Understanding (and Combatting) Introvert Bias at Work

May 5, 2022
Understanding (and Combatting) Introvert Bias at Work

We’ve all heard the adage that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. What it means is that the loudest person in the room is usually the one to nab the attention. When it comes to work, those who are the loudest and most visible tend to receive recognition more than those who spend more time in the background. People often confuse this boisterousness with engagement, competence, and capability in the workplace. That means that people who are extroverts — those who thrive and come alive in social settings and tend to shy away from too much alone time — can excel beyond introverts. A 2016 study in the UK found that highly extroverted people had a 25% higher chance of being in a high earning job and that men saw these benefits more than women. But just because someone isn’t chiming in during a company-wide meeting doesn’t mean they aren’t thoughtfully engaged and thinking critically about what they’re hearing. Just because an employee doesn’t make small talk and tends to avoid company happy hours doesn’t mean they aren’t committed to their job. Inclusivity and diversity don’t just mean along race, gender, and other identity lines; it can also refer to personality differences as well. Here’s what you need to know to understand and combat introvert bias in the workplace. Doing so will help ensure you’re creating the most equitable office environment possible.

Understanding introversion

Being an introvert doesn’t mean that someone is anti-social. We all have internal energy “batteries” that drain or recharge based on what we find taxing and rejuvenating. It’s not that introverts don’t like socializing — it’s that socializing drains their energy and they need alone time to recharge it. Introversion is simply different from extroversion. One isn’t inherently better than the other, but introverts do tend to have certain qualities that bode well for them in the workplace. First, they’re often good active listeners. While extroverted people can more quickly hop into a conversation and contribute to it, introverts are more likely to listen and reflect before responding. This means that they’re typically careful speakers, quiet reflectors, and idea generators — all good professional qualities, especially for effective leaders. But in order for introverts to get into leadership positions and succeed at work the same way that extroverts do, some adapting is likely necessary. Here’s how to best support the introverts in your workplace.

While extroverted people can more quickly hop into a conversation and contribute to it, introverts are more likely to listen and reflect before responding.

Be open to different communication styles and timelines

It’s likely not a surprise to you by now to know that introverts tend to take more time to process than extroverts do. So, when you can, don’t require in-the-moment responses during meetings and other brainstorming sessions. That said, some introverts can think and think and think forever. Setting deadlines for feedback can be a helpful way to give them a timeline that works for them. Introverts also tend to favor communication in writing because it gives them the time they need to accurately express themselves. Be open to a variety of forms of communication besides verbal.

Don’t put unnecessary emphasis on social events

Team bonding is important, but constant socializing can be draining for introverts. Especially for introverts who have already spent the day in an office full of coworkers, an after work happy hour can be particularly daunting. So don’t be surprised if they sidestep some of these events. When team building time is necessary, don’t make it all about talking. Focus on activities that involve thinking and reflection, too. Introverts can be great at things like company offsites that have time built in for thinking about how the business can better live out its values. Board games or team events that require strategic, critical thinking can level the playing field for introverts. A team building event like getting through an escape room can offer introverts the chance to work together with their teammates without the entire event focusing on conversations, for example.

Embrace neurodiversity as a whole

While introversion and extroversion are personality traits rather than neurological differences, there’s something to be learned from the larger neurodiversity movement. At its core, neurodiversity recognizes that people perceive and interact with the world in different ways. Neurodiversity means accepting and understanding that there’s no “right” way to be, think, feel, learn, or be in the world. The same is true for introverts and extroverts. Just because extroverted traits have been better recognized and rewarded in the workplace doesn’t mean that they’re better or more valuable. By embracing neurodiversity as a whole and the idea that different people operate in different ways, you’ll naturally make more space for people with different personality traits as well. Nothing is going to change overnight, but as you strive for an inclusive and equitable workplace, education is key. Make sure that managers and members of your company’s leadership team understand introverts. Teach them how to identify and empower their introverted employees with some of the strategies outlined here.

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