How to Manage Introverts in the Workplace

Find out ways to recognize, motivate, engage, correct, and reward the introverts on your team.

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Your job as a supervisor is to get the best out of your staff. Every member of the team brings their own unique perspective, capabilities, and personality. For some, accolades can’t be public enough: for others a quiet :well done” is more than sufficient. The best managers understand each personality type responds differently on the job. The challenge is recognizing your team members, and working with them in language and deeds they understand.

There are 4 main areas managers oversee: motivating, engaging, correcting, and rewarding their staff. For introverted staff members, you may have to adjust the way you approach each of these to get the response you need. A one-size-fits-all strategy rarely works with disparate team members. For introverts, actions that intend to be positive may have a demotivating effect, rather than inspiring.

Recognizing the introverts 

Introverts are often your top performers, diligently doing their work under the radar and never making waves. 

Almost every company has introverts in their midst. These are the quietest of employees; they take time warming up to others, even among their team. They shy away from the spotlight, and rarely speak up at meetings. Introverts are often your top performers, diligently doing their work under the radar and never making waves.

Your company may have come to rely on these dependable employees: you may even believe they’re too shy and unassuming to ever leave. Don’t mistake the meek personality for one that has no limits — you can drive introverts out of your organization if you don’t respond to their needs. Once you’ve identified this cohort, tailor your managerial style to assure they stay happy, even if they rarely say so.

Motivating introverts

Introverts are often uncomfortable in close quarters. They work independently and work best with minimal disruptions and intrusion. They’ll be the employee who’s happy to take the last cubicle in the row — unless it’s adjacent to the break room. They often need very little supervision and do their work without a lot of oversight. Proximity to a manager isn’t necessary, much to their (quietly expressed) delight.

With office redesign following the global pandemic, shared and collaborative workspaces have been eliminated — giving employees back a private work area. This is good for introverts who prefer space of their own. You can maximize their privacy even more by letting them work remotely, if possible, either part or full time. The more independent they can be, the better.

When it comes to motivating them to continue doing the status quo, you’ll find introverts don’t need a lot of praise, especially not publicly. A quiet “I can always count on you” is often enough to keep them on track. If you’re looking to increase their responsibility or ask them to take on new tasks, take a nuanced approach. Talk to them about how reliable they are, and how you believe they have more talent than is being used. Discuss what you’d like to add, or what they think they can take on. Then give them time to think about it and carefully weigh the options, before they respond.

Let them know you’re willing to pilot something new — with no strings attached if they’re unsure — but you have confidence in their ability. Give them a reasonable timeline to think it through and plan on meeting again when it’s up. If you give them space to organize the proposal in their own mind, they’re more likely to take you up on your offer.

Engaging introverts

What engages many employees may have a reverse effect on introverts. These workers need time to build trust and confidence in their management team and peers. To help them develop a sense of ownership and engagement on the job, begin by articulating their value to the organization — but do so in a way that doesn’t embarrass them. Routine emails or private messages are gratefully accepted — public celebrations can be cringe worthy.

To help them develop a sense of ownership and engagement on the job, begin by articulating their value to the organization — but do so in a way that doesn’t embarrass them.

As confidence in their competence builds, they will take ownership of their own work. Growing that ownership to the team dynamic will need carefully planned steps. In meetings, don’t expect them to be the most vocal; don’t call on them to be a tie-breaker; and don’t surprise them. Meeting agendas, or at least discussion points, provided in advance give introverts time to prepare their thoughts and any materials they might want to bring.

Private conversations with this cohort before or after a meeting can help them provide input on a one-to-one basis, rather than with the group. If they have something to contribute, you might offer presenting it to the group on their behalf. After the employee sees it was well-received, they may be more comfortable with receiving credit for the idea or even participating next time.

Correcting introverts

Most introverts are their own harshest critics, so correction from a manager can be devastating. These employees are excellent listeners and excel at critical thinking. They set very high standards for themselves and take pride in accuracy. They explore problems and solutions from all angles before making a decision, so shifting their processes will take patience and care.

Training introverts may take longer, because they look for the what, why, and how of every process, but once they understand it’s locked in. Repositioning their processes will require longer, as well, because they need to understand what’s going wrong, and where in their protocol they need to readjust. Prepare to take a lot of questions and patiently answer them. You may want to allow the employee to take time to think about it and get back to you the next day with more questions or input. Offer to meet in person or discuss the changes by email, if that’s easier for them. The more you allow them time to digest the correction, the better they’ll adapt for the future.

Rewarding introverts

Some employees are only mildly satisfied with ticker-tape parade for the most mundane accomplishments. For introverts, the discovery of cold fusion barely warrants a public “great job.” These are employees who like to stay under the radar. While you may have bolstered their ability to contribute to team meetings, they still might not be comfortable with group congratulations.

Rewarding these employees is necessary to keep them motivated and engaged, but approach them in the manner that puts them at ease. They often appreciate written compliments of their work more than verbal. This group prizes write-ups to their personnel file or praise included in their employee evaluations. They want to receive recognition, they just don’t need a public display. If public recognition is warranted, make sure to keep it in small groups that they’re comfortable within.

More private rewards, like an afternoon off or a selection from a gift catalog, are another way to recognize these team members. They want to receive recognition, they just don’t need everyone else to hear about it.

Creating a safe environment that recognizes everyone’s work style is integral to managing introverts, extroverts, and everyone in between. Remind colleagues to respect every member of the team’s personality type and work to build relationships and trust within each other’s boundaries and comfort zone. Introverted employees tend to be hard working, reliable staff members and colleagues. Allowing them to find their way, in their own time and on their own terms is key to managing them effectively.

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