Intranets and Introverts: Introduction
Abstract: In this in-depth post we take a look at the role introverts play in company culture. As we’ll find, many of the ‘normal’ enterprise activities including group meetings, in-person brainstorming sessions, and Q+A sessions can be intimidating to introverts – with the result being they often don’t participate and contribute. This is big opportunity loss for the company ‘brains trust’. However, newer collaborative tools including social intranets provide a much more comfortable working environment for introverts to contribute. Enterprises that acknowledge and embrace this approach stand to benefit significantly.
No matter where you go in the world, there’s something that all human beings have in common. We’re all different and we approach problems, ways of working, leadership and team work in various ways depending largely on our personalities. In the 2012 book by Susan Cain: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that can’t Stop Talking, the author explores how modern society, especially with regard to the workplace, favours the extrovert. She states that: “today we make room for a remarkably narrow range of personality styles. We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We see ourselves as a nation of extroverts – which means that we’ve lost sight of who we really are.” Whilst the book is aimed at an American audience, it’s safe to say that this also applies to Australia, the UK and many more countries around the globe. In business, boldness is valued above introspection, as the latter is not quite so ‘in your face’ and therefore isn’t recognised as being valuable or possessing leadership qualities.
1 in 3 People are Introverts
Susan also points out that 1 in 3 Americans are introverts, so if we take this as being standard as the ‘human condition’, then what does it mean to business? At its most basic level, it means that 1 in 3 people are being undervalued at work as they are less likely to speak up in a group meeting. Extroverts tend to dominate meetings; their personality means that they have to push themselves forward and get their ideas out there before others. Introverts tend to be the quiet ones, taking notes, speculating and speaking up occasionally. For this reason, businesses tend to value extroverts more, as they are seen to have better leadership qualities – they can command a situation.
Do Extroverts Make Better Leaders
Not necessarily. To get a better idea of why, let’s take a look at the three main types of leader, based on the research of Kurt Lewin and his team back in 1939. It’s worth pointing out here that more recent research has identified even more styles of leadership, but Lewin’s work remains highly relevant:
1. Authoritarian Leadership (Autocrat)
These types of leaders have exacting expectations when it comes to what should be done, by who and how. They tend not to over-interact with those in junior positions to themselves and are not particularly open to the ideas of others. They make the major decisions and they don’t need or want help from others to do so. Whilst Autocratic leaders can be seen as bossy, controlling and authoritarian, they do of course have good points, the biggest of which being that they get things done. However, they tend not to accept creative ideas, meaning that decisions are generally based on their own.
2. Participative Leadership (Democratic)
According to Lewin, democratic leaders tend to be the most effective as they lend guidance, as well as take more of a back seat in order to be more receptive to the ideas of other team members. Whilst this type of leader retains the final decision, he is much more open to allowing others to participate in the process. This means that democratic leaders tend to create teams that are more engaged, creative, motivated and productive.
3. Delegative Leadership (Laissez-Faire)
In Lewin’s study, this was found to be the least effective form of leadership, as the test subjects were less capable of working alone or within the team, made more demands on the leader and were less likely to cooperate. This is because delegative leaders tend to offer little in the way of guidance and frankly just leaves employees to get on with it. This, in turn, means that group members are disorganised and unsure of what role they are playing in the working process.
Is There an Introvert in There Somewhere?
Autocrats tend to be extroverts. They can be accused of being close-minded and demand that team members follow, rather than participate. They tend to also insist on unquestioning loyalty and don’t appreciate their decisions being questioned. They are the alphas, the ones in charge and nobody better forget it. Whilst of course they can be powerful leaders, they can also alienate workers, especially ‘the quiet ones’.
On the other hand, democratic leaders are considerate of other team members and allow for a collaborative working atmosphere in which creative ideas are celebrated and considered. These are more people-centric leaders and concentrate more on people than autocrats and this leads to better productivity and motivation within the team. These leaders tend to be more introverted as they don’t feel the need to be ‘in charge’ of every step of the working process. Delegative leaders appear on the surface to have bad leadership qualities due to the basic lack of communication. It could be said that these too are introverts, as their inherent personality prevents them from being capable of giving orders.
Introvert vs Extrovert
Introverts work best with ideas and focus more thoroughly on a task than an extrovert might. The extrovert is the one that talks over people and doesn’t allow others to speak until he has had his say. The introvert, in a group meeting, is more likely to take in information and think it through whilst the bluster and bluff of the extrovert is taking place, but this doesn’t mean that they have less value. Introverts tend to find communication easier when it takes place on a one-to-one basic, or one that involves the written. As we now live in a world where the written word is used frequently across all industries and intranets, this is the ideal breeding ground for the introvert to shine. Forums, social intranets and wikis, group workspaces – all of these give an introvert the chance to put forward their well-thought-out ideas and really get noticed. Couple this with the democratic leadership model and a fully-functioning intranet that includes social aspects and it’s a recipe for success in the modern working environment. “Introverts are typically private, thoughtful, reflective individuals,” says Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and director of LightHouse Arabia in Dubai. “These characteristics can sometimes make them seem not as savvy in a world that applauds extroverts – people who are quick to make connections, and can think on their feet. But these qualities are actually very valuable because introverts are typically good listeners and great advisors.”
Fitting in as an Introvert
Due to the way that the modern workplace favours the extrovert, this means that introverts often find it difficult to fit in. Dr Afrida goes on to explain that this can be “exhausting” for the introvert as they feel like they have to act in a certain way to “fit in”. This means that for 1 in 3 people in the workplace, the professional environment can be stressful and doesn’t allow them to perform at peak capacity. This is enabled by leaders, open-plan offices, the encouragement towards standing out in a team and more. What it really means is that by discounting the value of a third of its staff, a company could be doing itself a serious misjudgement and perhaps, long term damage.
Overcoming the Introvert/Extrovert Divide
Whilst of course we’re not suggesting that extroverts are not highly useful in the workplace, the problem right now is that introverts are not recognised for the value they can give to the company. Any employee that feels that they are not valued will naturally be less engaged with the company and the work they are doing. It also means that they will be less productive, and even if they have the best ideas in the company, they are likely to be passed over for the extrovert, who is naturally pushier. This means that it’s necessary for an organisation to take this on board and see how the social intranet can further enable its staff to get involved at a level that they feel comfortable with. We’ll discuss just how this can be carried out next.
Intranets and Introverts: Valuing the Introvert
Whilst it may seem that the world is a place that’s set up entirely for the extroverts amongst us, there are ways and means that the more introverted can be valued in the workplace. Ignoring ‘quieter types’ is not good for business, or company morale. In order for any member of staff to be productive and enjoy their job, they have to feel valued or it’s possible that they will become resentful and therefore unproductive. This is especially true of the introvert, the ‘shy’ person in the office that may not speak up, push forward and shout about their ideas. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have them; indeed, as we’ve already discussed, introverted people are more likely to be creative and have good ideas than their louder colleagues. So how does a company go about making sure that they can get the best out of all employees?
Using the Intranet
The company intranet is a great enabler for introverts if it has social aspects set up and shared workspaces. Introverts often find ideas and collaboration come easier when they are in an environment where they don’t feel uncomfortable about speaking out. Many people that can be described as ‘shy’ are non-confrontational and this is likely to stop them speaking up in a group. This is especially true if the group is full of those that enjoy airing their opinion. However, it’s not just social intranets that can enable this, another solution is resilience training. This can be set up via the company LMS and can be used for all employees, as it’s designed to teach staff how to deal with stress, both in and out of the workplace.
Whilst this may help, your main aim is not to change personalities, just give an opportunity for those that are less confident in certain situations to develop strategies that help them to cope.
Recognising the Value of Introversion
It’s not always simple to determine what personality types make up a large workforce and it always pays not to make assumptions. With that in mind, the intranet could also be used to test personality types using a popular assessment model such as the Myers-Briggs assessment. This approach works on the assumption that different people draw energy from either interaction (extrovert) or self-sufficiency (introvert). However, it’s important to realise that some people will have aspects to their personality which cover both. It’s thought by some, such as psychotherapist Christine Webber, that people’s personalities are largely shaped by life experience. “If your father said you were stupid for not understanding a question, or teachers constantly put you down, this is likely to affect how confident you feel about speaking up,” she says. “And if friends were always shouting out correct answers to questions before you, that may have reinforced this inner commentary and made you retreat.” This may or may not be the case, but in terms of how we value staff, it’s useful to understand how they may have been shaped and respond to that with the correct training.
Following the Longer Path
According to Marti Olsen Laney, author of The Introvert Advantage, the way that introverted people are naturally wired may mean that whilst they take ‘the longer path’ to arrive at an answer to a question, they make more mental connections along the way. This suggests that they think more deeply about a problem and come up with more effective solutions. So whilst the extrovert may work better by bouncing ideas around with others, introverts gain a deeper understanding of more complex problems. Both then have a place in the workplace that’s valuable, so it’s worth carrying out personality tests in order to assign workers to jobs that they will work best on.
Don’t Make Assumptions
It’s important that assumptions about people are not made in the workplace, no matter how they score on personality tests. An introverted person isn’t always shy, for example, just as an extroverted person isn’t always loud. According to Lisa Petrilli, there are a lot of myths surrounding introverts which don’t make them what they are commonly perceived to be. For example, she cites 75% of people as being anxious when it comes to public speaking. This clearly affects more than 1 in 3 people then and is again, something that can be overcome with training and practice. Bearing this in mind, it’s important to understand that introverts are not:
- Necessarily shy
- Lacking in ambition
- Unable to get involved with groups or public speaking
- Less valuable than extroverts
- Unable to be leaders
In fact, according to the Huffington Post, four in ten CEOs are introverts, so at almost half, it’s clear that they can in fact make very effective leaders.
The Working Environment - How Intranets Provide a Huge Benefit
Introverts work better in a quiet environment, rather than a busy, open office. This makes them ideal candidates for remote working where they can connect to the intranet from anywhere. It also means that the introvert will work better on a one-to-one basis when it comes to problem-solving, rather than being involved in a brainstorming session with a dozen people all throwing ideas around. Being in an environment where there is constant chatter, where it’s difficult to focus, is likely to mean that the introvert is challenged and can’t do their job properly.
These days, with the way that the intranet, internet and data speed has increased collaboration, it’s important to look at how staff cope and how a collaborative set-up that involves a lot of physical (or even video-call) meetings are set up. Yes, collaboration makes for a more productive workforce, but there are plenty of different approaches that can be taken to this. Again, we come back to the written on the intranet: wikis, forums, social profiles and group workspaces – all of these, coupled with a quieter working environment, are better as far as the introvert is concerned. It gives them a chance to work through problems using the skills that come naturally to them, rather than having scenarios forced upon them where they won’t perform well. The same principle applies to extroverts. Since they gain energy from interaction, these are the people that will thrive in a busy, open office and love meeting with large groups where they feel they can shine. Whatever personality type members of staff have, what’s clear is that each brings something valuable into the workplace. It’s up to the employer to recognise and make the most of each member of staff and this can be done using a LMS to determine personality types during induction, or even at interview.
If this is carried out, then a more personalised approach to training can be worked out and the staff member given a way of carrying out their job that will bring the most value to the company and personal satisfaction to the employee. We’re all different and in the modern working world, it pays to recognise and act on that. Those companies that do so, and get it right, are more likely to thrive and what’s more, so will their staff. This brings benefits to all involved – the company gets the most out of employees and in turn, the worker is better at their job and happier in themselves and their career path.
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