Hi everyone, here’s a guest post from the insightful Ben Dattner, of Dattner Consulting, and author of The Blame Game, on how organizations can harness the strengths of their introverted employees. Do you have other ideas to add? Would love to hear them. In the meantime, here’s Ben:
“The fantastic success of Susan Cain’s Quiet 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 US and abroad, can benefit from thoughtful consideration of Susan’s excellent book and how much it is resonating with so many people.”
If you’d like to hear more from Ben, you can find him here.
*In other news, I’m afraid that in a previous blogpost on happiness, I used an excellent cartoon by Andrew Matthews on the nature of happiness, without crediting him or asking his permission. My apologies, Andrew! More happily, I’ve since checked out more of Andrew’s work, and it’s really quite wonderful. I won’t post it here, but here’s a link if you’re curious.
I do not really agree with the “realistic job previews” idea. Although I cannot deny accurate job descriptions are useful, it sounds like introverted people should not apply for a job which requires a lot of interaction. Well, many introverted people actually enjoy interacting with others and often find themselves stuck in a corner and talking to nobody but their computer the whole day, just because the company did not find them suitable enough for the “extroverted” job. You can be surprised by how well introverted people can handle interpersonal communications thanks to their good listening skills. Motivation is definitely what matters the most in the job.
I am not convinced that introverts prefer speaking in subteams. In the larger group, you get to put forth your best thoughts and be heard by all. The odds are greater that soneone will appreciate what you said. In the smaller group, the atmosphere is cozier and more social; fir that very reason, people in the group might soften their ideas or might dismiss what doesn’t fit in. Then, when the small group reports back to the larger group, it may leave out whatever the group as a whole did not accept or understand.
The one significant area that needs to be addressed in the workplace is work space. Four years ago my company (healthcare) built another facility. Since the new facility was much closer to my work, I transferred there.
Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined such a poor workspace, which was, essentially, a plank in the middle of the waiting room floor, in which I was supposed to conduct highly detailed work in the midst of being deafened by two very loud, very obnoxious TVs AND a room full of screaming children in front of me and being interrupted a million times a day to tell people where the bathroom is (because the company refuses to put up signs).
Even if I were not extremely introverted, I would find such a workspace completely illogical and inefficient. As it is, the workspace is utter torture. And I mean that literally.
While I recognize that companies have a lot on their plate and that considering the emotional and psychological makeup of their employees may seem foolish to some, it definitely wouldn’t hurt for them to implement a bit of common sense either.
Ooops…that should have read “Since the new facility was much closer to my HOME….”
I fell into clinical depression just weeks after the company I had devoted thirty years of my life to was purchased by a VERY extroverted competitor.
I will soon begin my third year of recovery, employed at 80% LESS, but consider it a small price to save my soul.
The runaway attention Quiet has received is very encouraging as I continue to recover from depression, and seek work that matches my mindset.
As the extovert who ran our job search club would ofter remark: we extroverts NEED introverts; without them to keep us in line, nothing would be accomplished!
As a captain of industry remarked in the book The Tyrrany of Email, “My job is not to stay on top of things: my job is to get to the bottom of things.”
Congratulations on your book; I’m on the long waiting list at the library!
I agree with Marie and Aaron that this was not the most helpful article. It sounds like these tips are meant for shy, timid people–not necessarily introverts. Sometimes there is a difference.
Off topic take a peek at this weekend’s Brain Pickings Blog your book is mentioned as a pick…just thought you might be interested. They choose the most interesting books to highlight!
I wholeheartedly agree with the need to examine organizational competency frameworks and performance models for bias. This is a practical step towards dismantling institutionalized discrimination against introverted employees. Such frameworks – and the cultural assumptions attached to them – have a subtle but profound way of influencing norms in workplaces, so that there is an almost unconscious bias against introverts. For instance, how many performance assessment frameworks emphasize leadership qualities, where this is typically associated with outgoing, charismatic and forceful behavior, as opposed to say, being empathic and able to listen? The narrow image of leadership that so many workplace norms are built on (implicitly or explicitly) is overdue for radical overhaul. Rather than promoting leadership qualities associated with leading “from the center”, how about those based on leading “from the side”? Until organizations can grasp this, there is no such thing as equal employment opportunity. If we accept that introversion has biological roots, and that arbitrary discrimination based on personal temperament exists (i.e. it actually has nothing to do with capability for the job), then this is as serious a form of discrimination as in the case of sex, race and sexual orientation.
I meant to add that the practice of psychometric testing and evaluation of job candidates needs to be re-examined too for inherent bias against introversion. In hiring practice, what constitutes discrimination based on a person’s aptitude for the job (which is appropriate) versus discrimination based on arbitrary assumptions about a particular personality type (inappropriate) is a tricky area, but one that deserves a much more rigorous look. Not long ago, it was unquestioned ‘fact’ that women were not fit for certain jobs, e.g. firefighting or being on the frontline of battle, but such stereotypes have been rightly overturned. So there are strong precedents for examining our assumptions about what class of persons are fit for what jobs – and on that basis, I must say I have some reservations about the 2nd bullet point in the article above re job descriptions/previews.
As a side point, while personal experience and overwhelming anecdotal evidence tells me that there does exist institutionalized bias against introverts in society and the workplace, it would be useful if there were more reliable metrics around this (I’ve pointed out in another part of the Forum that there is scant demographic information on introverts, at least from what I know). Again, while not straightforward, having some useful data on how introversion/extraversion or temperament in general correlates with life outcomes would be really handy as a way to advance our understanding of the issue.
There’s nothing wrong with being timid and shy either. Many introverts are shy even if this isn’t necessarily the case. This article was very useful.
I like the suggestions, but I’d add that not only should managers, “ask members of a team if they would like time on a meeting agenda in advance of the meeting,” but also distribute an agenda in advance so that prospective attendees can decide whether it’s worthwhile to attend, and distribute agenda minutes afterwards so that those not attending can benefit from the meeting, too.
I agree. I have a very succesfully gifted teen(age 16)and he enjoys being an introvert!
Somehow, I find this guest post slightly offensive, and I’m not sure I can express why without offending others. as I read it, I felt I could almost substitute the word “handicapped” for introvert, as though accomodations need to be made in order for such a person to function in an organization. Singling out any personality type or individual characteristic and stating that normal organizational life is not something they can handle negates the ability of most people to be flexible and actually enjoy the challenges of life.
Indeed, I can imagine there are individuals from disadvantaged groups of any streak (whether based on race, class or gender) feeling offended that the playing field should have to be leveled for them at all for them to succeed. Why, I may be a woman, or I may be black, even handicapped, but I can be twice as good as the next person and still beat the so-called privileged class at their own game! I don’t want to be seen to be given a ‘hand up’!!
Of course I have no problem with individuals succeeding on the basis of their own merit. I think we all want that. However, I think such a view vastly underestimates the extent to which the game is arbitrarily stacked in favor of certain types in society, and against others, for reasons that have nothing to do with merit, and certainly not people’s actual talents and abilities.
Following your reasoning, I would actually be more offended by the current state of affairs if I were an extrovert: I’d hate to imagine that most of the successes and achievements I’ve had in life to date – through school, in the workplace and in politics – could have been because of society’s misplaced love affair with the ‘cult of personality’ than any intrinsic talent of my own.
I don’t think the author is saying that introverts MUST take only those jobs that say “quiet office” “less talk on the telephone” etc., he’s saying that it would be nice to know not just what the job duties are but how you’d be interacting with others. For example, I enjoyed the writing part of being in public relations, but hated the pitching part, so had I known just how much of that I’d have to do, I might not have taken the job.
Many people select being in IT because they usually have less person to person interaction than someone in customer service. But there’s no hard and fast rule to any of this.
As the author states…these are suggestions, not absolutes.
When I first heard about this book and read the description, the first thing that occurred to me was that it had never occurred to me that being introverted was NOT a character flaw. Such is the total brainwashing in favor of extroversion in our culture. As for corporations taking the needs of introverts into account: good luck with that. I think the push toward the extrovert ideal is only getting more extreme in the corporate world.
In my most recent job, I was harshly criticized for my basic personality, which was of course extremely hurtful. They seem to hate people who are “too quiet.” I was literally screamed at in front of a colleague right after a client meeting because I had only spoken twice. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? You just sit there during a meeting and SAY NOTHING? Next time stay back at the office and find yourself something useful to do!”
Never mind that this was a legal review meeting, and in previous jobs I had been told to simply take orders from the review committee and only speak when spoken to. The committee had directed no questions or comments to me, so I only spoke up when I had something to say that would clarify a point.
When I protested this treatment to my supervisor, the reply was, “He shouldn’t have spoken to you in that manner, but then again, he was right.” The attitude was that I was lucky to be keeping my job after turning in such a poor performance, and I had no right to complain about anything.
They further criticized me for “staying hidden in your cubicle” too much, which wasn’t even true, but somehow my personality is such that they tended not to notice me even when I was there. I would often sort of lurk around trying to make small talk to ingratiate myself with colleagues and supervisors, but I was mostly ignored, so I would just retreat. I started to feel invisible.
The book mentioned the phenomenon of people not hearing you even when you do speak up. That was totally the case. I would speak in meetings, and somehow people just kept talking over me. I noticed that again and again.
I have, of course, always been a classic introvert, often teased with remarks like, “Hey simmer down, and let someone else get a word in,” but I’ve never been kicked around like this because of it before. They also marked me down for not being “perceived as a leader,” even though I did not have a managerial job. It was just total persecution because of my personality, or at least that is what they used to persecute me with. Was I threatening to my boss? Do people think that if you are quiet, it means that you are judging them and that makes them dislike you?
Whatever the reason, it was the most harrowing experience I’ve ever had in the workplace, and I work in a notoriously tough industry: advertising. But I am an advertising writer, not an account person, so I would think that being introverted would not be so unusual.
I love that a conversation on this topic has begun with this book, and I fervently hope it will do some good.
Managers in my group have begun to send out links about how to rate your online social presence. So, the general trend is that you need to go out on the internet and build up a “brand” that involves you promoting yourself as expert on a product. There are hints that the social brand rating is somehow involved in hiring.
So, first you had to be a blowhard at the office. Now you have to be a blowhard online too. As Susan says, “Stop the madness”. If everyone starts shouting, then no one is.