Joanna Rawbone MSc, the founder of Flourishing Introverts is committed to shifting the extraversion bias so that Introverts can reach their full potential. This aspect of neurodiversity in often overlooked in the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion agenda.
One of the things that has become apparent during the lockdown hokey-cokey, is that some employees were missing being in the office more than others.
The ones who have enjoyed working from home, have probably been more productive and have better mental health now than pre-pandemic, are likely to be introverts.
With Diversity, Equity & Inclusion hot on everyone’s lips, this aspect of neurodiversity is often overlooked, rather like the introverts themselves I find. And if you think they’re a minority not worth bothering about, with up to 47% of the UK population identifying as an introvert, that’s a lot of natural talent left untapped.
We can all flex our behaviour to some degree, but at what cost? Introverts will have spent years or decades even pretending to be something they’re not in order to fit in and get on, but this takes a massive toll on their mental health, their confidence and their engagement.
How many of these do you recognise?
- You have to speak up more if you want to be heard
- You have to push yourself forward and get out of your comfort zone if you want to progress
- You have to join in more with the office banter if you want to be part of the team.
In other words, behave more like an extravert.
All of the statements above are telling the introvert you’re not OK being you. Messages, feedback and training like this just compound the extraversion bias. They certainly don’t support or nurture introverts.
What I’m not saying here is that people shouldn’t develop. As an experienced trainer and coach with over 3 decades of experience, I absolutely advocate unlocking people’s full potential. But as Judy Garland said, “Always be a first rate version of yourself, instead of a second rate version of someone else.”
Introversion and Extraversion explained
There are a few things that makes introverts different that are well worth understanding, especially as there so many myths and misconceptions still abound.
Carl Jung explained that the difference between introverts and extraverts is where they get their mental energy from; what drains and what charges their batteries. And we rely on a good charge in mental batteries for people to do their best work.
Introverts are already over-stimulated mentally so need to be mindful of additional stimulation. They recharge quietly, on their own or in companionable silence. They are drained by noisy, busy environments where there is lots of chatter. As you might imagine, open plan offices are a nightmare for them to navigate and they will often ask if they can wear headphones. This explains why many introverts have become more productive working from home, especially if they have an introvert friendly household. They haven’t had to endure the commute or block out the noise that distracts them.
Extraverts on the other hand are recharged by social interaction, active experiences and change so the open plan office is their playground. They are much more likely to be champing at the bit to get back into the office as they’ve missed the banter, the chat around the water cooler and the general buzz.
The bitter-sweet irony here is that what drains one, charges the other. And our businesses tend to be geared towards the extravert ideal.
Introverts are not shy, depressed, lonely, boring or unambitious. They are not weird, just wired differently.
There is also a difference in communication processes. Introverts have a think-say-think process so they typically take longer to answer a question or contribute in a meeting. In a fast-paced environment, this means they may not get to the say part of their process. This is often misinterpreted as they have nothing to say or are shy, tongue-tied or indecisive. In reality, when they do contribute, they mean what they say as it’s been well thought through. However, introverts are highly unlikely to speak for the sake of it but will speak up if they believe they’re adding value.
Extraverts have a say-think-say process so they make sense of what they’re thinking as they speak, it’s more of a stream of consciousness meaning they’re not too attached to what they say. Their process can make it difficult for an introvert to find a gap to get their point across.
These differences in the way introverts and extraverts communicate
Spotting the extraversion bias
When I’m working within my client’s systems, I can’t fail to notice the extraversion bias in everyday business practices and processes. They can be found in recruitment, assessment and promotion processes where individuals are marked down or ruled out if they don’t speak out enough. It’s the responsibility of the interviewers and assessors to understand the different communication processes and design their exercises and questions accordingly. If they don’t, opportunities are not equitable.
There are other obvious places where you’ll find evidence of this bias. They include regular and team meetings, problem solving sessions and project work. The communication process of the introverts means you’ll hear less from them unless you consciously enable them to prepare and make space for them to contribute. Introverts are less adept at the working out loud processes and spontaneous problem solving. They thrive though when they’ve had time to get familiar with the topic you’re exploring or problem you’re trying to solve.
As previously mentioned, a key area that introverts can struggle with is the open plan office. When an Introvert is exposed to a particularly loud or busy environment, especially, for long periods, they can feel their mental batteries drain like a smart phone in need of an upgrade! If introverts are quiet in the office, and not all are by the way, it’s because they’re trying to preserve the useable charge in their batteries, so they can do their best work. The very thing we pay them for. Imagine the drain they experience daily when working in a busy, open-plan office. This is why they tend not to join in with the office banter. It’s not because they’re arrogant or think they’re better than everyone else.
Is it really worth the bother?
Some of you may be thinking that the changes required to support and nurture introverts so they too can flourish seems like a lot of work. My question to you is can you afford not to make these changes? What is it costing you to impede the engagement and potential of up to half of your workforce?
What skills & talents might you be missing out on? The typical strengths of an introvert include:
- Active and empathic listening
- Observation so they’ll notice the small details that others miss
- Assimilating ideas
- Problem solving, and the more challenging the problem, the better
- Meaningful conversations
- Thought-through creativity
- Calmness and good at defusing drama
How would your business benefit from more of these?
And in case you’re doubting the leaderships qualities of an introvert, some of the biggest tech giants were founded or led by highly successful Introverts; Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Marissa Mayer, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Steve Wozniacki and Larry Page to name but a few.
Other notable leaders include Barack Obhama, Simon Sinek and Warren Buffet. No-one can doubt their success. So, it would be a big mistake to allow bias to overlook this kind of talent in your business.
Biases are the obstacles in our way to real inclusion and the extraversion bias is largely unconscious. Managers I work with have reported finding it easier to ‘get on with’ the more extraverted chatty types, claiming that their introverted colleagues are ‘hard work’.
If you are serious about the DEI agenda, improving engagement and the mental health of all employees, I encourage you to examine where this bias exists in your organisation.
As the business world open back up, take steps to ensure that your culture and processes create a welcoming environment where all can flourish.