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People Leadership: Working with Introverts

Good managers know how to size up the people they work with to help facilitate communications. Some people are naturally born extroverts and require a bit of patience to cut through their constant stream of chatter. Others are Introverts or reserved/solitary, and like to keep to themselves. Indeed, most people are ambiverts and choose which communication mode they wish to use depending on how they feel at the time and the circumstances. For example, a person who may appear to be an introvert may be perceived as being shy. In truth, these people prefer to think before they speak as well as size up the audience before participating in communications. As a matter of fact, some introverts can turn into extroverts once they are comfortable with the setting.

In today’s world of office politics, many people find it best to hold back and learn the politics of the situation before becoming fully engaged with the team. This can be misinterpreted as shyness or insecurity. In fact, these people are just getting a feel for the circumstance and try to avoid saying anything that may put them in a bad light.

Managers need to understand that real introverts may have a hard time functioning in group settings. This can be best determined by having some one-on-one with the “reserved” staff member before the group discussion convenes. Normally, once these folks feel comfortable, they readily come out of their shell. Real introverts may still be reluctant to communicate when in one-on-one sessions. If this is the case, the manager should understand that real introverts need a bit of special treatment. Here are some good examples:

  • Before any group meetings, have people read aloud the agenda. Make sure the real introvert has a chance to read out loud to the group. Just having them participate in a non-threatening role can help loosen them up and put them at ease.

  • Call upon introverts, but be careful not to put them in pressure situations in front of the group until they become comfortable.

  • Provide positive re-enforcement whenever introverts openly participate.

  • Understand that real introverts feel uncomfortable in group situations and may need to “depressurize” after participating. Introverts will state that interacting with other people drains their energy.

A good manager takes the time to understand how best to communicate with their charges and guards against any “grade school” negative comments from others if “shyness” is perceived as a lack of interest.

However, there are times when some folks may be undergoing trying times and may begin to take on the characteristics of a real introvert. If this is not their usual type of behavior, a good manager will take them aside and in private ask if there are any problems. Sometimes just talking with someone can help release the pressures many of us go through in our lives. In extreme cases, some instances of excessive withdrawal and anti-social behavior should be an item of concern. After all, these are strange times we live in. A good manager (or person for that matter) stays “in tune” with their team members. Yes, it is easier just to let it pass and consider it private business, but for groups to be most effective, it helps to cultivate harmony of the parts within the whole.


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