Saturday, May 3, 2008

Introversion at a work place: boon or bane?

A typical work place consists of people with different personalities.True to their differences, people at work react or behave differently to similar situations faced. This article aims at one such type of personality type i.e. Introversion. Introvert employees are different than the Extrovert employees in many different ways. Here, i present an unedited version of my article that got published in the May month of "TheSmartTechie" magazine. Happy Reading and i would really appreciate any thoughts/comments here-

Consider the following situations at a workplace
- There's an employee who prefers to work and contribute a lot behind the scenes without coming into limelight.
- In a team meeting situation, there's a discussion on the project related topic and you find an employee who's 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 majority of 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 a person for the first time, you notice an employee almost at a loss of words or even stumbling.
- You have this employee in your team who is considered good for nothing as he/she does not prefers to talk like others. And then when this employee speaks up on the topic of his expertise, he/she leaves everyone amazed at his depth of knowledge.

There are many such situations that happen in the work place. Of course, there can be lot of other personality aspects leading to these situations but more often this is related to Introversion. In the work place situations as 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 the ratio of three is to one. One can appreciate this as a fact more upon looking around the work place or even in the personal lives. Extroverts, being in majority- relates well to other extroverts rather than to the Introverts.

Understanding the basic difference between Introversion and Extroversion:
In their book, “Type talk at work”- Otto Kroeger and Janet Thuesen differentiates Introversion and Extroversion as follows-
"Unlike Extroverts, who always wears 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 parts of an introvert's personality are not necessarily shared with the outside world. It takes up time, trust and special circumstances for them to begin to open up." Thats the reason, as Marti Oslen Laney (a psychotherapist and author on books on Introversion) puts it- Extroverts often always get good press and Introverts are often left asking for more.
The Introverts draw their energy from their internal world of ideas and emotions whereas Extroverts gets energized by external world by socializing, meeting people, going places, doing outward bound things.

Career options for Introvert employees:
As a 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 fair chance to be successful in any of these diverse jobs. May be a job dealing with less people and more computer interaction suite them better but that definitely does not indicate that they cannot adapt to other jobs. Being true to their nature, 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.
Other common misconception is that Introvert employees cannot be good managers. Contrary to this, in my experience i have observed that introvert managers infact are better at anticipating things and understanding their employees. Again, Introvert managers have to learn to empower employees, delegate work effectively and give timely feedback as these aspects of manager’s job may not come as naturally and effortlessly to introverts as it does to extroverts. Some of the situations that typically a manager faces can be very demanding both emotionally and mentally for an Introvert so, it is important for such a person to understand his/her energy requirement to deal with a particular situation and the necessity to recharge and regroup.
This, being an Introvert does not limit an employee to be successful in 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-
- Introverts may often seems not being team player because of their quiet nature. As a manager, before labeling them as averse to team environment, take a step further to understand how they are aligned. Quietness does not always mean lack of team spirit.
- 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 best of ideas, he/she will always feel uncomfortable to present these in front of large audience. As a manager, understand the anxiety of such employee and motivate him/her to prepare hard to overcome the inherent apprehension.
- In large group situations, 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 give their inputs, you will more often be surprised at kind of valuable suggestions introvert employee comes up with.
- Introvert employees would always resist coming 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 if such an employee is not happy with something and initiate a talk.

Introvert employees are often great at work. All that is needed from a manager is just a little care to bring the best out of them.

In common society norms, Extroversion is considered as good and Introversion as bad. Introversion should never be treated as inability of an individual, its just a preference that gets formed with some people as they grow up in their life. Infact, in most of the cases Introvert employees possess some extroverted qualities and vice versa. Having the apt understanding of these preferences and being sensitive towards the basic differences in these two types of individuals can help 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 perception to treat Introversion and Extroversion with equal dignity at the work place.
Are we ready for this change ?