Business Strategy | Leadership / Management

Your introverts aren’t shy — they’re just busy saving the world

Ready for some hard truth?

You're losing out on up to one-third of your company's best ideas and most creative solutions, and why? Because you don't listen.

In a world as complex and chaotic and this one, that's something you can't afford to do.

"You're wrong, Bill," you respond. "I listen."

No, you don't -- not to everyone. You only listen to the outspoken extroverts on your staff.

One of three people who work for you is an introvert -- a person who feeds on solitude, who works best alone, who carefully thinks through problems and comes up with some really awesome solutions but never gets a chance to voice them because the extroverts on your staff are hogging the spotlight.

In a world that prizes quick thinking, fast talking, and socializing over solitude, how do we make sure we get the best thinking from everyone on staff?

Susan Cain has some ideas.

You might have heard of Cain's book by now. It's called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, and over the past year or so it has stirred the proverbial pot throughout the business world.

I don't have space here to go through all of Cain's brilliant insights, but she summarized them nicely during a keynote address at the 2013 ASAE Annual Meeting in Atlanta. Specifically, she said introverts and extroverts each should do a few simple things to "rethink social interaction" and make sure the entire group's best ideas are heard and considered.

Cain's three tips for introverts:

  1. Schedule your own solo time and "walkarounds" that will give you the solitude you need to build ideas away from the group.
  2. Spend time before meetings preparing what you will say. That will allow you to speak up more quickly at critical times.
  3. When the meeting starts, speak up early. That will put the spotlight on you and your ideas first.

And three tips for extroverts:

  1. Schedule fewer meetings and more informal social breaks. These can give introverts the time they need to think and respond without the pressure of a formal meeting.
  2. Engage with introverts one-on-one whenever possible.
  3. Give introverts plenty of time to prepare their thoughts and responses. If possible, allow time in meetings for everyone to think through and write down their answers.

And remember, says Cain: "Solitude isn't shy. It's in the service of deep thought and creativity."

For more of Cain's wisdom, check out her TED talk from 2012:


Bill Sheridan