Wall Street Journal on managing introverts

Often, it feels society as a whole see introversion as a problem that needs to be fixed. Being around people should invigorate not enervate. Sadly, for introverts such as myself, being with people is a drain. Careful in how you read that, because too often it gets interpreted as if people are vampires sucking energy from the introvert, but that is not what is meant in this use of draining. It is more akin to the draining of a battery.

For introverts it takes energy to balance people, to try to be engaging and make small talk, determine the social rules of the situation, and process all the variables at once. It is sort of like asking your laptop that is used mainly for writing emails to render a 3D graphic. It’ll do it, but your 4 hour battery life is now down to 1 hour.

The Wall Street Journal just published an article on How to Manage an Introvert which highlights a few solid suggestions.

The actual article isn’t that long but I wanted to pull one key point out of it of which managers should be aware.

Accommodate your introverts’ preference for writing over conversation. Instead of picking up the phone or showing up unannounced at their desks, communicate through email or online chats whenever possible.

Nothing is more anxiety inducing, more draining, that to force an introvert to use the phone or engage in face-to-face conversations that are of little actual importance. Calling up an introvert just to check in can end up wasting a lot more time for the introvert than the manager would think a 5 minute phone conversation could. What’s worse than the telephone check in is to immediately call back after hanging up to ask just one more question. Don’t do it. Put it in email. And trust the introvert to reach out to you if there is a problem… via email.

In my last job, I believe my boss knew I was an extreme introvert and communicated with me mostly by email. She wrote wonderfully straight forward emails which others sometimes inferred emotional content from but I saw as being efficient. We even got down a a shorthand of sorts. If I received an email with just a spreadsheet attached, I knew to open it up, keep it in the background and wait for her to stop by a bit later to explain what she wanted done with it. It was an alert to me that I’m about to have a face-to-face, gave me a heads up on the data I’d be looking at, and provided an opportunity for a quick face-to-face meeting for questions and answers.

She also knew that if she needed me to actually call someone for information, she had to tell me to call, otherwise I’d contact them via email.

I don’t think the WSJ article does a very good job in telling managers the benefits of adapting their management style for the introvert. It is also hard for me to start listing off reasons why you want introverts on your team just like it was hard for me to list off reasons why you would want to engage a pessimist on your team. I’m both an introvert and a pessimist. Anything I say only sounds like hubris.

Let’s put it all in the big category of diversity. Every workplace, every team, every ecosystem is strengthened by diversity. Diversity of opinion, people, and beliefs makes your workplace and life better.