How to Work With Introverts

By Eva Rykrsmith on October 10, 2010 6 Comments

Extraversion is one of the major personality traits. Our personality stays relatively stable throughout our lives. Personality traits exist on a spectrum, so we can be low, moderate, or high on the extraversion trait. If you are low in extraversion, it is referred to as being high in introversion.

While personality can help predict how someone is likely to behave, it doesn’t determine how we behave. The situation, the setting, how others act, our mood, our values, our intentions, among other things – are just as likely to have an impact on our behavior and actions.

That being said, the behaviors of an extreme introvert and an extreme extravert can vary so drastically in response to an identical situation that one may have quite a difficult time understanding where the other is coming from. To be an effective leader, you must be able to adapt your style. To work effectively in a team situation, it is helpful to recognize, respect, and work with the differences of others.

Emotional Expression

One hallmark of extraverts is they are very likely to display positive emotions whenever they feel them. In contrast, an introvert may be very happy or pleased, yet nobody around them would recognize it because they tend to be more reserved in their emotional expression. They most likely will not jump up and down in response to a birthday gift or a promotion. But don’t assume they are unhappy or unappreciative. They are more likely to express their true emotions through words rather than actions. Take those words at face value and don’t read into it.

Information Processing

Extraverts sometimes must start talking before their thoughts begin to make sense to them. Introverts are opposite in that if they start taking without a plan in mind, they will only get more confused. This is especially true in problem-solving. Don’t catch them off-guard with a question and expect a good answer. Prior to a meeting or a collaboration session, provide everyone with the agenda, the problem, the questions, etc. This will maximize the contributions that introverts make. In recent years, open collaboration spaces have become very popular. However, make sure you also have private, quiet spaces where work can be done without interruptions.

Social Interaction

It is a misconception that introverts have poor social skills or are shy. It probably comes about because introverts become drained (and thus, ineffective) after interacting with others and they become recharged after taking alone time. Introverts are more likely to enjoy interacting with others one-on-one than in larger group settings. They also tend to enjoy getting to know a few people very well rather than lots of people superficially. Because introverts process information internally, they may be slow talkers. Give them time to finish without interrupting.

Quick tips:

  • Extraverts tend to dominate brainstorming sessions. Ask introverts for their opinion specifically and create an opportunity for them to be heard without interruptions.
  • Phone conversations create awkward pauses when the introvert is thinking. Use email if you want to get their clearest thoughts around a topic.
  • Introverts will often keep their emotions, interests, ideas, and thoughts to themselves. It takes time, trust, and a great relationship to get to know them fully.
  • Introverts have a larger personal space bubble and a lower tolerance for external stimuli. Hold the hugs, turn down the music, and give them some space.

Great team members, as well as great leaders, come in both varieties – introverts and extraverts.

This post was originally published on the Intuit QuickBase Team Leadership blog.

6 Responses to “How to Work With Introverts”

  1. Karen Tiede says on: 18 October 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Good post!

    > introverts become drained (and thus, ineffective) after interacting with others and they become recharged after taking alone time.

    My life would be easier, I would like to think, if more extraverts understood the difference between “shy” and “drained.” I get it about them–being quiet and alone is draining. Sigh.

    >Introverts are more likely to enjoy interacting with others one-on-one than in larger group settings.

    With one redefinition–public speaking is, at least for me, a 1:1 experience. Me and the audience. Easier speak in public than it is to meet 20 new people at a networking event, even if the individual meetings are actually 1:1.


  2. Pag says on: 18 October 2010 at 4:14 pm

    While this is an interesting post, this type of “How to deal with introverts” articles always end up sounding negative. Maybe it’s because they’re usually written by and for extroverts, but the feeling I often get — here included — is that the article says “Introverts are strange people, here’s how to deal with their character flaws.”

    It would be interesting to spend more time explaining the specific strengths that introverts bring to a team. For example, in my introvert’s experience, extroverts don’t explore their thoughts in as much depth. As long as everybody around them agree with them, they often assume that their idea is complete. An introvert is better able to analyze their ideas in depth and find hidden flaws in their plans. Where an extrovert says “Nobody could have seen this problem coming”, the introvert says “I told you so.”

    There are many other ways in which introversion is a strength and not just a quirk of character (just like in many ways, extroversion is a strength). North American corporate culture celebrates extroversion, but don’t forget that you need introverts to focus on solving difficult problems for success. The super-salesman who’s friends with everybody isn’t that useful without the super-engineer to create great products to sell.

    • Crystal says on: 19 October 2010 at 11:54 am

      You head the nail on the head. It’s as though Introversion is not the “norm” or a problem to be solved. The title alone starts the conversation off disrespectfully. I often feel as though my job only celebrates and elevates those that talk the most or loudest. There is little appreciation in this American society for those who are introverted.

  3. Eva Rykr says on: 18 October 2010 at 6:25 pm

    Karen – Ditto on extraverts understanding! Interesting point about the public speaking. I have read before that introverts are more likely to be better public speakers than extraverts.

    Pag – That definitely gives me some new post ideas, thanks! Also, if you come back in a few weeks, you’ll see a post aimed at extraverts!

  4. James Laitinen says on: 19 October 2010 at 1:13 am

    Part of me always thinks why do we have to keep going to such great lengths to quantify, and classify people. If people in general would slow down, take a sincere interest in everyone there would be a lot of people problems solved in short order.

    Be real in your approach, motivate and collaborate!

  5. Nancy Ancowitz says on: 19 October 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Nice tips. Thank you, Eva! Here’s another: If you’re an extrovert, count to three in your head before responding to an introvert’s comments. Be sure to let her finish her thought. Don’t fill in every pause.


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