5 ways to get the best from an introvert

baby-belAs a child (that’s cute little me, right) I loved nothing more than to spend the summer holidays working my way through all the books in the library. I never really got it when my parents asked ‘Why don’t you ring up a friend and invite them over to play?’

I haven’t changed much since then. I’d still rather be at home with my head in a good crime novel than out at a party. It’s not that I’m shy, but like around half of you reading this, I tick the boxes that define me as an introvert. The first time I watched Susan Cain’s TED talk ‘The power of introverts‘ I found myself nodding along.

In a work context, what’s the impact of being an introvert? And what’s the impact for extroverts? Here are five ideas for you extroverts to unlock the power of your introvert colleagues:

1)      Be flexible to bring out the best of both

Extroverts draw their energy from spending time with other people, while introverts need time to recharge their batteries after being with others. As colleagues and managers we can be most helpful by understanding this and giving our team members the time and space to work differently.

For example, extroverts may thrive in meetings where they can socialise and share ideas, whilst introverts might do their best thinking while taking a quick stroll.

For managers, it’s useful to remember that extroverts are said to get on with their work quickly and are happy multitasking. Introverts, by contrast, are said to prefer concentrating on a specific task, working more slowly and carefully.

2)      Build diverse teams

Diversity is not just a business buzzword; evidence shows that diverse teams are more successful. Diversity is not just about the obvious things like age, ethnicity and gender, but includes personality, cognitive style and many other factors too.

When recruiting new team members, it can be easy to inadvertently hire people like us. But when we go out of our way to build a balanced team with different personality types, it’s a win-win.

3)      Get to know your colleagues

Recently I told a group of people who I’m just getting to know that I’m an introvert. They were surprised. At our monthly LeanIn meetings I appear bubbly and outgoing and often put my hand up to lead the session. Little do they know that it takes a huge amount of energy and mental gymnastics to do this. The lesson here? It might not be immediately obvious how your colleagues prefer to work, but asking them only takes a minute.

4)      Help introverts to find their voice

You might have noticed that in meetings some people dominate while others stay quiet. It’s not that your silent colleagues have nothing to contribute, though they might take a little longer to formulate their idea.

You can help your colleagues to contribute simply by noticing their quietness and asking if they have anything to add.

In larger meetings you could also get everyone to write their ideas on post-its that go up on the wall. This gives introverts a bit more time and space to formulate and contribute their thoughts.

5)      Understand I’m not being rude, but…

The modern workplace is often open plan, which is perfect for extroverts. But for those of us who need to get our head down to get our work done it’s not always ideal. If you work with introverts, actively encourage them to find a quiet place where they can go if they need to really focus on something. If it’s possible in their job, introverts might also work better at home, without all the office distractions. And, colleagues, if you see me with my headphones on, please don’t think I’m being rude, that’s the way I work best.

(Illustration Credit: Jennifer Williams)

Why I’m just like Jennifer Lawrence

You may have come across Jennifer Lawrence’s recent article for Lenny. In it she writes about her experience finding out (at the same time as millions around the world) that she had been paid a sizeable amount less than her male colleagues for her role in ‘American Hustle’. It turns out that gender inequality is alive and kicking in Hollywood, just as non-film-star women get paid less than their male counterparts for the same work all around the world. I’m impressed by J-Law’s maturity when she confesses, “I didn’t get mad at Sony” – the company paying her salary – “I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early.” Continue reading

Book Review: Strong Woman

Karren Brady 2

Baroness Brady of Knightsbridge, Vice-Chairman of West Ham FC, one of Lord Sugar’s advisors on the Apprentice and formerly the youngest Managing Director of a PLC in the UK, is undeniably an impressive woman. In her appropriately titled autobiography ‘Strong Woman’, two key themes emerge.

First, Karren Brady’s primary concern is independence. From the outset she tells us ‘I have taught myself to rely on no one but myself.’ It’s evidently the key to her single-minded pursuit of success. But it also seems she has emphasised her independence to such an extent that she has driven others away.

Brady says of her husband ‘He will never say, ‘Where are you going tonight? What time will you be home?’ and I never question him like that either’. Well I’m not someone who needs to know where my partner is at all times of day, but I do like to know his plans and roughly when he’ll be home. Brady makes this sound like interrogation, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s not clinginess either, it’s simply showing that you care.

After life-threatening brain surgery for an aneurysm her husband has her making calls from her hospital bed to help him out with a work issue. He appears to show an absolute lack of care and empathy for his wife. Her conclusion? ‘When the chips are down, you can only rely on yourself… The things in life that have never let me down are my career and me.’ The fact that she cannot trust or rely on anyone else saddens me enormously. Sure, it’s the key to her ‘success’. But if success means trusting no one, having no one care for you and only relying on your work and yourself, it’s not something I’ll be chasing.

The second theme is how incredibly hard she works. To quote, ‘I work from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to sleep. I’m not exaggerating.’ I must confess that as impressive as this is, it is not something I envy or wish to emulate. In one anecdote she recalls making the decision to drink less water so that she can go to the toilet less and so have more time for work. This is not ‘success’. This is tragic.

Her level of commitment to her work is, to me, shocking, but for her it is others’ lack of commitment that is unbelievable. She is ‘shocked that some people can be out of reach in the evenings, or at weekends, or on holiday.’ Really? Shocked that people want to have a life outside of work? That not everyone’s life revolves around their job? That not everyone wants to be at the beck and call of their boss? For someone who places such value on independence, I’m surprised she doesn’t get this.

Let’s look at Brady’s idea of success for a moment. In her own words ‘For 13 years I didn’t have a holiday and barely took a day off. If you want to be successful, that us what you have to do.’ And: ‘Nobody got successful leaving work at five o’clock.’ I feel I should let Karren Brady know that I used all of my annual leave last year and often leave the office at five. I also consider myself very successful: I’m happy and have people in my life that I can trust. I wonder if she can say the same.