Lead Your Introverts By Giving Them the Space They Need

5 mins

Getting the best out of the quietest

I’m not terribly introverted myself.  Quite the opposite actually – my personal development over the last few years has really been focused on learning how to listen, how to wait, and how to not just jump in and take over.  I think I’m still working on this to a large degree, but at least I’ve had a healthy dose of self-awareness to get things started.  

My team, however, is not nearly as outgoing as I am.  I have one person on my team that’s at that level, but tons of others are super sharp, insightful people that are very reserved and very introverted.  It’s become somewhat of an obsession of mine to try and find a careful way to make sure I’m not missing their opinions. It’s important that we as a team, and as an organization, aren’t performing more poorly because we’re not creating the space for ideas to come from the quiet thinkers in the group.

One of my favorite tactics you should feel free to steal is I never move on from a topic wherein we’re proposing a decision or a direction to take without asking each person if they have any thoughts on the matter.  This is a half-clever fix in some ways – it forces people to participate and creates a reason to, but it also puts them on the spot.  It’s not inherently bad, but it’s far from perfect - and definitely better to do than not. 

What’s in a meeting, anyway? 

It’s exceedingly rare that we have formal “meetings” at Rhabit, and this is by a very purposeful design. 

Building on that, I’ve started to take our ad hoc “huddles”, and break them into even smaller pieces where we’ll simply get together for a quick chat about something we’re working on where there are multiple contributors or a multi-stakeholder decision to make, and I’ll say “why don’t you take it away and chew on it and put down some thoughts, we’ll reconnect <at a specifically defined time>, and see what you’ve come up with”. This approach has been an absolutely magical strategy for my introverted folks.  

Quick note from the author: Feel free to reach out to me if you ever want to discuss a cultural and work process approach to the concept of the meeting. I have lots of thoughts and experiences around this, but it’s certainly its own topic.

This idea, of course, builds on some of that famous Amazon memo-driven approach where you’re forced to write your thoughts down which really does help you shape your defense of your ideas and slows you down enough to realize the flaws in your thinking and approaches. But, it also creates a quiet, focused event without the noise of an extravert like me running the gas-powered leaf blower of my mouth while my brain processes in parallel.  

The benefits of creating space for the introverts

This tactic has led to some of the best quality thinking, ideas, and work products I’ve seen in my years. I think it’s a great strategy for getting the highest performance out of people that tend to be less outgoing in a group environment, and also whose performance may be negatively affected by their perception of an inverted power dynamic, as people who are more anxious by nature tend to be around people of authority. 

It’s also very important that you set the expectation that they’ll be producing these thoughts, that they’ll be expected to share their thinking and what they came up with as they explored the idea, and you do this for a couple of reasons: 

  1. It solidifies the fact that their opinion and expertise are valued and expected to contribute to the task at hand. 
  2. It makes the next steps very clear, which is a great outcome of any interaction related to a shared work product. 
  3. It creates space for you as the potentially over-talkative firehose leader (of which I am one) to step back and think in a context that’s not so on the spot. 

As a leader, an environment where people have clear direction and space to think and create freely is what you want, and it’s important to recognize that the environment that achieves this may vary from person to person, which brings me to another point - I think this is another reason why remote work is here to stay.  

The natural dynamic of asynchronous-first remote work cultures is so enabling for more cerebral people.  Some of the challenges I’ve faced in running a remote company since 2020 are really around people feeling connected, but I think I overvalued that problem greatly because of my own bias towards socializing and my own extraversion.  

The actual data around what the team reports as its perception of our culture doesn’t really vary at all from our physically colocated days, and if anything, I’ve gotten fantastic feedback from folks about how they prefer their remote experience all while watching them first hand produces fantastic work products (like our awesome website, or some of our amazing features in Rhabit).

How to get started with a introvert-friendly culture

Ultimately my coaching regarding working with less outspoken team members is this:  Keep the tactics around making sure everyone speaks at meetings or has the opportunity to, and check for agreement and consensus person by person in a group setting when you’re making a decision.  These are both great, but ask yourself if there’s a way to create a flow in work where your teammates have an opportunity to take things away and process them with the clearly communicated expectation that they’ll produce their thoughts and provide them. 

Start by putting this simple process into place. Once in place, if you’re curious to know if it’s having a positive impact or being well received by your team, I have a tool for you. Rhabit will give you and your people feedback on the behaviors I’ve outlined here, as well as all kinds of signals around your team’s culture, how you’re perceived as a leader, and tools for improving yourself. 

Don’t take my word for it - check it out by scanning this QR code, or going to en.rhabitapp.com.

Til next time,

Kevin and the Rhabit Team 

Scan me for an interactive look at Rhabit!