by Alexia Archer
One of my friends is a small-business owner and every time we meet I ask him how business is going. Like most business owners, he works long hours and spends most of his time dealing with customers and staff. Since we share an interest in how businesses can work, we end up discussing the human side of business moreso since the accounting side of business is relatively straightforward. What makes for a successful business? What makes for a toxic business? What makes for a bad worker from the point of view of managers? How do employees perceive bosses and why? What’s the best way to deal with others when there is a power difference? How do you deal with colleagues? I actually don’t know if his good workers are introverts or extroverts because for the purposes of their work, it actually does not matter: they are relatively independent. Their team-based tasks only involve coordinating teamwork. But I do know many businesses that actually depend on tight teamwork. I should: I’ve worked for them.
The modern workplace is both a good and a bad place for introverts. It’s good in the sense that a lot more jobs involve autonomous work using computers and paperwork, diminishing the number of dealings with other humans. It’s bad in the sense that computers and paperwork will never convince another human or hire them. Computers and paperwork will never create or adapt ideas and processes. They cannot coordinate anything. They cannot move outside pre-set rules, which will never include every possibility. Computers break down (and then you have to call the dreaded IT department, which ironically probably hires a number of introverts).
Before cubicle parks, the original cubicle was a construction offering privacy to workers in the open-floor plan of factories. Modern low-walled cubicles offer no respite from noise, which might explain why one company I worked for nicknamed their junior employee cubicle park the Bullpen. One common introvert strength is our focus, but how are we supposed to focus with all that noise? Some places go as far as to look down on employees who work and wear their headphones most of the day. “If you don’t say anything,” a senior colleague told me after a week at a new job, “I have the right to talk behind your back.” But this particular colleague didn’t understand the point at all: the basic idea behind building relationships is trust. Some extroverts realize this principle and recognize that not everyone will show and give trust in the same way. Extroverts show willingness to develop relationships by talking; introverts show willingness by interested listening in their free time. Extroverts will invite you to parties; introverts will invite you for deep discussion over one-on-one coffee.
So when dealing with bosses and colleagues, it is important to observe how they give trust and demonstrate that you can be trusted and trust them in ways that they can recognize. Introverts do not demonstrate trust in exactly the same way that extroverts do. Our silence actually does not mean anything other than we cannot think of anything to say. If you know who you are dealing with, you will better understand what they mean. If you don’t make the effort to learn who someone is, you will end up relying on heuristics, stereotypes, your current thought patterns, and guesses. Introverts are more observant than extroverts; learn to make the most of it. One example: do you know how your manager deals with introverts? Does she know their strengths? Does she ignore them because they don’t say anything? Does she look down on them as “the unsocial one”? Is she an introvert herself? Is she pressuring you to put yourself “out there”? What situations does she mean by “out there”? Speaking up at meetings? Making public presentations? Talking to clients on the phone? Think on it.
Managers do have a bias over whether they want to work with introverts or extroverts. Average and good managers actually want workers they can trust. They want workers who they can understand. They want to know how to positively handle their workers. They don’t want the stress of continually guessing whether they can trust their workers. To effectively communicate that you can be trusted is a key component of fruitful working relationships.