Extroverted employees don’t need any help to stand out. It’s in their nature to make their presence known. The same can’t be said for introverts. Quiet by nature, introverted employees are much more comfortable keeping to themselves. They prefer hunkering down in quiet settings and getting their work done without coworkers interrupting them every few minutes, intentionally or otherwise.
Great managers understand that introverted and extroverted employees have different needs and, therefore, need to be managed differently. Here are five tips you can use to help your introverted workers reach their full potential.
1. Ease them into public speaking
Introverts don’t need to orate in front of large groups. But from time to time, you should encourage them to share their smarts with their coworkers in whatever setting they’re most comfortable. Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, says that introverts, and particularly those that want to be leaders, shouldn’t be afraid to demonstrate their skills. Cain told the Wall Street Journal in 2015:
“Let other people know you have that expertise instead of it just being something you’re carrying around in your brain.”
2. Don’t put them on the spot
Introverts aren’t comfortable in large groups, which means they’re definitely not comfortable speaking in front of large groups. Try as hard as you can to accommodate your quieter team members when you’re in a group setting.
During a brainstorming session, for example, don’t call on an introvert unexpectedly. Let that employee speak when they have ideas and are ready to share them.
3. Hold one-on-one meetings
It’s not that introverts don’t like sharing their ideas at all. They just prefer to do so in quieter, more intimate settings. So instead of holding meetings with your entire team every week, consider switching to one-on-one meetings that are held less frequently.
Ben Horowitz, who cofounded the VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, is a big fan of one-on-one meetings. He encourages his employees to create agendas and send them over ahead of time. This increases the likelihood that all employees — but introverts especially — will share what’s on their minds.
4. Give them time to prepare and think
You can learn a lot of lessons from Jeff Bezos, and here’s another one: kick off your meetings with silence. That’s precisely what the Amazon CEO does when he calls together his executives. Attendees are encouraged to peruse the meeting agenda for 30 minutes and jot down any notes or ideas that pop into their heads.
Not only does this help get everyone on the same page and collect their thoughts, it allows introverts to prepare themselves so they don’t freak out if they’re called on during the meeting.
5. Set aside dedicated quiet spaces
Instead of forcing your introverted team members to work somewhere that allows all of their coworkers to stare at them, set aside dedicated areas where your quieter workers can go to crank out a ton of assignments.
“When introverts get too much stimulation, they feel overwhelmed and jangled,” Cain told the Wall Street Journalin 2014.
Recently, Cain collaborated with a company called Steelcase to help design “quiet spaces” —workstations that were designed specifically with introverts in mind. These soundproof spaces allow introverts to work largely out of view of their colleagues, making them feel right at home.
Many organizational cultures are catered towards extroverts. And it’s not to say that quiet introverts who prefer alone time don't hold strong leadership qualities. If you give them the space and environment that suits their working style, they’ll be more likely to succeed.