Does your workplace have an extraversion bias?
By Annie Makoff on 18 June 2021
“My credibility at work was often questioned because of my introversion,” says Amrit Sandhar, employee engagement specialist and founder of The Engagement Coach. “It seemed that unless you were loud and proud, your voice wasn’t heard. I was often overlooked by more confident, extraverted colleagues, who saw introversion as a weakness and a reflection of my abilities.” Sandhar’s experiences in the workplace shaped how he now runs his business: meetings are held in small groups and everyone is given a chance to speak if they want to. Sandhar also coaches his extraverted colleagues to be ‘mindful’ of how others prefer to work.
In an all-too familiar world of open-plan offices, back-to-back meetings and big presentations (at least pre-pandemic) Sandhar’s approach is distinctly unusual. Yet that, says Joanna Rawbone, founder of Flourishing Introverts, is what is often missing in a workplace environment. Rawbone believes there is a workplace extraversion bias, where everyday practices and processes, from recruitment onwards are ‘geared up’ for those who identify as extraverts.
While not everyone fits entirely into an either/or category – some identify as ambiverts, a mix of both – studies indicate there does seem to be a workplace bias towards extraverts.
Social mobility charity the Sutton Trust recently found that extraverts are 25 per cent more likely to earn over £40,000, while the Harvard Business Review revealed in 2006 that 65 per cent of senior executives believed that introversion was a ‘barrier’ to leadership.
In Rawbone’s view, part of this is due to common misconceptions. It’s not about shyness nor is it a lack of ambition. Introverts prefer calm, non-stimulating environments and tend to be reflective. Extraverts are energised by social interactions and tend to be more gregarious. As Charleen Plante, founder of Plante Coaching puts it: “Introverts may have brilliant ideas, they may have great ways of working, but they can struggle to articulate things because they are often overshadowed by extravert personalities.”
To bring the best out of everyone, including those who identify as introverts, employers need to create a level-playing field. Here’s how.
Acknowledge different communication processes: allow time to respond
“What people don’t often understand is that introverts and extraverts communicate differently,” says Rawbone. “Extraverts have a say-think-say process: you ask them a question, they come up with an immediate answer. Introverts have a think-say-think process, where they take more time to respond.” But this can be often misinterpreted. Rawbone recalls a situation during a training session where she was asked a question and she paused to think about it. By the time she’d formulated a response, the trainer had moved on to someone else. The feedback at the end of the session, despite Rawbone being a trainer herself, was that she ‘lacked confidence’ and should ‘speak up more’, neither of which were true.
Vaishali Shah, diversity specialist and founder at branding and marketing consultancy Creative ID shares her views. “Many introverts may prefer to consider their responses first, so employers should allow time for individuals to respond, rather than putting them on the spot,” she says. “Employers can also engage introverts by asking them to prepare reports or doing presentations with fewer members.”
Adopt a good meetings policy
Sudden meetings or back-to-back meetings aren’t going to work well for introverts. The key is preparation: giving staff time to prepare and work out what they want to say. “It means that introverts can arrive fully loaded and ready for the meeting,” Rawbone explains. Back-to-back meetings especially are a no-no – introverted individuals need time to recharge.
Make space for quieter voices
As Laura Trendall Morrison director of business transformation firm The GameChanger consultancy explains, managers should be aware of the ‘inherent extroversion bias’ in meetings and group discussions and actively encourage introverts to share their achievements and take credit for their work, as they may be less inclined to speak up for themselves. “A good leader will always recognise the contribution of the whole team and make space for the quieter voices to be heard,” she explains.
Make use of personality tests
Charleen Plante, who coaches introverted female entrepreneurs, recommends using personality tests such as Myers-Briggs to identify the variety of personalities and characters within teams: “Managers and team members should be aware of the types of personalities to encourage better team working,” she explains. “Awareness leads to understanding. Many extroverts may not know they’re being intimidating, but if everyone has taken personality tests, individuals may know to tone down the louder side of their personalities and give others a chance to input.”
Introverts ‘recharge’ by having downtime or quiet, solo activities so employers must allow this as much as possible. “It might be downtime between meetings or allowing staff to wear headsets while working if they need to switch off socially, whatever it takes to allow introverts to preserve their mental battery to help them do their best work,” says Rawbone.
“Ultimately, managers have got to acknowledge that people are inherently different, says Craig Jackson, Professor of Occupational Health Psychology at Birmingham City University. “We’ve gone beyond the binary understanding of personality where individuals are labelled as X or Y, A or B. Personality is a very, very complicated organic beast. People who come across as confident and capable may be fretful and anxious underneath. So there needs to be awareness that what you see is not always what you get. In the workplace, people can be convincing social actors.”
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