How to Engage an Introvert: A Manager's Guide

Examining everything from politics to college Introverts-in-the-workplaceapplications makes it very clear that the Western world values extroversion. We assume people who are quiet don’t have anything valuable to say. We assume that people who don’t participate dislike the group. We value action over thought, doers over thinkers, risk-takers over those who prepare. This societal valuation, however, will alienate your employees and cripple your business. Workplaces need people with a variety of skill sets, and that includes introverts.

As managers, it is easy to mistake introversion in the workplace for lack of passion. However, those who are more introverted “simply need less stimulation from their physical surroundings than extroverts.” Various studies have been able to show the differences on a physiological level:

Extroverts actually feel higher reward signaling by dopamine neurons through contact and interaction with others. Basically, they are energized by the “outer world” and tend to be outgoing, vocal, and think-out-loud.

On the flipside, PET scans have revealed that introverts have more activity in the frontal lobes of the brain and front thalamus, the part of the brain involved in internal processing such as problem-solving, remembering, and planning. Introverts get their energy from their “inner world” of thoughts, ideas, reflections, and memories.

Knowing that you have extroverts and introverts among your workforce is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t solve the problem. Stereotypical understandings of employee engagement would have you believe that all introverts are unengaged, but that is wholly untrue. Those same understandings would have you try to increase introvert engagement in ways that could actually alienate your more introverted workers. Read on to see how you can engage the introverts in your workplace.

How to do I know if my employee is an introvert?

They seek time alone.

Introverts might spend their lunch hour by themselves, relish working on solo projects, or not hang around the water cooler as much. They’re recharging their batteries for when they’ll next interact with people.

They prefer written communication.

Written communication has two benefits: it allows people to think and draft their words, and it prevents interruptions from others.

They think, then talk.

Introverts prefer time to craft a comment or question.

They enjoy depth and context.

If there are introverts in your workplace, you’ll likely find them deep down a rabbit hole. They may also have a preference for context, instead of jumping right into a new project.

They focus on calmness.

With little desire to be the center of attention, introverts often remain quiet at company parties or functions.


How can I increase introvert engagement?

Give them a project that they control, or limit the group to several members.

Those who are more introverted will appreciate a less chaotic working environment.

Write more.

Email or message questions that can be written out. If you must ask your introverted employee in person, try to bundle all your non-time sensitive questions and ask them during a single trip to your colleague’s desk. 

Make space for communication.

In meetings, make sure you’re leaving space (by not talking) for introverts to raise questions or comment — if there’s never a quiet moment, it’s unlikely that they’ll interject. You can also ask for written communication before or after the meeting.

Acknowledge that introversion/extroversion is a spectrum.

Introversion and extroversion are two ends of a spectrum, not two all-encompassing buckets. Don’t stereotype your employees by assuming that they are completely one or the other.

Give preparation time.

Whether it be for project meetings or performance conversations, let your introverted employees know your expectations as soon as possible.

Engaging employees — whether introverted, extroverted, or somewhere in between — is never easy. But with a good manager, every employee can find their work, team, and organizational environment engaging. Check out our blog for more great articles and resources to help you on your way to an awesome workplace.

 

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