Should You Hire More Introverts?

We’re living in an era of over-sharing, some say. Many feel the need to share what they had for lunch, the angry episode with a co-worker at the morning meeting, and why they aren’t fully satisfied with their cubicle.

The need to constantly share can be a distraction in the workplace, and can create habits that make working independently, and in a slow, deliberative way difficult. Luckily for me, not sharing is relatively easy because I’m an introvert. That means I get psychologically re-charged by spending time alone, rather than from mixing with others. People with introverted personalities long have been considered less than desirable in the workplace, but that may be changing.

Introversion is having a moment. Books such as “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” and columns such as “6 Reasons Introverts Make the Best Employees,” by Chrissa Hardy in the Christian Science Monitor, may be changing perceptions about introverts.

I remember taking a personality assessment years ago for a magazine writing job in which I tried to control the results by pretending to be an extravert in how I answered the questions. I had been led to believe by my father (a fellow introvert) that introverts had bad personalities compared to those who were “outgoing,” so why would they want to hire me if they knew I was an introvert? I didn’t get the job, and wondered afterward if they had figured out I wasn’t being honest in my self-assessment.

I took for granted that the hiring manager wouldn’t value my ability to spend all day on my own working without talking to anyone else, or my ability to be productive and resourceful without the need to collaborate. I assumed that getting classified as an introvert would only conjure images of a person standing alone in a corner at a cocktail party, or a person too socially awkward to converse in a polished way.

In the article, Hardy makes points I always suspected were secret strengths of mine. The first, for instance, “Introverts only deliver information they consider to be of value,” reminds me of my ability to approach meetings with an efficient mindset. Rather than using professionally oriented meetings for what my boss calls “blue sky ideas,” I’d rather talk about how we actually could get things done, and what truly needs to get done right away. I don’t feel the need to flit from meeting to meeting debating points that have no realistic purpose. I’m a creative person (like many introverts), but if I’m going to expend energy on communicating with others, I want it to count.

The next strength on Hardy’s list, “Introverts are sincere,” also speaks to me. I didn’t understand for years that just smiling and saying, “Hello,” was not considered friendly by many—that many people expect you to also try to engage them in a conversation. I’ve tried to amend my ways, and now push myself to also make small talk with people, but the reason I tend to only want to smile and say, “Hello,” is that I don’t want to pretend to have something to communicate when I really don’t, or pretend to like and know a person more than I really do. It’s also taken me a while to understand that just because people engage you in conversation and banter doesn’t mean they like you. As an employer, you can make use of your introverts’ sincerity by knowing they are the staff members who will not lead you to believe they like you (or anyone else) more than they really do.

This may be offensive to some, but I liken people like myself to cats, and extroverts to dogs. As most cat owners know, a cat isn’t going to pretend to like you, even if you offer her food or other rewards. She’s independent minded, self-contained, and either truly likes you or truly doesn’t want to pay attention to anything you do or say—regardless of what’s offered.

Hardy also notes that introverts tend to be unique individuals. I suspect that’s because we’re internally, rather than externally, oriented. That means we tend to come up with original ideas more often than we look to others for reflections of their ideas or approval. My creativity is one of my greatest strengths, and I think a big part of it is my tendency to look within for new, original ideas, rather than listening and watching those around me, so I can parrot information back to them.

“Introverts do not play office politics” is another one of Hardy’s introvert observations that rings true. I’ve learned over the years to compensate for my aversion to phony conversations by going out of my way to be useful to those I need to rely on, but I genuinely don’t enjoy strategizing about who I want to be friends with and support in the office. I tend to be friends with and support those I really like, and those I feel deserve it. I don’t repeat the kind of mantras that become safe at a company (every company has its own catchphrases, such as “building synergies” and “improving speed to market”). I think that makes me a more valuable employee because I can be honest in my assessment of new ideas and the plans of others. I’m not so reckless that I would tell the CEO in an undiplomatic way that his idea stinks, but I might find ways to gently let him in on some of the potential down sides of his plans.

The dependability of introverts, which Hardy points out, is another of our assets to a company. We have chosen our friends, and those we speak to, carefully, so we have less to distract us, and when we make commitments to those select few, we stick to them. Unlike many extroverts, we haven’t spread ourselves too thin. I have no problem saying, “No,” and I suspect other introverts are similar. I’m less dependent on others than extroverts, so I care less about pleasing others. That means there’s less reason for me to say I’m going to do something I won’t.

Last, Hardy says, “Introverts are independent.” That makes sense since we re-charge by being alone. If you don’t need others for your satisfaction, then you’re freer to work long hours without interaction, and you’re freer to go it alone on an idea you feel passionate about, or just have a hunch will be your company’s next best-selling product.

How can trainers teach managers about the value and use of all different personality types? Do you think your managers are biased toward hiring extraverts? How can your company best make use of the spirit of the introvert?


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