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Innovation Culture Bulletin: Introverts, extroverts, and everyone in between

Work & Lifestyle

In the first part of this mini-series, we examined how factors such as office layout and headphone etiquette can strengthen communication in your office. In this edition, we explore how different personality types can be accommodated in the workplace to further improve the flow of ideas and create a better culture for innovation.

In “A comfortable distance” we looked at how modern, New Economy offices can often fall short in providing the quietness and peace that, for some more than others, are crucial to concentration and productivity. In Susan Cain’s Quiet, a book that went viral in 2012, she examines the power of so-called ‘introverts’, which can often be undermined in today’s extrovert-favoring society.

Think about it, when was the last time you heard some variation of, “She’s such a charming girl, who wouldn’t want to help her?” Somewhere along the line, the Extrovert Ideal, as Cain puts it, has become the dominant personality trait in our self-promoting, social media soaked world. We look for this in recruitment, subconsciously attributing well-spoken demeanors to ‘confidence’, preferring it to quietness. But does charisma really equal skill, and does the aversion to high-stimulation environments really mean someone is unconfident?

This ideology is also present in modern offices — noisy open plan layouts, ‘team lunches’, and bustling communal spaces that create plenty of opportunities for chance collaboration. On one hand, casual encounters do provide fostering ground for innovation, but for those that work better alone, environments with high stimuli can be mentally draining. Carl Jung, who popularized these terms, explains that introverts charge their batteries by being alone, while extroverts draw their energy from being around others.

But most people are on a spectrum of the two extremes, and the crucial thing here is to ensure that your workplace can provide an environment where employees of any intro/extro makeup can feel comfortable voicing their opinions, and have a choice to be around other people, or to be alone, so they can carry out the best work. In this month’s Innovation Culture Five we suggest ways to harness this diversity.

1. Rethink groupthink. The danger of groupthink is often overlooked in team meetings. Groupthink occurs when a collection of people conform and agree, fearing that to do otherwise may appear disruptive or obtuse. It’s a mindset that can seriously jeopardize and hamper the precipitation of good ideas. In addition, conventional team meetings often provide a platform for extrovert employees to dominate (sometimes purely for the sake of filling the silence) while equally skilled and intelligent introverts may feel uneasy voicing their ideas. Instead of devoting time to the age-old format of meetings, where the whole group sits around a table under a time restriction, try facilitating more casual brainstorm sessions with fewer staff members — voices are often heard best in smaller groups. Take inspiration from the Springwise-featured Sacred Introvert Retreat Tours, ‘where silences are comfortable and socializing is optional, not mandatory’.

2. Network with quietness. Usually, at networking events, people show up to sell themselves and promote their businesses. If that sounds like you, remember that, contrary to popular belief, introverts can often perform very well in networking situations. Introverts have been shown to be more patient and better at listening — knowing when to move on, and how to judge each person’s character can be crucial in first encounters. Take time to develop deeper relationships, Cain explains, “You don’t need to work the room. If I have a good conversation with a few people, I consider that a success.”

3. Allow time to plan ahead. Sending notes prior to meetings can help those not as adept at public speaking to prepare ahead — it will also help streamline your time, as everyone will know what to expect and be able to bring thought-out ideas to the table. Enabling colleagues to brainstorm in isolation helps with the intimidation some may face with larger meetings. Allocating time for all members to take turns and voice their opinions could be another tactic, while equally, some introverts may feel more comfortable having their ideas conveyed by a spokesperson — provided credit is given of course.

4. Create practice opportunities and space. Encouraging those who are quieter to take on presentations and host meetings can help them be more comfortable voicing their ideas. However, be wary of overloading colleagues with these exercises — if you’re an introvert, try to space out meetings and events throughout the week, and save time for yourself to ‘recharge.’

5. Be sensitive to extroverts too. Though extroverts may be more comfortable hosting meetings or taking the reigns in a public conversation, this can lead to certain types of negative labeling too — putting someone in the category of the ‘class nerd’, the ‘know-it-all’, or someone who ‘likes the sound of their own voice’ can be just as harmful and assumptive as thinking someone is a recluse.

As always, we welcome any ideas you may have, and our office-friendly Spotify playlist this week will hopefully cater to the different personality types around you.