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How to unlock the potential of introverted employees

Recent research is upending stereotypes and brining new understanding to these oft-overlooked members of the team

How to unlock the potential of introverted employees

According to psychologist Dan Buettner, up to 50% of the world’s workforce are introverts. However, despite their number, a majority of introverts feel left out when it comes to giving feedback and influencing their company’s overall direction. And the gap between what introverted workers feel they can contribute, and what they’re empowered to, is growing.

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In Qualtrics’ latest research on introverted workers, The Silent Worker, we found:

  • 61% of introverts believe they have ideas that would benefit the wider organization
  • 55% of introverts believe their organization doesn’t care about their opinions

So while introverted employees want to play a bigger role in their company, they’re coming up against cultures and processes that don’t suit their way of working.

For a number of years, companies have recognized the importance of introverted employees within a balanced, high-performing team. Introverts are commended for their observational skills, their ability to self-manage, and for thinking deeply about a topic and coming up with well-researched ideas.

But the world’s leading employers are moving away from just “managing introversion” to thinking about how they enable introverts to thrive and drive their organizations forward. That’s because introverts are more than great team players. A recent Harvard study discovered that introverts were actually more effective leaders of proactive teams, as their quieter nature allowed for more collaboration and creative thinking—and they actually listened to their team’s ideas.

WHAT’S HOLDING INTROVERTED WORKERS BACK?

  • It’s easier for extroverts to speak out
    The majority of workplace environments favor extroversion. Workers sit in open-plan spaces, give and receive feedback directly, and are encouraged to speak out when they have something to say— all things that appeal to extroverts, not introverts.
  • Introversion is often mistaken for disengagement
    Shyness or a reluctance to speak out can be misinterpreted as disengagement or, worse, disinterest. And that can lead to introverted workers feeling increasingly marginalized by their team and senior leaders.
  • Introverts are more self-conscious
    In our research, 55% of introverts said they don’t share their opinions because “they don’t want to look silly and say the wrong thing.” While extroverts don’t mind if a few of their big ideas are rejected, it’s a much more worrying prospect for introverts.
  • Introverts are pigeonholed as hard workers, not creatives
    It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking your loudest, most extroverted people are your “ideas people,” and everyone else is there to execute on their vision. And it means introverts are sometimes not consulted when it comes to bigger questions about company strategy.

HOW TO ENGAGE INTROVERTED EMPLOYEES

Relying on a “one-size-fits-all” approach to gather employee views, ideas and feedback isn’t working and providing too many options is similarly lacking. As our research shows, introverts are more uncomfortable than extroverts in all kinds of scenarios.

If introverted workers don’t feel they are being given the same opportunities to speak their mind, what steps can businesses take to ensure their employee feedback is not being skewed towards the loudest voices in the room?

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Offer a variety of feedback channels
More than half of introverts are uncomfortable giving direct feedback or speaking out in a group setting. However, many managers take what they hear in team meetings or one-to-ones as a complete reflection of their team’s morale and viewpoint.

  • 57% of introverts say they don’t feel comfortable speaking out in a group setting.

Without other channels for giving feedback—such as online surveys—there’s a risk that managers are getting a skewed view of how their team is feeling.

Consider how often you ask for feedback

  • 61% of extroverts say that they would like to be able to give some form of feedback to their bosses every day.
  • By contrast, only 39% of introverts would expect to give this level of feedback. Given these differences, it’s important for brands building an effective employee-experience program to consider the frequency of feedback and how they can tailor this frequency to match individual’s needs.

Choose the right tools
As well as considering the frequency of feedback, brands also need to consider how technology can aid them in uncovering the real views of the silent worker. Through increasingly advanced AI and analytics, you can now run in-depth analysis of long-form feedback responses and the drivers behind those views.

Given introverts’ preference for longer, less direct, and more qualitative feedback, these tools can add a whole new layer of understanding that would have previously been missed.

Let employees know they’ve been heard
For both introverted and extroverted employees, there’s a feeling that giving feedback on the company does not always lead to significant change, with 54% of introverted employees and 35% of extroverted employees feeling that their previous feedback has been ignored.

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  • 54% of introverts don’t think their opinion will be listened to.

To address this, it’s up to businesses not only to ensure that feedback is acted upon, but also to translate the resulting decisions effectively and transparently to the workforce.

Keep everything confidential
In order to collect candid feedback and new ideas, employees must know that they can share feedback in a confidential way that prevents leaders or stakeholders from tying that feedback directly to their name.

  • 55% of introverts don’t want to look silly or say the wrong thing.

This confidentiality is especially important for introverted workers, who often don’t feel comfortable sharing their views in an open or public forum.


Interested in learning more about introverted employees? Download the full Silent Worker report.


Sally Winston is Head of EX Solution Strategy EMEA at Qualtrics.

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