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The Introvert-Friendly Workplace

A new book provides guidelines for nurturing personality diversity on the job.

Photo by Startup Stock Photos
Source: Photo by Startup Stock Photos

It is, perhaps, an awkward time for the release of an excellent new book, Creating Introvert-Friendly Workplaces, by Jennifer Kahnweiler, PhD, a global speaker on introverts in the workplace. After all, most of us are working at home these days, which, one might argue, is the most introvert-friendly workplace possible. (Although not without risks; more on that later.) Kahnweiler is an extrovert married to an introvert who has made understanding us her life’s work.

I remain confident that sooner or later (hoping without hope it will be sooner), we will all return to some semblance of normal life. And when we do, we might find that workplaces look different, to accommodate new health concerns. So as long as companies are rethinking things like office configurations, it’s a perfect time to factor in the needs of introverts.

After all, as Kahnweiler argues, personality is an aspect of diversity that employers are well advised to consider. And in this book, she explains not only why—tapping into the diverse strengths of introverts and extroverts can only improve outcomes—but how, from the interview process, through designing work spaces, to training and development.

Her ideas, developed through years of talking to introverts in the workplace, reading the research of others, visiting various workplaces, and through her own workplace survey, are well thought out, and we can only hope that employers take a look. (They can start by taking the Introvert-Friendly Workplaces Quiz.)

A few takeaways from the book:

Hiring: If they are to approach introversion and extroversion as aspects of a diverse workplace, hiring managers need to actively add introverts to the mix, even though extroverts are likely to shine more brightly in interviews. The first thing you can do if you are responsible for new hires is check your own biases, be they for or against introverts. Then, to make sure that introverts present their best selves in interviews, consider the room (a brightly lit or noisy room can be overwhelming for introverts); schedule adequate time, because we tend to take time to ponder questions before answering; and if it’s a full day of interviewing, allow for breaks in the day so we can retreat and recharge.

Meetings: Introverts tend to disappear in group situations. We process information slowly and are unlikely to leap into the fray of fast-paced discussion, so you might not get the benefit of our insights in freewheeling meetings. Kahnweiler suggests that along with the meeting agenda, include questions for attendees to consider beforehand, allowing introverts to mull before meeting. You can also try establishing a one-minute rule that requires everyone to speak for one minute about whatever work-related topic they are focused on, and/or make sure everyone in the room speaks twice—you might have to actively solicit introverts’ input in meetings. You can also break larger meetings into smaller teams; introverts are most comfortable one-on-one or in small groups.

Workplace design: Surprisingly, Kahnweiler finds that open-plan offices are not entirely the work of Satan. In some instances, thoughtfully designed open-plan workplaces work well for everyone, even introverts. But of course, the key is “thoughtfully designed.” Can you manage the noise level somehow, even if it just means providing noise cancelling headphones? Is the lighting harsh? Is there natural light? Can you use natural materials and place some plants around, to create a soothing environment? And, perhaps most importantly, can you designate a quiet room where people can go when they need to escape the office bustle?

Working remotely: Yes, introverts can thrive working at home; it’s kind of a dream come true. But we are also at risk of becoming disconnected from colleagues and losing our creative mojo without new information coming in to juice it up. (Yes, we create best in solitude, but the outside world provides fodder for thinking. Take my word for it—I’ve been working at home since 1994.) Counter the risks by setting clear expectations for remote workers—such as requiring them to be available for conference calls certain hours of the day or requiring them to come to the office one day a week for in-person meetings. Managers should also make sure to discuss in conference calls the successes of individuals working remotely, so workers feel appreciated, motivated, and connected. Introverts are particularly unlikely broadcast their accomplishments, so managers can do it for them.

In her previous book, The Genius of Opposites, Kahnweiler explains why introverts and extroverts working together can do great things. In this book, she provides guidance for helping to make the magic happens.

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