Leaders need to engage and connect with every employee, whether they're an introvert or extrovert. Yet, it can be challenging to connect with the former, especially if you’re extroverted yourself. You find it easy to speak up in groups, interject in conversation and make small talk. This comes naturally to you, making it hard to understand any other way of communicating.
While introverts are different from you in the way they communicate and work, they still want to be treated as valued members of the team, suggests Meg Manke, Culture & Leadership Expert and Senior Partner at Rose Group Int’l.
She explains: “Introvert, extrovert, quiet or loud, we're all looking for a sense of tribe and engagement. The best way provide that experience is to invite them in, ask questions and show you care.”
Read about how seven leaders do exactly that, allowing them to connect with these introverted employees.
1. Solve environmental challenges.
“Most workplaces are built to stimulate collaboration and somehow seem designed for extroverts. Starting from the large open spaces, up to the constant interruptions that shatter their focus at work. And let's not forget the endless meetings where they need to speak up in front of many people.”
If you want to connect with introverted employees, you need to solve this problem first and foremost. While you don’t need to redesign your entire office, Carstoiu suggests, “Create a culture where ‘personal flow’ is respected. And design the internal communication in a way that caters for focus at work as much as for productivity.”
How can you do that? Start by polling employees. Use their responses to re-think your company culture and how it can best benefit every employee. If you want to learn more about “personal flow,” Carstoiu suggests reading Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
2. Focus on their inherent strengths.
Leaders are often told to embrace the strengths of their employees, and Joy Altimare, Chief Engagement and Brand Officer at EHE, echoes that sentiment.
“As the leader, you should understand the importance of complementary skills sets to strengthen the holistic team,” she emphasized.
The value introverts offer are many, including being calm and focused, and able to concentrate. Remember that even if introverts are quiet in their approach, they can still be valuable to the progress and success of the team.
To better connect and recognize their strengths, Altimare suggested: “Express to them that you understand that they possess a skill that compliments the others on the team (or within the organization), and that they were chosen to be a part of a greater whole.”
3. Eliminate anxiety in “performance.”
We’re often “performing” in the workplace — whether we’re sharing ideas with a large group of people or taking a call with a customer. That’s why Deana Criess, the Director of IBcreative, the corporate training division of ImprovBoston, suggests focusing on this element. While speaking in front of people is often challenging for most people, this aspect of work can be especially challenging for introverts. Eliminate the anxiety by making the experience of “performing” more supportive.
“Being alone in front of an audience can be terrifying for anyone. That’s what I love about improv; it is a team sport. I am out there with my team, and I know that they have my back and I am not alone. It doesn’t all rest on me,” says Criess.
Criess suggests setting up a system where teams present, rather than solo individuals. This reduces anxiety and also allows introverts and extroverts to connect more effectively.
“Extroverts begin to trust more deeply in the introvert’s knowledge and expertise, and introverts begin to trust more deeply in the extrovert’s support and leadership.”
4. Become a better listener.
Shah explains, contrary to popular belief, introverts like conversation—but often hold back because extroverts can’t stand moments of long silence, and tend to be “on alert to respond.” Instead of having one-sided conversations, Shah suggests practicing letting the other person speak without interruption.
“Especially in one-on-one settings, where introverts are most receptive, deep listening allows them to feel at ease, to feel respect, and to feel trust, which enables them to converse and connect with you the same way an extrovert person does," he said.
Shah recommends reading, The Excellence Dividend by Tom Peters, a book that “profoundly helped me improve the quality of my interactions with others.”
5. Be aware of your body language — especially in group settings.
“I pay close attention to body language when in a group setting; I'll adjust my tone, language, body language, and adjust the personal space buffer based on how it's received,” explains Jessica Thiele, Director of Marketing for VL OMNI. The subtle clues and cues you give with your body language and tone of voice impact how well you’re able to connect with introverts, because you may be “saying” things you don’t mean.
That’s why Thiele is careful in larger group settings, always focused on respecting the different personality types in the room. What’s more, she encourages others to participate in ways that she knows will make them feel most comfortable. Her top tip: “Humor is great for breaking the tension and easing someone into a discussion, I've found.”
If you want to connect with introverted employees, leverage your emotional intelligence and empathy in the same way Thiele does. She says, “It's all about approaching interactions with the understanding that not everyone has had the same life experiences as you, nor does everyone experience life in the same way.”
6. Make 1 on 1 time for introverts.
An introvert may not talk about their ideas in a group setting, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have thoughts to share. This is why 1-on-1 meetings are so important for connecting with introverted employees, suggests Kris Hughes, Senior Content Marketing Manager at ProjectManager.com.
“Weekly or semi-weekly one-on-one meetings with introverted employees are a great way to get to know them as individuals, and what they like to do outside of the walls of the office. Breaking down this barrier makes rewarding these team members for a job well done much more sincere and personal. This further solidifies your relationship and the team member’s willingness to go the extra mile,” Hughes shared.
This meeting time also gives you a chance to remind introverted employees of their contribution to the team, even if they’re not comfortable sharing in a group setting. It’s easy to miss this critical piece of leadership when you’re solely engaging with extroverted employees who share their ideas openly and regularly.
7. Give introverts the time they need.
In many cases, introverts take longer to process and respond than an extrovert. That’s why, Erica McCurdy, Master Certified Coach for LunaNav suggests, “As a leader, recognizing when an introverted worker isn't in the mood to chat is a huge bonus. Leave the door open for a conversation to happen at a pace and timing that works for an internal thinker.”
The best way to do this is by using phrases that respect their need to think through responses. McCurdy suggests using phrases like, "think about it and get back to me," or "let me know what you think.” This lets “the introverted employee know they have permission to take some time to formulate an answer and you are willing to receive the answer at a later time,” suggests McCurdy.