Get Reworked Podcast: The Superpowers That Introverts Bring to the Workplace
In many ways, the leaders organizations need today are exactly the ones they're most likely to overlook.
In this episode of Get Reworked, we talk to Jennifer Kahnweiler, leadership expert and author of "The Introverted Leader," about the strengths that introverts bring to the workplace and how organizations can tap into them during this particular moment at work. What's needed is a closer look at how we communicate and collaborate.
Listen: Get Reworked Full Episode List
"We have a world that's structured for extroverts. It's very fast-paced [and] it's not getting any slower," Jennifer said. "So much is geared towards teamwork, which really is not necessarily the strong suit of the introvert all the time. So some of the forces that we have actually in work structures and organizations really don't lend themselves to the sweet spots of the introvert."
Highlights of the conversation include:
- The difference between shyness and introversion.
- Why work structures are biased toward extroverts.
- The strengths introverts bring to the disrupted workplace.
- How to balance introversion and extroversion in teamwork.
- What organizations should do differently as they head back to the office.
Plus, co-hosts Siobhan Fagan and Mike Prokopeak out themselves as introverts, talk with Jennifer about the viability of workplace personality assessments and engage in some introvert-friendly awkward silence. Listen in for more.
Have a suggestion, comment or topic for a future episode? Drop us a line at [email protected].
- Jennifer Kahnweiler on LinkedIn
- Jennifer's website: jenniferkahnweiler.com
- Myers-Brigg Type Indicators
- "Stop and chats" from Curb Your Enthusiasm
- Ed Frauenheim and "Reinventing Masculinity: The Liberating Power of Compassion and Connection"
Note: This transcript has been edited for space and clarity.
Mike Prokopeak: Hey Siobhan!
Siobhan Fagan: Hello, Mike.
Mike: Alright, we are going to be talking about introverts in the workplace today. And given where we're at with work and the fact that over the last couple of years we've been in this remote work situation — many of us — it's actually been kind of an interesting place to be an introvert because in some ways, it feels like it's been a positive.
But that might not necessarily be the case. And we've got a speaker today who's going to talk to us a little bit more about introverts in the workplace, and also give us some tips for how to make the most of introversion in the workplace, but also on the flip side extroversion. So I think she's got a lot to say about this. So tell us a little bit about our guest today, Siobhan.
Siobhan: You're right, Mike. Jennifer does have a lot of practical tips for both introverts and extroverts, how to get the most out of them, how to improve collaboration between them. So I'm so excited she's here. She is an author. She's got books — "The Introverted Leader," "Quiet Influence" and "Creating Introvert-friendly Workplaces." She is one of the foremost speakers on introversion, and she's also an extrovert, so I am so glad to have her here today. Are you ready, Mike?
Mike: Let's Get Reworked.
Why an Extrovert Studies Introverts
Mike: Welcome to the podcast, Jennifer.
Jennifer Kahnweiler: Thrilled to be here. Thanks for having me.
Mike: Alright, my first question for you since we're going to be talking about introverts in the workplace is: Are you an introvert? We need to know that up front.
Jennifer: Well, you'll be interested to know, Mike, that I am not an introvert. I fall on the extroverted side of the spectrum.
Mike: OK. All right. So I think Siobhan and I, we've talked about this a little bit, I think we both tend to fall on the introverted side. So we'll kind of see how this dynamic plays out over the course of the conversation.
Jennifer: No, it'll be good. It reflects what's going on, and what most organizations are made up of, which is about 40% to 60%, either side of the scale.
Mike: Well, so to kind of level set this here, and just make sure that folks in the audience, that we are all on the same page, how would you define what introversion is? You've written a book about it, obviously, but can you kind of give us a high level view? What does it mean?
Jennifer: Well, sure, the high-level view is it's two things really, Mike, it's about where you get your energy from. And that goes back to Carl Jung in the early 1900s coming up with the term or actually popularizing it. And the idea is that people who are introverted get their energy from within themselves. They embrace silence. They engage in deep thinking, and that's where they get stimulated.
On the other hand, we have extroverts who are stimulated by being out with people and out in the world. So the definition has kind of morphed over time. I would say in the last decade, we're using the word stimulation more. It's like, how much can your brain take?
And I often will ask people, kind of the deal breaker question is, when you've been with people, because by the way, introverts like people — it's a myth to think that they don't like people — but when you've been with people, must you have time to recharge? And introverts will not even skip a beat and say, absolutely, yes. Extroverts is kind of a nice-to-have. So that's oftentimes a way you can sort of tell where you fall, and it it is really we're thinking of it like a lot of areas now as not to binary but a spectrum. Does that make sense?
Mike: It does. Yeah. And I would say, a good business barometer for this is when you go to conferences, back in the day when we could go to in-person conferences, when you walk away at the end of the day, when you're at a happy hour, or you're kind of networking. Are you tired at the end of that? Or are you feeling like, oh, I'm ready for more. I'm definitely on the side of alright, I'm done. I'm done for tonight. I'll see everybody tomorrow, maybe if I feel like it.
Jennifer: I hear that from a lot of people. They go back to the room, and they're flat out taking that that rest on the bed.
The Difference Between Introversion and Shyness
Mike: Yeah, I think we addressed the question, but I want to ask it specifically is that introversion and shyness don't necessarily go together. But could you address that because Susan Cain's work around "Quiet," and sort of a lot of the power of people who are perhaps a little bit more reserved, a little bit more quiet. Shyness could be kind of another way of thinking about that. That's all sort of coming into the business conversation a lot more lately.
Jennifer: It has, it has, and also you may have also been hearing a lot more now about social anxiety. And both those things — shyness and social anxiety — don't necessarily correlate with introversion, and they're two different things. You know, introversion is really how you're wired. Anybody who has a couple of children will realize early on, you can kind of tell right, whether or not one child is maybe a little more extroverted and one might be introverted, and that's because a lot of it has to do with our genetic makeup or the way our brain works. It's something we're born with. It's not a good or bad thing or a problem.
Whereas shyness, and in fact, a lot of people say when they're younger, even extroverts will say they were shy. Shyness is something that has to do more with anxiety, with social or psychological anxiety. And it also can be worked on, you can certainly get over shyness. And a lot of people tell me that when they were younger, they were shy, and they were labeled that way in a very negative way. It kind of became very pejorative.
Siobhan: So Jennifer, I kind of love the idea of social anxiety here, because I think all of us are suffering a little bit of social anxiety. So that's definitely happening. But you did talk about how this is changing a little bit, and how attitudes towards this are changing a little bit. And traditionally, introverts were seen as being at a disadvantage in the workplace. Is that still the case today?
Jennifer: It is changing, but it's not changing fast enough for my liking. We still have a lot of bias and some of the things around bias that my research has shown and that in talking with many introverts, it's that there's judgement of that extrovert ideal. So if you're not self-promoting, if you're quiet you're labeled, and that bias is sometimes very unconscious, like a lot of biases. So you hear somebody at a meeting, or you don't hear them and you start to make judgments, or one might make judgments, "Oh, they don't have anything to contribute, or they're antisocial, or perhaps slow." They're myths by the way about introverts, but they do take on a life of their own. And so there is still that challenge that is out there.
The other thing that happens is we have a world that's structured for extroverts. It's very fast-paced, like particularly now. I mean, it's not getting any slower. I know you did a podcast, I think recently about collaboration, you know, it has so much is geared towards teamwork, which really is not necessarily the strong suit of the introvert all the time. So some of the forces that we have actually in work structures and organizations really don't lend themselves to really the sweet spots of the introvert.
The Strengths Introverts Bring to the Workplace
Siobhan: So I love that you're diving into the dynamics of collaboration and meetings and things like that. And I definitely want to get into that in a little bit. But I was wondering, you're talking about these myths around introverts, and I'm wondering what people should understand about introverts' strengths rather than these myths.
Jennifer: I'm so glad you asked that because that's what I actually titled my first book, "The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength," because there was so much pressure that introverts felt to change.
So some of the strengths I've alluded to the fact that introverts embrace silence. And we know now more than ever, that's where creativity occurs. We have to stop. We have to pause. I think it was Thoreau that said, nature abhors a vacuum, we need to take that time and then something will come in, so creative thoughts, innovation, all the things that are very positive, certainly at work, occur when we take a beat. And introverts naturally do that.
Introverts are incredible listeners. They listen before they speak, and they learn so much. A lot of the research shows, too, that they make incredible leaders because I've seen this in my own work with my clients, because they don't always have to feel like they have to contribute their comments. They want to hear what people say.
And especially during the last two years, I think what I've really seen is that people build trust that way, too. So listening, and those kinds of things are important.
Another one is humility, Siobhan, and I think that's a trait that can't be too emphasized. Not trying to make it all about me and to be humble. And I think those are the people that tend to also rise up in the organization, when that culture, it really recognizes that as an important trait.
Mike: Alright, you brought up a lot of great stuff about kind of this moment that we're in at work and introverts the role that they can play and the challenges they may particularly have, but also the strengths they can bring.
But I have one more question before we dive into that aspect of this conversation. And that is, you identified yourself as an extrovert, why did you just choose to make this an area of study? Was it like, you saw introverts as like, you know, visitors from a foreign land, and like, I need to understand them?
Jennifer: Yeah, well, you know, like, I always say, it starts personally. There's got to be a compelling reason if you're going to sit down and write a book, or if you're going to do work in an area. For me, it was being married to my husband early on in my 20s, and you're marrying this guy that, you know, a lot of times we know that when you ask people they're attracted to the opposite, right?
So extroverts and introverts will get together often. And I couldn't figure out this guy who we would be with people and he would be very conversational. And then, you know, he wouldn't talk for a few hours. He would go home to our little apartment, and he went to one side and I left and I went to the other and, you know, I started saying what's wrong, Bill, and all of these questions that just were making him even more turned off than anything.
And so I was fortunate to be in this area of leadership development, and I was early introduced to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator that people might be aware of, that showed me or gave me my a-ha experience about understanding that I express myself through talking things out. And my husband really was the kind that needed to think about it and then speak. And so it was definitely an important turning point for me to realize that and then when I started working more in different types of organizations from corporate to higher ed to government, all these places, I was really drawn to the introverted folks who were there, many, again, half the employee population, sometimes more, who I felt weren't being recognized, and a lot of times it was just because they tend to be quieter.
Mike: Alright, so for the Myers-Briggs fans out there, what's your Myers-Briggs Type?
Jennifer: Oh, I'm an ENFP. And what about you, Mike, do you know yours?
Mike: I don't know, actually. It starts with an I, that's as far as I go.
Jennifer: Well, you do know you're a self-identified introvert.
Mike: That's right.
Jennifer: For sure.
Has Remote Work Been Good for Introverts?
Mike: Alright, so turning to this next phase of the conversation. We teased this a couple times, we've been in this moment over the last couple years that has been largely driven by remote work, this period where people are working from home. Do you feel like this has been good for introverts because we've all been sort of atomized and pushed out to our own different locations and have now this time, if your home situation is conducive to it, you have the time to do your own individual quiet work?
Jennifer: Well, I feel it, but I also have data to back that up. I did a survey early on, I got 200 responses early on in the pandemic. I know things changed over time, but it was like, yes, yes, I want this to continue.
I think as time went on, overwhelmingly introverts prefer remote work, I would say. But you know, that's a yes and no kind of a thing, too. As long as structures are in place, you have leaders who are good facilitators, there's a lot of conditions in place for that remote situation to work. And I know you've been addressing that on your program.
But I would say overall, one of the interesting things that came out was that stress, on the survey that I did, and I've also gotten this information, anecdotally, stress went both ways. There was less stress that introverts felt to be interrupted, like the stop-and-chats famous from one of my favorite shows, Curb Your Enthusiasm. That interruption is really just so abhorrent to introverts, so they really liked that.
On the other hand, I think we're hearing this from a lot of people, introverts and extroverts, the stress of having the pressure to produce, to show you're really working, and the fact that yeah, the commutes gone, but then I think the studies now are showing that people are working on average more, maybe 30 minutes more a day.
So I think it's about managing that and taking breaks, and I'm hearing some good positive direction regarding people realizing that individually. They need to handle that with some breaks.
Practice Good Meeting Hygiene to Hear from Introverts
Mike: So as with a lot of things, there's some good and there's some, some bad, or some challenges that come out of it.
I've got one more question for you. And that has to do with this time that we're in. Video calls have kind of become the medium in many cases for us to connect with one another particularly at work. That's going to be changing as folks head back in and we evolve into hybrid working environments, but those aren't necessarily, at least on the surface, good venues for introverts because it's they're almost the most outgoing or the loudest who gets heard in the video meeting.
Zoom happy hours. Thankfully, those started to go away. But that was really painful for a lot of introverts, because it's like the loudest person or the most excited person is the one who drives the conversation. It's really easy to fade in the background. So how can we make video as the medium more friendly for introverts?
Jennifer: Well, I speak from this personally, because I had to switch all of my in-person keynotes and training programs to Zoom basically, and I've learned along the way, and I've been talking with a lot of my introverted clients. And I think, again, it's a positive and a negative.
The real, I would say, criteria for whether or not video meetings work, it's like any other kind of meetings that we have. When I went out to Silicon Valley before the pandemic broke, I was doing research for my last book on creating introvert-friendly workplaces, and people talked about this concept of good meeting hygiene, which I really hadn't heard before.
But it's really just like having basic agendas, having ground rules about how we're going to handle contributions into the meeting. And I go back to that point, I said earlier about facilitation, you have so many leaders who aren't trained in the art of how to engage people who maybe are not speaking or summing up what extroverts are saying and moving on. There's a lot of techniques that can be used, and I think those can be put in place.
So I think those meetings can work when you did that and when you had some good structures place. And the other thing I'll say is, and I learned this, personally, is that many of us need to even take more advantage of the tools that we have for meetings.
For instance, if we want to hear from introverts who don't necessarily like to interrupt and start talking, we definitely need to use the chat in a very effective way. And many people forget to use that, as I was asking questions in the chat, having interactions in the chat. And the other tools are breakouts. And I have suggested to some of my clients that they use breakouts, even if they have a small group. And you will find that the introverts who tend to hold back in the larger group, and a large group could be like six to eight people, is that they speak more in the breakouts. So you know, let's use the tools we have, and then those video meetings can be successful.
And I know there's a lot of controversy about cameras on or off. So I think that it's moving now towards maybe say when you're speaking put your camera on, maybe say have it on the beginning have it on the end, because it literally is very exhausting for introverts to have it on the whole time.
Siobhan: I think that one actually goes across the board. Honestly, I think most people just kind of sick of looking at their own face.
Jennifer: You're right, I minimize mine to a tiny little face there, Siobhan.
Balancing Introverts and Extroverts in Teamwork
Siobhan: So you've brought up a couple of times about how companies are basically a balance between introverts and extroverts somewhere along the spectrum. And at this point, teamwork being an inevitable part of the workplace, how can managers best make collaboration effective in teams that are made up with this balance of introverts and extroverts?
Jennifer: First of all, we should ask people individually, what do you prefer? And I think, again, that went before the pandemic. Good leaders did that. I found it all in my work that one of the areas where I saw effective introverted leaders work was when they didn't just talk about the job itself, Siobhan, but they talked about how the job got done.
So no. 1, we want to ask people, do they prefer email or this type of communication? Or are they cool with Slack? Or if I'm going to have a phone call with you, would you prefer that I let you know the phone call is going to happen?
I mean, it's small little tweaks that we can make in our communication that can really make people open and willing to engage. And this goes for team members with each other. And I think we can also observe just how people respond to our communications to be able to change those so that they're more effective.
So I think asking individually is a really good way to do that, and let's not assume everybody likes to communicate the way we do. For instance, extroverts like to talk things out. They want to brainstorm, but if you just pick up the phone and call an introvert, first of all, they're not gonna want to answer your call a lot of times, but if you let them know, maybe in a short email, some bullet points of what you want to cover, they'll be prepared, which is another strength to your earlier question, and they'll be willing to, and you'll get better output and you'll have a more productive conversation.
Siobhan: I'm going to tell myself when people don't answer my calls that I'm just calling introverts, I think.
Is it safe to say though, just as broad brushstrokes, that introverts would prefer text-based collaboration? So document co-creation, asynchronous collaboration over more synchronous meeting-based, video-based, chat-based?
Jennifer: Yes, I would say that that would be a fair generalization for sure. Yeah, absolutely.
And I think also just giving people time to answer. Like, if you need their responses to something or get their ideas on a project, and you don't necessarily need that answer right away, tell them they have till a certain time to get it to you. And I think that's again, playing to the introvert sweet spot of taking the time, reflecting, noodling, whereas the extrovert might like to just respond right away. And actually, it helps both types, doesn't it, when we all kind of slow down a little bit to do that.
Another thing I'll throw in here is that has been a very positive growth, and this is more structurally in organizations. I've spoken with a lot of employee resource groups, or ERGs, in the last two years. There were never any for introverts, and now there's just a ton of them. And these are ERGs, as well as book clubs is another phenomenon that we've seen, where it's a great way to get people across the company globally to start understanding each other more. And so I've been involved a lot personally with ones that are geared towards introverts where they feel like they have a voice. They want to also educate the rest of the company.
I had one company that I worked with called 84.51°, they came to me and I was able to feature them in the last book because they actually put a template together to show teams how to communicate with introverts, what to say and not to say. So those kinds of very tangible tools are starting to emerge and I think it's a positive movement.
Underrated/Overrated With Jennifer Kahnweiler
Mike: OK, Jennifer, so we like to take a little break about halfway through the podcast. But I have one more question before we take that break and play a little game that we like to play with our guests called underrated/overrated.
I want to maybe flip it around a little bit and ask if there's anything that is surprising about introverts, that people have beliefs about introverts that aren't actually true. Are there misunderstandings about their work preferences and habits that we really need to consider as we look ahead?
Jennifer: I think I mentioned about people think that they're not like "people" people. And if you look at some of the more well respected people in the companies that we're working with, many of them are introverted and they have very good people skills. In fact, introverted leaders will say to me, nobody believes I'm an introvert. I am definitely an introvert. I fall way on that scale on this side of introversion.
But what they've done is to really enhance some of the skills that help them have conversations. So a lot of people think that they're just like loners and just socially awkward, but that is oftentimes not true. Again, they know themselves. So they know how to manage the time that they have with people, but they absolutely are great conversationalist and know how to ask questions and know how to paraphrase, and connect at deeper levels.
Siobhan: So at this point, as Mike alluded to, Jennifer, we're hoping that you will play a game with us that we call underrated/overrated. And what we're gonna do is we're gonna propose a few different ideas to you. You can tell us if the idea is underrated. If it's overrated, you can say doesn't even matter. You can throw out the rules. Call it a dog. I don't know. Are you willing to play with us?
Jennifer: I am. I'm fine with that.
Siobhan: Excellent. So first one up is workplace personality assessments, underrated or overrated?
Jennifer: Overrated. Here's the deal with with it. I think that if a personality assessment is interpreted correctly, if the person who's, let's say you're doing one, and it's not just like one of those back-of-the-magazine kind of things, many times people will take those assessments so to heart that they'll actually start labeling themselves and others, and what that's done, there's been a backlash to assessments, because of that. People have not taken them with a grain of salt.
I was a career coach for a number of years and people always wanted those assessments in the first session. And I had to really create some caveats around what that meant. It's just one piece of data, one piece of data. And that's just what I would say about that.
Siobhan: I actually have a followup here, which is, would you say that the negative impact is as much on the individual who takes the assessment and maybe takes it overly to heart as to the external parties?
Jennifer: Yeah, I would say that's fair. We're all looking to kind of figure out categories. And as I told you earlier about my example of when I had the a-ha experience with Bill, you know, he's still a multifaceted person. I'm not just going to say, oh, he's an introvert. So it's a lot of different lenses. I like to look at as kind of different pairs of glasses that we look through and the data you get from it, assessment, it can be helpful, but I get more people just pushing back on them and saying that they're not really helpful to them.
Mike: Alright, so Bill's your husband, by the way, right?
Jennifer: Oh, yeah. Yeah, sure. I just assume everybody knows my husband's name, sorry.
Mike: Bill being the introvert, I'm sure he's totally thrilled we're talking about him, right?
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Jennifer: Yeah, well. He's just happy that I'm gone for an hour from the kitchen where he may be getting a snack or something.
Mike: Alright, underrated or overrated, getting outside your comfort zone?
Jennifer: Can I say it depends on that one.
Mike: You can, sure.
Jennifer: I can say anything I want, right? I would say it's both. So introverted people, when they push themselves out of their comfort zone, I have a model called the four P's and one of the models is push. And I base that on what introverted leaders who are successful told me, and they to a fault told me that they all push themselves to develop those skills that didn't come naturally to them.
The ones I talked about earlier, like for instance, social conversation. So in that way they push themselves. There's also some interesting research that has come out recently, that people, their mood goes up when they act a little more extroverted. And they're finding that with people in the pandemic, who are alone so long, that if they can push themselves to get out and have a conversation, that's helping some. So I would say that's the part that's positive about it.
The part that I recoil on this is that the fact that you had to push yourself out of your comfort zone as an introvert is what, from what I'm told, that been your life story. You know, you don't speak up in class. You're reading too much. All these things that were judgments for people growing up, and even in the workplace, are really negative kind of messages that come. So I think, be yourself.
Mike: There's some value in it, but you know it does come with a lot of that baggage that comes along with it.
Jennifer: Yeah. And I think extroverts need to push themselves, you know, a need to be quiet, right? They need to do that.
Mike: Right. And you know, as deep work becomes recognized as a source of innovation, really pushing yourself out of your comfort zone into that can make a big difference.
Jennifer: And I will say, I've heard from a number of extroverts during the pandemic, Mike, about that. That they have been forced to go to that side of themselves and it's been a positive.
The Four P's: Strategies to Make the Most of Introverts' Strengths
Mike: Alright, before we go into the next question, you mentioned Four P's. One was push, what are the others?
Jennifer: It's four Ps. Prepare, which is building on the sweet spots that introverts have. They prepare for everything. It's just such a positive trait. And then the second one is presence. So once you prepare, you put that kind of away in your mind and you're in the moment, you're in that conversation, you're in that meeting, you're not multitasking on a million things you know. So these go for conversations, these go for any projects they're working on.
The third one is to push, as we mentioned. Kind of keep putting goals in front of yourself and I have an assessment in "The Introverted Leader" that helps you kind of narrow down what is it I might want to push on a little bit, which area of leadership or management might help me whether it be public speaking or networking, and kind of the things that introverts will talk about.
And then the fourth one is practice. It's continuing to refine those strengths and get better at them. And so coming back to that point I said about many leaders will say, will be told or argued with that they're not introverted. They continue to take opportunities to practice.
Siobhan: So Jennifer, the next one, going back to the underrated, overrated. Introverts as podcast hosts. Not saying I have a vested interest in this one but I'm really wanting to hear your response.
Mike: You said you're a career coach so we're looking for some advice.
Jennifer: Well, I guess we would say it's underrated. I mean, I would say that in all of the interviews I've been doing for the last 12 years, whether they be print or podcasts or whatever, I would say 95% of the journalists are introverts.
And I think the podcast hosts the best ones, tend to be more introverted, or the extroverts who have learned to prepare. It's like doing an interview and not looking at the resume ahead of time. I've been so impressed with so many of my podcast hosts who then tell me they're introverted, because they thought about the questions. I'm not putting in definitely a plug for Reworked but I think you guys are very well-prepared.
Siobhan: Thank you for that advertisement.
Mike: Little pat in the back, right Siobhan. Alright, last question for underrated/overrated for you, Jennifer, is a former colleague of mine who I've known you've done some work with, Ed Frauenheim. He's a former journalist, and is actually doing a lot of work in writing around the need for a new definition of masculinity, a little quieter, more inclusive version of masculinity. So the question is, is Ed's work, is Ed, underrated or overrated?
Jennifer: Ed is underrated. And he will probably listen to this. So I definitely want to say that. Ed is my colleague, and we're working on a very exciting project that you alluded to Mike, and that is on looking at the intersection of introversion and men. And we really believe that now is the time for quiet men, that the times call for it in terms of what's happening in our society and how it even has results in terms of the companies that are the highest rated in terms of earnings are run by quieter men.
So leadership is called for and the introverted man is stepping up more. And that does go against a lot of what we've thought about the stereotypes of men being the alpha male. So we're just at the sort of the beginning of this research on the two together, but we're finding from our interviews just some revealing insights. I can't wait to share them.
Mike: For listeners, I'll include in the show notes some links to Ed's work as well.
Navigating the Return to the Office
Siobhan: Excellent. So thank you so much for playing the game. Jennifer, we're now going to go back to the workplace. We're now at a point where companies are again, thinking about how and when they will return to the office. We've got two years of this remote working under our belts. We've learned some lessons, some we've maybe ignored. What can companies do to ensure that they continue to take care of the introverts' needs when they return to the office?
Jennifer: One thing that it's allowing us to do now, as you say, Siobhan, we've been learning so what have we been missing? And what would get people to suit up and sit in traffic to come back, even if it's two days a week. And I think what we have realized and what many introverts have shared with me is that they do miss those quiet conversations, those extemporaneous conversations. I think you all have referred to them in past podcasts as the water cooler conversations, but making it comfortable for that so having the environment in which we have places for those opportunities to occur.
I talked with one HR director yesterday, and she said, we're learning about this because several of us have been coming into the office. And there are some introverts among them. And she said, we've been booked up with calls all day. So we think, well, why do we do that? Right? Why? Why should we come into the office? And so what we need to do is think about, and she was sharing this with me, it's like our schedule. So some of this is self management, some of it is our managers helping us, kind of prodding us along to allow spaces in the day when we actually are on site, to have those quiet one-on-one or small group conversations just to kind of catch up from a personal standpoint. Because that is another thing we learned, how important that was to not just talk about work, but to also get to know what was going on with each of us as we transition back.
So yeah, I think there's some lessons and I'm excited about the future with the combined opportunities. And I'll tell you one last example. I had an opportunity to do an in-person small group at the University of Georgia two months ago, and what some of the folks there were talking to me about was that they've kind of gotten a little rusty with their communications, and so they're looking forward to the opportunity to have some of that. So I think we're hearing that from introverts and extroverts alike.
Mike: What should extroverts do differently to work better with introverts as we head into this next phase of work? What are some practical tips that you'd offer for them to help their introverted colleagues?
Jennifer: Well, one of the things that they can do is really to be aware of what introverts need and what they require and what their colleagues need. Again, not necessarily always guessing about that. One of the things they need is space to think, to react. And so even putting in place some self-management around when you're at a meeting, for instance, letting a few people speak before you do. I know, enthusiasm takes over with us extroverts. But just holding ourselves back, taking a breath and letting people explore their thoughts and giving them space to do that. Again, preparing, not coming in at the last minute with information that you want them to review because that's how you do it. So it's not putting that lens on things.
And when I looked at opposite partnerships a few years ago, I call them genius opposites, one of the things that came out time and time again, was accept the alien. So like when we start to accept the person — I know sometimes easier said than done — and not try to change them, then we're in for so much less stress. So I think just taking that breath and understanding that person doesn't necessarily do it like us.
And just even that, the fact that you're trying, will make a big difference to introverts, and you can be an ally in the organization, and in your team to really speak up when you feel like the introverts aren't being heard or being rammed over.
Introversion in the Interview Process
Siobhan: Jennifer, there are so many areas that I want to ask about the workplace dynamics, but I think one that I definitely want to touch on is the interview process. And when companies are looking to interview people, what can HR teams do to make sure they don't pass over introverted candidates during that process?
Jennifer: Yeah, love that question, because it really has to do with two different phases. And one is figuring out, before you even bring in somebody, of what that job is requiring. And I think many people, if they don't do that when they're interviewing and hiring, and also looking at the composition of their team so there's balance, then they tend to go by personality more than even the competencies.
So there's the phrase, would you would you like to have a beer with this person. They don't seem like they'd be really fit in with the team. Well, what does fitting in mean? So we need to be really clear at the outset about what we're looking for and not let that get in the way, personality, to shade the fact that that person may be the best person for the job. And in fact, there are so many examples where people were almost passed over and somebody spoke up for them, whether it be a promotion or a new hire, and that person then rose to the top ranks of the organization because it was a bias kind of situation.
And then the second thing has to do with the actual interview process itself. Now we have, of course, a lot of virtual interviews. What's coming prepared to the interview? It's looking at your environment so that it's one that really reflects what you want people to pick up about the culture, particularly now when it's such a tight hiring market. I think it's important that we work with our communications and marketing people to really show what the organization is about.
It was incredible to me, a friend of mine pointed out that so many companies do not really reflect themselves in a positive light with their videos, with their YouTube videos. You know, and like a lot of introverts will be doing their research just like you journalists do ahead of time. So if you're not putting the best foot forward there, you may be losing your quieter folks, your introverts, before they even apply. So you need to look at the whole hiring process and see if it's inclusive from that way, not just for introverts but for everybody.
Listening Is Introverts' Superpower
Mike: Ok, Jennifer, as we bring our conversation to a close, I want to ask you a little bit about the moment that we're in. We're heading into this phase of work that is been pretty revolutionary so far, and looks to continue to be that way. We're going to be see accelerating change. Digital transformation is coming at what feels like a rapidly increasing pace.
I'm wondering, what do you think the strengths are that introverts bring to this particular moment, where we're increasing, this increasing speed of change, the need for innovation? And how can those strengths that they bring be able to shine a little bit more brightly?
Jennifer: Yeah, I'm so glad we're even bringing that question up because there was such a time when many leaders wouldn't even admit that they were introvert or even knew that they were, so yeah, thank you for bringing that question.
So I would go back to the listening as being a huge theme. And we're hearing that a lot. We're doing some interviews now with senior leaders, and they're talking about that's been their ace in the hole. Listening, listening, listening. Because everything's changing. Everything is in flux. Like April Rinne wrote a new book about flux, it's never the same. So we have to start these conversations. We have to continue them. We have to hear about what's going on.
But another thing is to involve people in in our research. So as we're looking at, for instance, what it's going to look like as we go back, or as we're starting to go back. Are we talking to the actual people who are impacted? And, and I think more than going beyond employee surveys, I think we have to have those one-on-one conversations, and not just have them once.
So I think introverts are uniquely suited to that because they do listen, and they do thrive in those smaller conversations, those one-on-one conversations, and the impact that they can have can really change the culture. I mean, it can really impact it in such such meaningful ways. So I think their approach, which isn't to take over, but to listen and to be patient, to communicate the vision and the mission of the team of the organization in a way that is very transparent, that gives examples.
And the last thing I'll say is because they are humble and have humility, many introverted leaders will also connect at these levels because they share of themselves. I interview these folks from my webinars and presentations a lot of times C-level people, and they will talk about their vulnerability about the struggles. We saw them doing that during the pandemic. And it was so powerful to hear about what they were faced with in their own lives. And then that opens up the door for others to then be more transparent as well on their team.
So on so many levels, the calm, humble, introverted leader really wins the day in this climate.
Mike: And I think that authenticity point you just brought up, it's really become important when everybody is going through personal stress in their lives and challenges in their lives that authenticity of somebody, who can say, when they speak that you believe them, because they're coming at it from that point of view, where it's coming from a deep place of understanding for them.
So, alright Jennifer, if folks want to learn more about you and your work, where would you recommend they go?
Jennifer: Well, Mike, I would just point them to my website. And if we have the spelling of the name, then you're off and running. We give a lot a lot of tools on there. We have quizzes that people can take for free that help you figure out where your organization is in terms of being introvert friendly, where you are introvert or extrovert, lots of book excerpts and articles. So jenniferkahnweiler.com. I would send them there. Thanks.
Mike: Alright. Well, thank you so much for joining us, Jennifer.
Jennifer: Oh, it's been my pleasure. Thank you for the great questions.
Wrap Up and Final Thoughts
Mike: Alright, Siobhan. We just outed ourselves as introverts publicly.
Siobhan: Shhhh, nobody heard that. Nobody heard that.
Mike: So I think actually, to kind of close this out, I think we're fine just sitting here in awkward silence, right?
Siobhan: Music to my ears, Mike.
Mike: But in all seriousness, that really was kind of validating in a way, to talk to Jennifer, you know, obviously, we live in this moment at work where everybody is encouraged to bring their entire self to work, their whole self to work. But there still is a lot of baggage that comes along with being an introvert in the workplace. And it was kind of nice to hear Jennifer's words of encouragement to companies about the strengths that they bring.
Siobhan: I also liked how she did sort of have a caveat where she said, you know, push yourself as as an introvert, but at the same time, you're not trying to remake yourself as an extrovert because you have strengths as an introvert.
Mike: Yeah, don't try to be who you're not. Because in fact, the greatest strength comes from tapping into what those strengths are, and tapping into that ability to do deep work and sit in silence, awkward as we just saw, to really kind of bring out ideas and really approach things in a thoughtful manner.
Siobhan: And if you made it past that awkward silence and are still listening, thank you so much, folks.
Mike: Thank you for listening, just in general.
Thank you everybody for joining us at the podcast.
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About the Authors
Siobhan is the editor in chief of Reworked, where she leads the site's content strategy, with a focus on the transformation of the workplace. Prior to joining Reworked, Siobhan was managing editor of Reworked's sister site, CMSWire, where she directed day-to-day operations as well as cultivated and built its contributor community. Connect with Siobhan Fagan: