open plan office, people working an office, returning to work after lockdown

With so many people hankering to get back to working face-to-face now that lockdown is being eased, there is one group who are less enthusiastic: Introverts.

With up to 47 per cent of people in the UK identifying as introverts, they are present in every walk of life and often drawn to work in tech as it can allow them to play to their strengths.

Some of the many myths and misconceptions about introverts are that they are shy, arrogant, boring, tongue-tied and lonely with no friends or social life.  The reality is that introverts may be quiet because that’s what they need to recharge their mental batteries. Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, explained that the difference between introverts and extraverts is what drains and charges their mental batteries. Extraverts rely on interaction, active experiences and change to be energised, the very things that can drain an introvert. Their communication processes are different too in that introverts have the more considered and slower paced ‘think-say-think’ approach whilst extraverts tend to have a stream of consciousness, or ‘say-think-say’.  Unless people are aware of these differences, it can lead to people assuming that the introvert has nothing to say for themselves, no opinion, no contribution.  What’s more likely is that there hasn’t been enough thinking time or space in the conversation for an introvert to get to the ‘say’ part of their process. Consciously make the space, in a positive way, and you’ll often find that the quietest voice makes the most profound contribution.

It’s a sad fact that some really talented introverts will get overlooked for promotion because they are less likely to push themselves forward, hoping instead that their work will speak for itself. It’s part of the recognised extraversion bias as people mistakenly think they lack drive and ambition. Full integration and understanding this aspect of neurodiversity is an essential part of the diversity, inclusion & equity agenda.

The team-building misnomer

Listen to the chatter in some of the introvert groups and there is already a sense of impending doom about the ‘team-building’ that might take place once workplaces open up.  These types of activities are typically enjoyed by the extraverted team members as they usually involve the forced interaction and active experiences that recharge them.

Within the team, introverts are often considered arrogant and too serious when actually they just dislike small-talk, preferring instead fewer but meaningful conversations.  This means they don’t often engage in the social chit-chat and will tend to keep their heads down in an attempt to maintain their focus and preserve their mental batteries.

Many introverts have learned how to extravert in order to fit in with the norm but the price they pay can be too high.  It includes overwhelm and even burn-out, which seriously affects their wellbeing.  They’ll need to replenish their batteries just to get through the day and ultimately, feel deep sense of not being enough, as it’s only by pretending that they seem to be accepted.

Extraverted managers don’t always understand or even believe that people don’t enjoy the ‘fun’ stuff. The truth is that some might check to see if they have any annual leave left or even consider taking a ‘sickie’ on the day. The lack of understanding just compounds the bias and does nothing to integrate a team in a meaningful way.  Some people will be worried about their jobs and prospects following the lock-down, especially if they’ve been furloughed, so may feel backed into a corner, imagining they have no choice but to join in. If that happens, the results won’t be what you’re hoping for.

Having spent the last few months in lock-down, teams will benefit from establishing new norms of behaviour.  A useful process to remember here is Bruce Tuckman’s Forming, Storming, Norming & Performing model of group development. Nothing will be exactly the same again and it’s been long enough for old habits and patterns to have been forgotten. The chances are though that introverts have quite enjoyed their lock-down experience and will be in no hurry to return to the workplace, especially if they have a quiet household. So true integration is likely to be a challenge.

So how to genuinely reconnect the whole team?

The following series of recommendations are going to enhance the likelihood of success.

  • Establish your desired outcome. In order to re-establish connection, are you looking for improved communication, reconfiguring workloads, establishing new working practices, rebuilding trust? Make it meaningful so that everyone can see the value.
  • Don’t try to make it ‘fun’ or even badge it as such. What people consider fun is very subjective and if you’re serious about integrating the whole team, don’t alienate half of them! Use exercises that positively explore the difference between extraversion & introversion so that understanding is enhanced, and the diversity within the team can be valued.
  • Consider exploring what each team member has found positive and challenging about their lockdown experience and use that to shape your team’s new norms. Tuckman later added mourning to the process, so letting go of the past and ‘what was’ is important for the healthy development of a team.
  • Design something that will really unite the team and improve trust, avoiding the old physical trust exercises. Patrick Lencioni names the lack of trust as being the foundation of a dysfunctional team. Creating a safe environment where everyone feels able to speak up, to admit to mistakes and to ask for help is the goal here. Take the time to establish people’s true strengths, rather than just what they’re good at, so you can enable them to play to those strengths wherever possible.
  • Be mindful of the introvert’s ‘think-say-think’ process, so give plenty of notice and allow sufficient preparation time. They don’t like things being sprung on them at short notice or being asked to make a decision without thinking time.

In Conclusion

Get underneath any assumptions and misunderstandings that may be present about introverts in your team.  There is no good & bad, just different. Engage the whole team in co-creating how integration and reforming might happen in an inclusive and meaningful way.  And, remember to listen to everyone’s views and voices for balance and equity.

Joanna RawboneAbout the author

Joanna has spent more than 24 years working with 000’s of international clients through her own training & coaching consultancy, Scintillo Ltd. During this time, and through her own earlier experiences, she has seen just how problematic the Extraversion bias in organisations is. It negatively impacts employee engagement, retention and productivity. It also impairs the physical and mental health & well-being of employees with the obvious consequences.

 Recognising that it was time for action, Joanna founded Flourishing Introverts, a platform to:

* support those who want to fulfil their potential without pretending to be something they’re not.

* educate and inform organisations about the true cost of overlooking their introverts

* promote positive action and balance the extraversion bias

Joanna has a real passion for helping her clients make the small but sustainable changes that really make a difference. Being a functioning introvert, her clients value her ability to listen to more than the words, understand things from their perspective and co-create robust, pragmatic solutions.


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