Research shows that at least 50 percent of the population may be introverted. This may come as a surprise, because many people force themselves to act like extraverts – particularly in professional settings, where extraversion is almost required.
Of course, the reality is that introvert/extravert isn’t as black and white as we think it is. We exist on a spectrum, with “true” introverts and “true” extraverts being pretty rare. Most of us are somewhere in between.
Still, those of us who are more prone to introversion can find it difficult to play along with the extraversion of the office – especially in classically extraverted positions like sales and marketing. Office extraverts may feel intimidated by or awkward around introverts because they can’t quite get a handle on these colleagues. Managers, too, may find it difficult to supervise introverts.
But that doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless. Here is some advice on how to help your introverted team members maximize their contributions and become more engaged at work:
One of the biggest myths is that introverts are less effective leaders than extraverts. Did you know that Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Gandhi, and Eleanor Roosevelt are or were all introverts? Believe it or not, nearly 40 percent of leaders are actually introverted. Does that come as a shocker? Not to us.
Introverts have a ton of great skills in common with highly effective leaders. For example, they tend to be great listeners, and they learn well through observation. Introverts may be more silent than their extraverted counterparts, but great leaders don’t necessarily have to be constantly talking. In fact, sometimes, great leaders have to know when to shut up, take a step back, and look at the big picture – something introverts are very good at.
Helping Your Introverted Employees
Sixty-five percent of executives say introverts are less likely to advance at work. But these executives are wrong. In fact, there are a lot of things you can do to support introverted employees and help them advance:
1. Give Them Time to Process
Once you’ve presented an introverted employee with a new situation, give them time to process it. That’s not because introverts are “slow” – it’s because they like to internalize situations before responding. This careful reflection often leads to more reasoned solutions, so you should definitely encourage the behavior.
2. Give Them Space
Introverts recharge by being by themselves. Privacy fuels their ideas, so you want to make sure your introverted employees have the space they need. You can do this by offering introverted employees one day a week to work from home, a telecommuting arrangement, or a private office. Even a great pair of headphones and some solid communication guidelines can help!
3. Give Them Control of Their Environment
Giving introverts a measure of ownership over their office environment can help improve their performance. If you’re an A/C drill sergeant or you refuse to allow individual personalization of space in your cubicle farm, you may want to rethink what these (useless) policies are doing for your employees. Engaged employees can boost a company’s bottom line by up to 20 percent, but only 13 percent of employees report feeling engaged in their jobs. Why not get more of your employees engaged by giving them a comfortable, customizable environment? Your introverts, especially, will thank you.
Of course, it’s important to support all employees, regardless of their personality types. Make sure you pay attention to your extraverted employees’ preferences, too.
Not sure what your employees’ personality types are? Have them take an employee comparison assessment. These tools can help you figure out what your employees’ personalities are like – and from there, you can make smart choices about supporting them in all the right ways.
A version of this post originally appeared on the Vitru blog.