Recently, one of my clients was working with a team of people of who just didn’t seem to be gelling. After months of working with them, she was growing more and more concerned about the deteriorating dynamic within the group. Discussion points would fall flat, out of the 8 participants only 2 or 3 would have anything to say during meetings, in general the mood in the room was tense and unproductive. There was even some question as to whether my client’s work with this team would continue because she interpreted the unresponsiveness as disinterest and that ultimately, this project would fail.

Now, there was one participant who was using the group’s social media page to express her thoughts and in this forum, the other team members were giving their input as well.

My client found this fascinating. That despite the silence during the meetings, via social media she saw that there was very much a desire to collaborate. She realized what she suspected all along, that there was a wealth of creativity and potential simmering just under the surface that she couldn’t seem to access to this point.

During our work together she realized that the group was likely made up of mostly introverts. As an extrovert, her challenge was to invite their participation without occupying too much of the air time herself or coming across overbearing and pushy.

As her coach, I helped my client to become more familiar with how introverts like to work, so she decided to adopt a different approach at their next meeting. One simple change lead to opening the flood gates. This time, when she launched a new discussion point, instead of expecting responses right away, she asked each of them to take a piece of paper and write down their thoughts. After a minute or two they started expressing their ideas freely which broke out into a lively discussion. They also took time to talk about what they had posted on the group’s social media page. The result was a tangible increase in energy and motivation, helping the team reconnect with their aims and purpose, not to mention with my client and each other in a completely new way.

What was going on here? And what can we learn from this?

Here is a little background on our introverted colleagues. Of course, one introvert can differ widely form another so we always have to remember to treat people as unique individuals.

In general, those who prefer introversion:

  • have an inward focus
  • They often prefer to reflect and think things through themselves before speaking
  • They may like to create their own quiet spaces where they feel they can focus on their work
  • They may prefer receiving as opposed to initiating – such as in social settings
  • They may be more contained, keeping feelings and interests to themselves, solving issues on their own
  • They may be more independent, wanting to connect more with a task than with other people

The specific preference of introversion towards written communication really comes through in the example I just spoke about. People with this preference usually use writing because it allows them to think through their own information base and ideas before ‘putting them out there’. They also often do their best thinking after an event, so social media allowed them a place to express their thoughts after the fact.

In a face-to-face discussion forum, those with a preference for introversion want to be able to reflect on what’s being said and then have an opening to speak. Maybe this is where my client was making it more difficult for the introverts to participate. If it’s hard for them to find that opening, although they may be very engaged and involved it may not show on the outside, they may look uninterested and disconnected. If my client was finding that the team was not participating the way she hoped, it would feel natural for her to ask more questions and fill the awkward silence, crowding out the possibility for the introverted members to find a chance to offer their thoughts. This can be very hard for extroverts to understand and they may even assume that the introvert is disapproving or stubborn. My client assumed by the lack of participation that the project was doomed when it was very much alive. By giving them the chance to write down their thoughts, they had that moment to reflect on what they wanted to say and then felt ready to express it.

I have no doubt that you work with some people who prefer introversion. So here are some ways to work better together:

  1. Slow down, pause and allow silence
  2. Ask for their thoughts and listen
  3. Allow them time to write down their ideas
  4. Before moving to a new topic, ask if everyone has had a chance to give input who wants to
  5. Wait
  6. Don’t assume people are uninterested or tuned out
  7. If there are people who you’d like to hear from, say “it would help to know where you are on this”

You’ll never know unless you ask.

Don’t worry if you can’t remember all of these points but if you can keep a couple in mind you’ll avoid the common misunderstandings between introverts and extroverts and you’ll already be improving your work together. Just like my client did, you may tap into a whole new phase of energy and motivation.

I think if you practice paying attention to some of the ways to work with our introverted colleagues, you will save time and energy by avoiding the pitfalls of misunderstanding, and you’ll help create a better workplace.

Questions for Reflection:

Make note of those you work with closely who may have a preference for introversion.

How well are you working with your introverted colleagues?

What will you do differently to improve your work with introverts?