Imagine a world where you're constantly discouraged from speaking too much or from talking too loudly. Imagine a work environment where socializing with others is actually seen as a distraction, rather than a source of energy and resourcefulness. What if success was determined based on your ability to build relationships through written communication, rather than speaking and networking? Would you feel out of your element? Would you be biting your tongue? Would you be compromising part of your personality to fit in?
This is how many introverts feel all the time. They are expected to change their inherent personality traits in order to earn respect and professional success. It is exhausting. As an introvert who loves leading teams with both extroverts and introverts, this is my actionable advice:
Tell them that the fact they are introvert is valuable to the team/organization. This is so important. I once had a department head, who was known for her extroverted, positive, commanding personality, tell me that she admires my introverted traits. She told me that she was trying to break into the C-Suite, but it was hard because they were all introverts and she wasn't. Hearing her go on to say that my introverted personality would actually help me earn respect and success at a higher level of leadership was astounding. I'd never heard anyone say that before. Up until that day, I'd only ever been asked to change my personality to fit in. I've since left that company and industry, but the confidence I gained through that one conversation still motivates me.
Offer multiple sources of feedback and ideas. The key here is that you cannot assume that someone does not have ideas to share, just because they did not voice them out loud. You will have employees that are totally out of their element in a 1:1 or team meeting, but if you ask them for feedback or ideas via online or written communication, they may have tons to offer. Writing ideas instead of speaking ideas does not make the ideas themselves any less valid.
Create spaces where they can share their ideas with others, without getting bulldozed over or cut off. As a leader, it is your job responsibility to combat people who are cutting off introverts, even if they are doing so unintentionally. Something as simple as "Thank you [well intentioned person with a loud voice]. We will get back to that, but I want to make sure we also hear everything [introvert with great ideas] has to say," can go a long way.
Do. Not. Ask. Them. To. Change. When I worked as a stock broker, I was constantly being told by my managers that if I wanted to be successful I would have to become an extrovert. There is a reason that Myers Briggs tests are split into I & E. Introverts exist. They are not going any where. Being an extrovert is not a job qualification. What I actually needed was someone to help me share my unique voice. Maybe the introvert on your team gets drained by your noisy co-working space. Is there a room they can check out to recharge? Maybe the introverts on your team don't know how to network in your organization. Is there a leader or IC you can introduce them to? Maybe the introverts on your team find it hard to share ideas in meetings. Can you help them learn to ask thoughtful questions in meetings as a way to show they are engaged and impactful?
For me, the golden rule of managing introverts is that you cannot assume that not speaking up in meetings translates to a lack of interest. You can, however, work with the introverts on your team to diversify your team's perspective and generate better results.