Credit and Blame at Work

Exploring the psychological forces at play while you work.

How to Level the Playing Field for Introverts and Extroverts

Making sure that everyone gets heard in the workplace

The fantastic success of Susan Cain's Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking demonstrates that she has tapped into something very important in our culture and our society at this moment in history.

Inevitably, corporations and many other kinds of organizations will realize the implications of Susan Cain's work for their practices and cultures. Here are some very preliminary suggestions of what organizations might do to better "hear" introverts who may be "quiet" but still have tremendous value that they bring to the workplace each day:

- Examine "competency models" and performance appraisal systems criteria to ascertain whether there is a bias towards evaluating and rewarding extroverted behaviors over introverted behaviors.

- Write comprehensive job descriptions that inform people how much interaction, networking, collaboration and advocacy are required in positions before candidates take the jobs. This will enable introverts to self-select out of jobs that they might not thrive in. "Realistic job previews" in general are very useful.

- Utilize feedback mechanisms, such as online surveys or other kinds of anonymous "suggestion" boxes, wherein introverts can feel comfortable sharing feedback and suggestions that they might not feel comfortable sharing in a public forum.

- Employ "polling" or similar strategies to solicit and consider the perspectives of all members of the team or organization, so everyone has a voice, even if they are reluctant to fight for attention in a public setting.

- Ask members of a team if they would like time on a meeting agenda in advance of the meeting, so that more introverted team members can influence the agenda in advance without feeling like they have to be "the squeaky wheel" in a meeting or to compete for airtime.

- Structure debates so that members of a team have an opportunity to argue "pro" or "con" any given issue or strategy in subteams. While an introvert may not feel comfortable soliciting support and loudly advocating a point of view, he or she might be comfortable participating in a discussion in a smaller team.

The above suggestions are meant to be a point of departure, and not a point of arrival. Corporations and other kinds of organizations, of any size and in the U.S. and abroad, can benefit from thoughtful consideration of Susan's excellent book and how much it is resonating with so many people.

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Ben Dattner, Ph.D., is a workplace consultant, an industrial and organizational psychologist, and an adjunct professor at New York University.

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