly creative contributors. They are also much more team oriented than first meets the eye and can be very effective leaders.

Managers and supervisors are well advised to reach out to introverts and to balance the time for interaction and reflection when doing staff training and education.

Introverts will do well to get their ideas out in writing whenever possible and buy time when they have to. Ultimately finding suitable work that accommodates their preference or at the very least a quiet spot to work will make the workplace more fulfilling.

We would all do well to get away from perceiving extroversion as good and introversion as bad. They are simply preferences and understanding them as such will lead to fewer conflicts and a much more productive and satisfying workplace.