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May - 2008 - issue > Management
Introversion at the Workplace
Anuj Magazine
Thursday, May 1, 2008
The mental attitudes of being 'inward looking' and 'outward looking' in one's personal character affects the way one is able to play his or her role effectively in a team situation.

Consider the following situations at a workplace:
* There's an employee who prefers to work and contribute a lot behind the scenes rather than coming into the limelight.
* In team meeting situations, there's a discussion on the project related topic and you find an employee who is widely regarded as a proven performer and usually comes up with excellent solutions when working alone, just sits calmly in the meetings with a great deal of reluctance to speak.
* As a manager handling a large team, you notice that a majority of the employees blow their own horn and take credit for the good work that has been done by them but there is this employee who just presents the facts without exaggerating his role.
* In a teleconference with offshore team, while talking to an employee for the first time, you find him or her stumbling and at a loss of words to explain things.
* You have this quiet employee in your team who is usually considered good for nothing as he or she does not prefer to talk like others. And then, when this employee speaks up on the topic of his expertise, he or she leaves everyone amazed by the depth of knowledge he or she possesses.

There are many such situations that happen in the work place. Of course there can be lots of other personality aspects leading to these situations, but more often this is related to 'introversion'. In the work place situations as the ones mentioned above, most of the times the behavior exhibited by the 'introvert' employees is treated as unusual by other employees. The primary reason for such a misconception is that, according to a study, the 'extroverts' on this planet outnumber the 'introverts' by three to one. Just taking a look around the workplace or even into the personal lives makes one appreciate this fact. 'Extroverts', being in majority, relate well to one another rather than to the 'introverts'.

basic difference between 'introversion' and 'extroversion'
In their book, 'Type talk at work' Otto Kroeger and Janet Thuesen differentiate 'introversion' and 'extroversion' as follows: Unlike 'extroverts', who always wear their personalities on their sleeves, 'introverts' often keep their best to themselves. With 'introverts', you see only a portion of their personality. The richest and the most trusted aspects of an 'introvert's' personality are not necessarily shared with the outside world. It takes time, trust, and special circumstances for them to begin to open up. That's the reason, as Marti Oslen Laney (a psychotherapist and author of books on 'introversion') puts it this way: 'Extroverts' almost always get good press and 'introverts' are often left longing for more.

The 'introverts' draw their energy from their internal world of ideas and emotions whereas Extroverts get energized by external world through socializing, meeting people, going places, doing outward bound things.

Career options for 'introvert' employees
In the general perception of people outside the software field most of the techies are introverted, given the nature of their job. That's simply not true, given the diverse nature of the jobs in the software arena, e.g., Project Management professionals, Product management, Software testing, Software development, etc. 'Introvert' employees stand a fair chance to be successful in any of these diverse areas. May be a job dealing with less people and more computer interaction suit them better, but that definitely does not indicate that they cannot adapt to other jobs. Being true to their nature, the 'introvert' employees often find themselves dealing with the situations that require them to go out of their comfort zones. The key here is to adapt.

Another common misconception is that the 'introvert' employees cannot be good managers. Contrary to this, in my experience I have observed that 'introvert' managers in fact are better at anticipating things and understanding their employees. Again, the 'introvert' managers have to learn to empower employees, delegate work effectively, and give timely feedback as these aspects of a manager's job may not come as naturally and effortlessly to 'introverts' as in the case of 'extroverts'. Some of the situations that a manager typically faces can be very demanding both emotionally and mentally for an 'introvert', so it is important for such a person to understand his or her energy requirement to deal with a particular situation and the necessity to recharge and regroup.
Thus, being an 'introvert' does not limit an employee to be successful in his or her chosen career path, be it technical or managerial, as long as necessary adjustments are made to deliver what is expected of a
chosen job.

Handling 'introvert' employees at work
'Introvert' employees are often a misunderstood lot. A manager can do a lot to clear misconceptions around 'introversions' and get the best out of the employees. Take a look at the following instances:

* The 'Introverts' may often seem not being team players because of their quiet nature. As a manager, before labeling them as averse to the team environment, take a step further to understand how they are aligned. Quietness does not always mean lack of team spirit.
* The 'Introverts' love to contribute silently without blowing their own trumpet but this should not stand in the way of them getting the appreciation they deserve. As a manager, take special effort to recognize these individuals.
* Even though an 'introvert' employee would have the best of ideas, he or she will always feel uncomfortable to present these in front of a large audience. As a manager, understand the anxiety of such an employee and motivate him or her to prepare hard to overcome the inherent apprehension.
* In large group situations, the 'introvert' employees usually find it hard to absorb all the information and present their opinion about the situation swiftly. This is usually treated as a lack of intelligence, whereas the fact is that if a manager gives some additional time post meeting to these employees to reflect upon the discussion and give their inputs, you will more often be surprised at the kind of valuable suggestions an 'introvert' employee comes up with.
* The 'Introvert' employees would always hesitate to come up to you as a manager to share their grievances. As a manager, it would always help to keep your eyes open to capture the necessary hints of such an employee being not happy with something and initiate a talk.

The 'introvert' employees are often great at work. All that is needed from a manager is just a little more care. In common society norms, 'extroversion' is considered as good and 'introversion' as bad. 'Introversion' should never be treated as inability of an individual; it's just a preference that gets formed with some people as they grow up in their life. In fact, in most of the cases the 'introvert' employees possess some 'extroverted' qualities and vice versa. Having an apt understanding of these preferences and being sensitive towards the basic differences in these two types of individuals can help in a big way in resolving work place related conflicts. Though most of the organizations claim to treat all their employees equally, it would require quite a change in our perception to treat 'introversion' and 'extroversion' with equal dignity at the work place. Are we ready for this change?

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