How to Motivate Introverted Employees

Do you have an employee who gave the first impression that they are a very thoughtful, creative, and smart person?  Even though this person can produce high-quality work from time to time, they seem a bit distant and uncommunicative or even arrogant…

The chances are your new employee is an introvert!  You wish there was a way to motivate them and make that employee more productive and communicative.  The solution is first to understand how and why they are different, to realize that their minds are made-up differently from the mind of an extrovert.  

Introversion versus extroversion:

The basic definition of introversion versus extroversion is that extroverts are more comfortable with and prefer to direct their mental energy toward the outside world, other people, or objects.  In contrast, introverts tend to prefer living in the world of their minds and their thoughts.  When introverts are forced into a team or a very crowded environment for too long, the situation will deplete their energy, and they will become very drained. 

Introverts gain energy from the comfort of their inner thoughts and feelings

Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung (1875 – 1961) was the first to distinguish extroversion and introversion, the two major orientations of personality.  We continue to learn from Jung’s findings and ongoing psychoanalytical research leads to greater understanding of personality types to help managers in the workplace.

Cognitive sciences have discovered two main ways that introverted minds are different:

1.    Introverts process incoming information more slowly because they filter information thoroughly before considering the input. Their neural pathway to process information is longer than that of extroverts.  This is because they use the parasympathetic side of the brain, and the pathways are much longer, meaning they need more time for the information to be processed.  Hence introverts can easily become over-stimulated with too much external information from the environment. 

Scientists can detect the differences between introvert and extrovert babies as early as four months old. Extroverts easily take stimulation because the two parts of the brain they use have a much smaller pathway than introverts. This neurological difference explains why extroverts tend to be active and action-oriented, actively seeking out stimulating experiences. While, in contrast, introverts tend to be more idiosyncratic in their preference for a slower and manageable pace.

Scientists can detect introverted babies as early as 4-month old!

2. The second difference is that because the part of the brain used to process information and the part of the brain connected to communication and processing verbal input are quite separated in introverts.  Hence, they can go on for long periods of time without talking or communicating with other people.   Conversely, an extrovert will get the juices flowing, think, and speak at the same time.  They will enjoy brainstorming with other people, thinking and talking simultaneously.  

So, when you know these differences, you can begin to understand why there are behavioral differences between introvert and extrovert team members.  You see, it’s not that your introverted employee is having an attitude or trying to be distant on purpose; it’s just how their brain works.

How to spot an introverted employee

They tend to be

  1. Calm: He or she exudes a calming presence.
  2. Listeners: They tend to listen more than they talk.  This is especially noticeable in a team meeting when they appear more reflective.
  3. Having subdued Dress Style: Introverts tend to dress subtly.  Their clothing is usually understated, preferring dark colors.  They don’t want to stand out too much.  Compare this with extroverted employees who dress in more vibrant, outstanding colors and styles.

In fact, a lot of people think that introverts are a minority in the population.  However, many surveys have shown that introverts and extroverts are actually about 50/50 in a population.

The reason they seem to be the minority is that they don’t compete with the extroverts for attention.  They don’t speak up that much, preferring to think through the information before voicing an opinion.  They’re the silent half of the population! Another possible explanation is that many introverts would put on an “extrovert mask” on social settings to blend in better (even if it’s pretty draining), giving the impression that there are ways more extroverts to the untrained eyes.

Introverts bring unique strengths to the team

Now you know the differences between introverts and extroverts, you can appreciate the unique strengths of the introverted employee:

  • Because they spend more time reflecting and coming up with something that is truly unique, you can expect their work to be more creative and original.
  • You can also expect them to be thorough and meticulous because they think things through and process a lot of information inside their head before they talk about and show the result.   
  • Lastly, introverts have high moral principles.  Most of the time, introverts value their integrity and authenticity very highly.  It’s a useful attribute to balance the team in the workplace, especially against the fast-paced and cut-throat cultures of many workplaces nowadays.

How to motivate the introverted employee

So, how do you as a manager nurture and encourage better productivity and motivation from an introverted employee?  There are four ways you can do it:

1. When you assign them some work or a task, give them a lot of upfront information so they can process it, but then give them space.  There is this golden rule of two to forty-eight hours, depending on the complexity of the task, that works very well with introverts.  Give your introverted employee the time to think through all the input and process the information. In return, they will give you very thorough and very considered work results. 

2.  The second way you can help them is to complement their weaknesses.  Since they are a more reflective and somewhat individualistic employee, you can support them with your own strengths or that of another team member:

For example, you can provide them with social connections to others in the team.  Because it’s usual that introverts find it challenging to initiate social contact themselves, you can quickly introduce them to other team members.  By introducing them to other stakeholders that are relevant o the project, you help them to be able to touch base and integrate into the team.

You can assist an introverted employee by introducing him or her to other stakeholders/coworkers

3. You can assist them by giving clear deadlines and KPI expectations.  Because introverts are so reflective and usually perfectionistic, they are not good with deadlines.  So, you need to be clear regarding when you need the result.   When you have clear KPIs, they are certain of your expectations, and you can best optimize their thought process and creativity.

4.   Lastly, keep your introverted employee motivated.  Once they have finished their work, it’s important to praise the work, but moderately, because they can easily detect unnecessary and superfluous compliments.   So give them the praise that they deserve for their originality and creativity.  Praise them for their hard work and their meticulousness.  This valid, genuine praise will be a sure way to make sure you keep your introverted employee happy and motivated.

Conclusion

When you are aware of introverted characteristics you are better able to manage introverted team members.  Doing so is a case of considering how the different personality types function.  Introverted employees are motivated by receiving information in advance of meetings, enabling them to think about the content prior to the meeting.  Introverts will also think about ideas and get back to you later with their contributions.  A manager who considers personality types of the whole team are rewarded with wider contributions and a happier team.  

References:

https://www.lifehack.org/412467/why-introverts-are-introverts-because-their-brains-are-different

https://www.insperity.com/blog/managing-introverts/

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