Are your introverts being trampled?

Think for a moment – who are the people that contribute the most in your team meetings? Where do your team ideas come from?

Where do they not come from?

Who sits quietly, rarely contributing? Do they have nothing to say? Do they get the chance?

What’s your team missing out on from these people?

We all know that people tend towards either introversion or extroversion. But do we take the time to consider how that plays out in the work place and affects the quality of our team performance?

Whenever I talk about the qualities of introversion and extroversion during team workshops, the outcome is almost always a team commitment to put in place processes or ‘hacks’ that will allow them to benefit more from the thoughts and ideas of their resident introverts.

There are ways we can structure our team behaviour so that we get more out of a group of people that are so often trampled by extroverts in a team setting.

But first, let’s have a quick refresher on what it really means to be introverted or extroverted.

Colloquially we often hear the term introvert and extrovert used to describe someone’s relative social skills.

That is not an accurate definition.

If we take a Jungian approach, the difference between introversion and extroversion relates to the way an individual generates personal energy.

An extrovert generates energy by being with other people; mixing socially, surrounding themselves with action. Sure, extroverts have the ability to spend time by themselves, but being by themselves in a quiet setting costs them energy. They need to surround themselves with people to recharge that energy.

An introvert is the opposite. They charge their batteries by spending time alone in quiet reflection or by switching their brain off from the world. They do have the ability to operate socially. Indeed an introvert will probably crave social interaction from time to time. But this type of lively interaction costs them energy and they must, at some point, retreat into their private world to restock their energy levels.

So the misconception is that introverts cannot have good social skills. That’s rubbish. Some of the most engaging, charismatic people you know might very well be introverts. It just means that once they’ve spent their energy cookies being social and charismatic they need to retreat and refuel.

Conversely, extroverts are not by definition devoid of the ability to reflect, read quietly or spend time alone. They can do all those things. But it will have a time limit, and then they must get amongst a hive of activity in order to recharge.

So how does this play out in the work setting?

The most common place is in team meetings.

Extroverts dominate team meetings.

One of the characteristics of extroversion is the willingness to speak in draft. Extroverts are ok with the idea of beginning to speak without having really decided what they are going to say and where it will end up.

In fact, you’ll often hear someone say, as they ramble on, ‘I’m just thinking out loud here’.

I bet you 50 bucks that person is an extrovert.

Introverts, on the other hand, must think through what they want to say before they open their mouths. They are unwilling to speak in draft. They need the confidence of a fully formed idea, plus a plan as to how they will articulate that idea, before they even consider speaking up.

We are all keen for team meetings to only be as long as they need to be – and rightfully so. We tend to ram through the agenda – moving on quickly to the next item when the main players seem to have run out of things to say.

Therefore, of course, team meetings are dominated by the musings of extroverts.

Often, by the time an introvert has internally decided upon and crafted the wording of the point they want to make, the meeting has moved on.

As a result, teams are often entirely directed by the ideas of extroverts.

We may be missing half of the good ideas that exist within the team.

And don’t expect your introverts to bring this up. Introverts have been trained by a life-time of trampling to not even notice. They take for granted that they will not get a chance to share many of their thoughts. They’ve been trained to accept it from the time they first ‘participated’ in classrooms discussions in their early school days.

This is one of the reasons introverts are habitually under-estimated – they take some of their best ideas home with them, never to see the light of day.

There’s another reason introverts are routinely underestimated, according to Jung:

Extroverts lead with their strongest trait – weather that is within the judging or perceiving dichotomies. They show the world their strengths.

Introverts, on the other hand, keep their dominant traits for themselves. Their strength is private. What they show the world is their secondary strength – or ‘auxiliary’ function.

Here’s two simple team hacks you can put in place to ensure your team is getting the most from everyone’s thoughts:

  1. Send out a list of agenda items a few hours before team meetings – even before the most informal of meetings. This gives introverts time to plan anything they might like to contribute.
  1. Build in permission for anyone – not just introverts – on the team to take the meeting back an agenda item or two in order to make a point. This permission needs to be explicit and genuine. Groans born from time restraints need to be discouraged if this is to truly work.

The leader of the meeting needs to stay on their toes, be aware of people who might have something to contribute – after they have time to think – rather than give in to the temptation of racing through agenda items to get the meeting finished.

Doing these two simple things will do the job of acknowledging the fact that individuals on the team are different and go about contributing in a range of ways. Showing this type of understanding, inclusion and determination to get the best out of your team will have the knock-on effect of opening up channels that explore a range of differences that exist within the team and implementing thoughtful methods of inclusion.

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