Some of the best-known thinkers and innovators in history have been introverts. From Albert Einstein to Dr. Seuss, introverts have shaped the world as we know it. Nevertheless, many modern workplaces are not optimized for introverted employees — and might even hold them back. The word “cutthroat” is often used to describe the corporate world, where getting things done may require acting first and asking questions later, networking internally to drive projects forward, and speaking up first and loudest to have ideas put into action. All of these can be challenging for introverts since people who have this personality style tend to do their best thinking in more solitary settings.
To boost introvert inclusion, start with company culture
In my experience, failure to engage introverts is symptomatic of collaboration practices and work habits that create less inclusive workplaces. When these ways of working are endemic in an organization, important voices that can improve products, drive innovation, and fix internal processes are likely to be unheard or even unspoken.
Creating a culture that caters to all kinds of thinkers isn’t just the “right” thing to do — it’s a business imperative. Yet many leaders I speak to aren’t fully aware of how biased their company cultures are toward extroverts. Some mistakenly (and often unknowingly) equate extroversion with a requirement for thriving on the job and, in the process, don’t recognize how this can impact introverts. Let’s consider some of the key ways this exclusion manifests itself:
- Overreliance on meetings for decision-making – Introverts typically need to take the time to process information and feel confident in their ideas before sharing them out loud. So when teams are given a problem and asked to solve it in real-time during a meeting, introverted team members don’t have the opportunity to bring their best thoughts to the conversation. In fact, Miro’s Asynchronous Work Report survey found 59% of knowledge workers prefer to brainstorm asynchronously instead of in meetings. Along similar lines, 66% feel more comfortable sharing ideas with their managers async. The takeaway: relying on meetings as the dominant space for brainstorming and decision-making means a significant number of team members won’t be able to contribute to their fullest potential — and might even keep potentially great ideas to themselves.
- The HiPPO effect – HiPPO is an acronym for “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion,” and it’s a phenomenon in businesses where initiatives are primarily driven (sometimes unconsciously) by the opinions of the most senior person in the room. The HiPPO effect kills debate before it begins and reinforces the feeling of voicelessness for team members. For introverts, who value their ability to contribute up-leveled ideas after their periods of reflection, the HiPPo effect can be especially demoralizing and demotivating.
- Unconscious bias – There are multiple types of unconscious biases in the workplace, and they all create challenges for different groups in an organization. Affinity bias is the tendency to favor those who remind us of ourselves. In organizations where management is disproportionately made up of extroverts, introverts can feel the effects of this bias especially hard. In these settings, energetic confidence, socialization, and fast-talking are rewarded, even when more impactful contributions could otherwise come from introverted team members.
Creating a more introvert-friendly workplace is no small task. It takes cultural changes, improved collaboration practices, and education to make leaders conscious of their biases and how these impact introverts in the workplace. Let’s take a look at some steps companies can take to make workplaces more inclusive for workers of all learning and thinking styles.
Treat facilitation as a must-have skill for leadership
Facilitation skills help to foster a productive and inclusive environment, where everyone feels heard and respected. These skills help leaders create space for different ways of thinking and sharing by including visual activities, building silent time into the agenda, and designing activities that anonymize ideas to reduce bias.
Senior leaders in businesses should make it clear that facilitation isn’t a soft skill or a nice-to-have for managers, but a competitive superpower that helps unlock the potential of every employee and ensures no great ideas are left behind.
Raise awareness of extroversion bias
Most workplaces offer anti-bias training to help employees recognize and work toward overcoming their implicit biases. Like other forms of bias, extroversion bias should be included in these trainings so that employees can see how existing norms and practices might negatively impact introverts. Also, make these trainings mandatory for leaders, people managers, talent professionals, and hiring committee members so that key decision-makers and stakeholders are aligned.
Promote asynchronous work to make time for deep thinking
Meetings are a key time-suck in business, and they take away valuable energy that employees could spend thinking deeply and analyzing problems. The more time we spend in meetings, the more burned out we become, further degrading the quality of our contributions. This is especially true for introverts, who need time to recharge following group interactions.
This is where asynchronous work comes in. Knowledge workers say their top three tasks to tackle async are providing individual feedback (60%), conducting retrospectives (55%), and collaborating with external partners. This list is a great start, but there are multiple ways to build async into your team’s work rhythms.
Rather than relying on meetings as the go-to for collaboration and decision-making, many businesses I work with as an Evangelist use Miro to make asynchronous work a larger part of their culture. For example, instead of sharing thoughts out loud in a meeting, you can use Miro to dump your ideas onto a board, organize them, and give your colleagues a chance to review and process according to their own timelines and needs — such as by using comments to ask questions or stickies to elaborate on ideas. That way, when a team comes together for a real-time meeting, the conversations are more efficient and action-oriented. And most importantly, everyone has an equal chance to weigh in prior to the meeting, regardless of how comfortable they feel speaking up to the group.
Workplaces must engage all voices to drive innovation
In an uncertain economy, every voice is critical for an organization’s success. Introverts benefit from different tools and modes of sharing to contribute their best work. With some simple tweaks to your culture, processes, and workstyles, you can create an inclusive and safe space for every member of your team.
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