Experienced managers will have overseen teams comprising all sorts of characters and personality types, from the boldest extroverts to the quietest introverts.
Commonly accepted ideas in the world of work, and society as a whole, suggest the people who speak loudest and take control of social situations are the most capable and able to deliver results.
But that isn’t necessarily true. Natural introverts often have many qualities that can prove particularly valuable for businesses, so there’s a lot to be gained from supporting employees who initially come across as shy and timid.
Here are some of the ways you can do that...
1. Acknowledge that introversion isn’t a flaw
The first step to making people who are naturally quiet feel comfortable in the workplace is acknowledging that their introversion isn’t a problem.
It’s important to make this entirely clear, as it’s still very common for business to unconsciously favor employees who are more gregarious and outgoing.
Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, explored the huge potential of naturally introverted people in a TED talk she gave in 2012.
She points out that some of the most influential people in history, such as Rosa Parks and Mahatma Gandhi, have been introverts, as have seminal figures from the business world, such as Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple.
2. Give people space to work quietly
Cain also notes in her talk that many modern workplaces are physically laid out in a way that favors extroverts, with open-plan designs that make people subject to “the constant noise and gaze” of their co-workers.
People who are naturally quiet and introverted often work much more productively in quiet solitude, without never-ending activity and conversation all around them.
Bear this in mind when you’re designing your office, or if you’re already set up in an open-plan workplace, give your employees the opportunity to use meeting rooms or other quiet spaces to really concentrate on their work.
3. Don’t tailor processes to extroverts
The core methods and processes you use to get work done in your business should be designed with the needs and preferences of the entire workforce - not just extroverts - in mind.
Collaborative meetings and brainstorming sessions can deliver excellent results, but there’s often just as much to be gained from giving your quieter, more introspective team members the opportunity to work independently.
Give an introvert the time and freedom to go away and focus on a particular problem for a while, and you could find they come back to you with some imaginative and effective solutions.
4. Engage one-on-one
Employees who come across as shy and timid don’t necessarily have nothing to say; they may just feel more comfortable offering their contributions, sharing thoughts and asking questions one-on-one, rather than as part of a group.
Managers can accommodate this by arranging regular face-to-face meetings where individual team members are given a blank canvas to speak their minds, come forward with suggestions and discuss any concerns they might have.
This will go a long way towards making introverted employees feel more supported and could give rise to some valuable insights for the business.
5. Allow time to prepare
People who are naturally quiet and insular generally don’t respond well to being put on the spot or asked unexpected questions. They will be much more likely to work effectively and deliver results if they’re given adequate time to prepare, and know exactly what’s expected of them every time they go into a meeting or start a new project.
While it might not always be practical, it’s a good idea to schedule meetings, presentations and other events as far in advance as possible. This could benefit everyone involved, not just the quieter types who appreciate more time to research and get ready.
6. Let people use their preferred forms of communication
There are all sorts of communication methods available to businesses these days, and many of them are ideally suited to getting the best out of the natural introverts in your workforce.
Giving employees the option to keep in regular contact with their managers via instant messaging, for example, could be preferable to speaking on the phone or in groups.
Andee Harris, chief engagement officer at employee engagement company HighGround, told Business News Daily:
Managers should leverage tools like IM, texting and other forms of communication that allow quieter employees to work independently while still offering channels for support. Figure out how your employees prefer to communicate and establish a standard process moving forward.
Fundamentally, it’s important to recognize that every employee is unique, and someone who doesn’t function well in noisy or competitive environments shouldn’t be made to feel that they’re failing or need to change.