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Leveraging the quiet power of introverts in the workplace

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Introverts possess a quiet power. If you listen carefully, you may notice it. Yet, many workplaces favour more extroverted individuals. Take two candidates who possess the same degree of knowledge, skills and qualifications. The candidate possessing a higher degree of “executive presence” (Cain, 2023) will likely get promoted more readily, and not just for leadership roles.  

I work in a post-secondary institution – what we refer to as a CEGEP in Quebec. At times, it can seem like I’m swimming in a sea of extroverts. We might assume that teachers, who have to speak in front of students for hours, must be extroverted to be good at their job. Leading, inspiring and generally getting people to listen requires the charisma so often associated with extroversion, does it not?  

What I’ve come to realize is that the quieter introvert is everywhere, and not just hiding out in the finance department or the library. Moreover, they can be successful across many different roles and sectors, given the right combination of factors.  

In this article, I will highlight some of the strengths and characteristics of introverts, as well as offer advice to support introverted employees/jobseekers to thrive. 

Understanding introversion 

In my view, labelling individuals too rigidly as introverted or extroverted is overly simplistic and ignores the suppleness with which individuals can respond to their environment. Instead of viewing personality traits in black or white, I try to visualize them on a personality continuum.  

In 1921, the psychiatrist C.G Jung identified two groupings of personality attitudes: introversion and extroversion. While extroverts tend to move energy toward the outer world, introverts turn inward (Sharp, 1987). This translates into obvious differences in our preferences about how we spend our time and invest our energy. In fact, let’s face it! They approach work differently.  

Their more withdrawn presence in the workplace should not be mistaken for a lack of commitment to the work or the organization.”

Positioned somewhere along the more introverted end of the continuum myself, I am all too familiar with some of the typical behaviours that may present themselves in the workplace. For starters, the introverted individual may prefer to e-mail rather than pick up the phone, or even freeze at the sound of an unplanned incoming video call. They may wish to avoid large meetings, or meetings in general – especially those they feel are unnecessary. They may prefer to work remotely or benefit from a hybrid approach.  

Their more withdrawn presence in the workplace should not be mistaken for a lack of commitment to the work or the organization. Here we will loop right back to the beginning of this article, which boldly refers to introverts’ quiet power. Introverts may speak quietly, but when they do, their contribution is likely to be meaningful because so much time went into weighing every word before expressing their thought aloud. They listen and observe, noticing body language and nuances that may be overlooked.  

Introverts may prefer to work alone, at least in the early stages of a project, rather than participate in group brainstorming sessions that do little more than drain their energy and result in negligible progress. They are often good collaborators, but prefer one-on-one interactions or working with a small group.  

They may progress at a slower, more deliberate pace, one task at a time. Deeply analytical, many introverts thrive in settings where they toil at a computer for much of the day, which could be challenging for more extroverted individuals. 

When working on a project they are passionate about, the magic truly happens – though mostly behind the scenes. Introverts are often immensely creative. Susan Cain’s notable 2012 book, Quiet, presents “A Manifesto for Introverts,” stating that “Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.” I couldn’t agree more. 

Setting introverts up for success 

The following are four practices that I have observed in supervisors and colleagues to support introverted employees. I credit them with allowing me to push through my own limits and consequently thrive in my work.  

Get to know the individual 

Chances are that you will identify the introverts within your team pretty quickly. Get to know their work style, what motivates them and what environment results in the best output. You may be surprised what you find out about a person simply by taking a genuine interest in their goals and personal projects. 

Provide space 

Much of today’s workforce falls under the umbrella of knowledge workers: paid to think. However, many leaders still follow an old management paradigm based on physical labour and repetitive tasks. Introverts need space. I prefer a solitary work environment to move projects forward, with planned and purposeful meetings on site to focus on quality work. I try to avoid long meetings or those without a focused agenda.  

On rare occasions where I need to deliver a presentation, I quickly find my “restorative niche” afterward. A term coined by Brian Little, a recognized figure in the field of personality science, introverts often need downtime after having to act extroverted. If possible, I’ll take a walk outdoors or simply sit in my car and listen to music or a short podcast. 

Recognize good work 

The hidden potential of the introvert may go undetected if the direct supervisor does not understand how to leverage it. While introverts often avoid the spotlight, they want their work to be acknowledged. Supervisors can support them by recognizing good work and promoting it. A few years ago, I developed an online onboarding program for new faculty. My supervisor supported the project by giving me the time and space to work on it. 

Prompt but don’t push 

The introvert is rarely the loudest voice in the room, but it doesn’t mean they lack valuable insight on the topic under discussion. Chances are that they prepared meticulously prior to the meeting. Help to unlock the hidden potential of the quiet introvert by gently inviting them into the discussion. An ally might ask, for example, whether they can think of anything that should be considered before moving ahead with X, Y or Z.  

In closing, a highly introverted individual is perfectly capable of expanding their level of comfort in different situations. A good supervisor will offer encouragement to their staff, inspiring each one to show up at work as the best version of themselves.  

Career professionals can guide clients toward finding the work environment that is best suited to their personality, but should avoid rigid labels that may restrict the future growth of the individual. After all, personality traits are not fixed, and plenty of introverts can shift, at least temporarily, into an extroverted mindset.   

Additional sources 

Grant, Adam. The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being with Brian Little. Re:Thinking, July 2023. 

Rock, David. Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work. Harper Business, 2007. 

Who Are You, Really? The Puzzle of Personality. TED Conference, 2016.  

Chantal Turgeon has worked as a Pedagogical Counsellor in post-secondary institutions in Montreal, Québec, for the past 10 years. Her current role is focused on program evaluation, revision, and quality assurance.
Chantal Turgeon has worked as a Pedagogical Counsellor in post-secondary institutions in Montreal, Québec, for the past 10 years. Her current role is focused on program evaluation, revision, and quality assurance.
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