Managing introverts back to the office – advice from an introvert

20 September 2022

*** DISCLAIMER – this post is one sided. An introvert discussing how to serve introverts
better. Whilst I’ve tried to be as objective as possible, someone with a tendency for
introversion also leans towards subjectivity over objectivity. Which is perhaps reflected in
the decision to write a piece serving people that are a bit like me. Before I talk myself out
of even publishing the piece, here it is. I hope that you enjoy it. We’ll redress the balance
over the coming weeks ***

The ying and yang of introversion and extroversion that your business needs:

Are you an introvert?

Do you manage introverts?

Introversion. Extroversion. Do we really know what these terms mean?

According to many studies extroverts outweigh introverts by 3-1.

So we could be talking about a relatively rare breed in business.

How do we serve them best rather than seeking to change them, squeezing them into cultures that don’t fit or serve their potential?

The term, introvert, gets bandied about a lot and it usually carries negative connotations, particularly in business.

There’s still a misconception that only extroverts can really succeed at the highest level.

It’s rubbish. Both introverts and extroverts can and do.

Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Albert Einstein, Brene Brown, Simon Sinek, Beyonce Knowles.

All self-professed introverts and they’ve done ok.

And a business won’t succeed without the ying and yang of introversion and extroversion.

Both on an individual and collective level.

So, as a leader, how do we get the best out of them?

 

Breaking down a few myths:

Terms first introduced by Carl Jung in 1921, introversion and extroversion are simply a
reference to where one’s psychic energy is directed – inwards or outwards? Subjective or objective?

More of an introvert’s energy is directed inwards to their own thoughts and feelings.

More of an extrovert’s energy is directed towards other people and the outside world.

We need both flows of energy for a business to function well.

We need both flows of energy for a person to function well.

It must also be noted that it’s a personality spectrum, not a fixed identity.

With the proliferation of personality tests, originating from Jung’s work, developed by Myers Briggs, and now turning up in all sorts of guises, people often “wear” their result almost as a badge of honour.

Really, such tests should be used as helpful information, a sign post, opening the door to a deeper understanding of ourselves and each other and, therefore, to further growth and development. It’s a starting point, not an end point.

No-one fits exclusively at an absolute position on one end or the other at all times. That would certainly be a form of psychosis.

In fact, Jung felt that a person should strive for a balance between extroversion and introversion to serve the goal of self-realisation, fulfilling their potential. Surely something that all business leaders should be plugged into.

This is not a pop psychology piece, but I thought it important to elucidate this to help break down the common negative associations with introversion – someone that is shy, awkward, withdrawn, lacking in confidence, a poor communicator, poor team player and in need of a push.

It’s simply someone who’s energy is largely directed inwards.

And there’s a great need for this.

Businesses need to be both subjective and inward focused, as well as objective and outward focused simultaneously.

When put like that, it seems pretty straight forward, no?

 

A case study in introversion – me.

I’m introverted.

In a working context, I feel most happy, energised and creative when I’m given the space to work alone. I thrive in this space.

And there’s plenty of studies that show a strong correlation between introversion and high levels of creativity. Not that I want to sing my own praises too much, but I’d certainly say that almost all of my ideas, effective content creation and IP development happen in this space.

It’s also a space where I re-charge and re-energise.

Generally, with extroverts, this re-energisation comes from interaction with other people.

Fortunately, I work with incredibly empathetic, supportive people who understand this about me, and we’ve put structures in place to give me that freedom. Thanks, guys.

This is a microcosm of what needs to happen all over in business.

Not how to serve Chris best. I mean, how do we serve our people best? Free from judgement. And rather than lambast myself for not being naturally more outgoing or for finding that long periods spent with lots of people exhaust me, I’ve come to embrace and celebrate the gifts that my introversion has furnished me with.

A busy, thriving inner life that allows me to get really creative when left alone. I use the stimulation of the world and run wild. Alone time is seriously fun!

But my introversion is not without its shortcomings.

As a business leader, I understand the importance of developing my capacity for extroversion. It’s my responsibility, and part of my personal development not to silo myself and ensure I keep my eye out for the team, and serving their needs. And, of course, serving the needs of our clients! It’s all very well having lots of great ideas, but they mean precious little if I’m unable to relate them. This requires more objective thinking.

Not to mention the fact that I’d be incredibly short-sighted and ego-centric to think that my brain has all the answers. Even though I sometimes think it does, it really doesn’t! And I need to be reminded of this. It’s important for me to stay open to the team and open to
collaboration.

It’s not always easy and doesn’t always come naturally. But that’s not an excuse to abandon it altogether.

As a leader, it’s important to approach our people’s needs and preferences with an open, non judging heart. It’s also important to be sensitive and understanding in how we nurture the necessary areas of work that don’t necessarily suit their personality type.

 

Enough’s enough – come back to work

On this note of striking the right balance and serving the needs of all our people, we need to be careful regarding conversations around getting people back into the office.

The subject needs to be approached with curiosity and empathy.

In so many places, it really has been, and continues to be.

Yet recently, I’ve heard quite a bit of impatience and judgement over some employees’ continued preference to work from home.

“It’s getting stupid now. The pandemic’s over. People need to come back to work.”

“I’m going to mandate it.”

“I’m over it.”

Although it might be tempting, it’s the lazier option. How do we commit to understanding our people better?

The implication still being that “working from home” isn’t real work. It’s not how it’s supposed to be done.

Just because that might not be how you work best, it doesn’t mean that it’s not best for some. Namely, many introverts. As I hope the above case study demonstrates.

According to the office of national statistics, 78% of people that work from home in some capacity said that it had given them an improved work/life balance. 52% said that it was quicker to complete work with fewer distractions. 47% reported improved well-being.

Again, balance is key. It’s not one or the other. It will depend on the nature of your business’s work, the nature of the tasks within that and the nature of the people that make up your teams.

As a leader, it’s also important to remove your personal preference and analyse well what’s right for the individuals in your team and what’s right for the business at large.

The danger is that businesses just go back to how it was as it saves the effort of imagining and creating something new.

But we have the opportunity to do much better. And it’s neither the way of the introverts or the way of the extroverts.

 

The spectrum of business identity:

1. We need to move away from a rigid, binary approach to personality:
-Introvert?
-Extrovert?

It’s limiting.

2. We need to move away from a binary approach to where business takes place
-Office?
-At home?

It’s limiting.

Where does your business identity fit on the spectrum between the 2 extremes?

Why shouldn’t business embrace a more progressive, open, non-binary approach to identity? Hybrid working is still viewed in some places as an interim stage before we go back to normal.

This is not to say that this isn’t already happening in many places. It’s just a note of caution to businesses or business leaders tempted to opt out of truly discovering and understanding what’s best.

Every business’s identity, and the identity of the people that make it up will be unique.

The balance must reflect this.

Let’s not be lazy. We must do the hard graft to be curious, getting to understand the needs and wants of the teams we’re serving.

Although lockdown is now starting to feel a bit of a distant memory, the dust hasn’t settled. There’s still loads up in the air. We still have an opportunity to build something better, creating more inclusive cultures that serve all of our people better. Cultures that also encourage the right balance between introversion and extroversion for the common good.

We’re in control of our destiny.

Why would we be so inflexible as to restrict ourselves to THIS or THAT?

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