Understanding the Power of Introverts in the Workplace

Niamh O'Byrne / June 28, 2017

The Secret Power of Introverts

 

It’s easy to get convinced in a job interview that an extrovert candidate is the best fit for the position. But what if their introvert competitor is actually more suitable? Don’t dismiss a candidate because they might not have engaged as actively or discovered a shared hobby in the course of the conversation. Instead, take the opportunity to embrace the secret power of introverts in the workplace.

 

Current Biases Against Introverts

Introverts are more common in a workplace than managers might realise. According to one study, as much as 50 percent of the U.S. workforce self-identifies as introverts. And yet, 96% percent of leaders and managers self-identify as extroverts, creating a significant chasm and even some biases against talent that is not as outgoing or seems shyer than their peers.

Society tends to have an implicit cultural bias against introverts, and that bias manifests itself particularly strongly in the workforce. Someone who talks to us every day is naturally more well-regarded than their peer who gets to their desk, sits down and begins to work without much interaction. Similarly, the colleague who speaks up at a meeting will receive more accolades than the one who sits down and takes in everyone else’s opinions.

However, that bias could be a significant mistake.

Introverts tend to have qualities that make them exceptionally well-suited to be more productive and even take on leadership roles. All you have to do is learn how to harness that power.

 

The Power of Introversion

Firstly, it’s easy to confuse introversion with shyness. But in reality, the two are not the same. While shy people refrain from speaking out in public settings because they’re nervous, introverts take the same action because they see the value in listening. And that’s the first indication of their potential power.

The end result might be the same. But the reasoning to get to that point differs, in some ways significantly.

In fact, introverts tend to develop a number of skills that can become significant in today’s workforce. They know how to listen, and are more considerate of others’ opinions before arriving at a decision. As a result, according to U.S. author Susan Cain, introverts tend to be more reflective, and are better able to build productive professional relationships.

One study of MBA students is particularly revealing in the gap between perception and reality when it comes to introverts. In group projects, students tend to give their extrovert peers higher ratings than introverted group members. But as the project goes on, the ratings begin to reverse themselves, as introverts reveal their true value and productivity.

Actual work, it turns out, is more than just talking. Or, as the researcher responsible for the study stated,

‘Extroverts disappoint us over time when they’re part of a team. On a team, you’re expected to work hard and contribute a lot. But they’re often poor listeners, and they don’t collaborate’.  

Contrast that with introverts, who may not make as good of a first impression but will end up more productive, collaborative, and successful over time.

 

Introverts as Business Leaders

In reality, there is a significant case to be made that despite the current chasm and biases, placing introverts in crucial company positions and leadership roles comes with significant benefits. As Forbes highlights, some of the today’s most influential and well-regarded leaders – such as Google’s Larry Page and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg – self-identify as introverts. Charles Darwin, Al Gore, and Albert Einstein also fit on the spectrum.

Introverts are beneficial employees to have in the workplace and employers need to harness the potential both introverts and extroverts can bring to the table. The secret power of introverts might just be the variable that ensures long-term success for your company.

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