How to Support an Employee who is Shy or an Introvert

Posted by martin.parnell |

I was recently listening to a podcast of one of my favourite CBC Radio programmes, “Under The Influence”, presented by Terry O’Reilly. His documentaries focus on the changing world of marketing and are always interesting and entertaining. 

In this particular programme, O’Reilly explored the topic of using celebrities in commercials under the title “Celebrities: Living To Tell The Tales”.

He spoke about, Alan Arkin, Alec Baldwin, Kiefer Sutherland, Spike Lee and others. 

But the story I found most enlightening was about the day he was casting for a comedic actress, for a particular commercial. Amongst the forty well-known, experienced actresses who auditioned, there was one very young, inexperienced girl who sat very quietly, didn’t know anyone and was very shy. 

However, when she stepped up to the microphone and delivered her lines, she had everyone in stitches. Her presentation was absolutely brilliant and, when she’d finished, she just tiptoed back and sat quietly in the corner. 

As it turns out, the young actress would go on to stardom and had the ability to overcome her shyness when it mattered in order to demonstrate her talent. 

For some people this may not be something they feel they can do. 

You may be one of those people, which may make the working environment very frustrating. You may have great ideas that you wish to share, but are too shy to do so.

Perhaps you are asked to give a presentation, but find the prospect extremely daunting. In some cases, you may see your shyness as a barrier to getting the recognition you deserve. 

If you are a manager, you may have employees who experience these hurdles and it is worthwhile considering this, as you think about your team. Do you have someone who is always reluctant to offer an opinion or be forthcoming when it comes to volunteering for certain tasks? 

Although their work may be up to standard, it would be easy to see them as less engaged in the goals of the company. 

I found an article on the Business 2 Community website entitled How To Manage Quiet Employees by Jacob Shriar (August 16, 2016) in which he states: 

“Quiet employees often are more successful and are considered better leaders.”

He then goes on to say why he considers this to be true:

  1. Introverts Are Better Listeners

Introverts are naturally better listeners, which is great when you’re leading a team. Extroverted leaders on the other hand, tend to do most of the talking without taking into account much of their employees’ opinions. They’re generally better with the command-and-control type of management, whereas introverts are more inclusive.

  1. Introverts Are More Humble

The best leaders practice what’s known as “servant leadership”, which is essentially when you put your employees first and are acting to serve them. According to research about servant leadership, the traits associated with servant leadership, like humility, are found more in introverts.

  1. Introverts Are More Creative

Quieter employees tend to be more reflective and take their time to analyze what’s going on. That reflection makes you more creative and helps you make smarter decisions. Extroverts on the other hand, tend to be a bit more aggressive when it comes to decision making.

  1. Introverts Form Deeper Connections

Introverts prefer to build those deeper, one-on-one connections, which is important for employee engagement. They’re much more likely to get to know their team members on a more personal level, making employees feel more connected to the leader. Extroverts are more likely to have more connections, but less meaningful.

  1. Introverts Are More Self-Aware

Self-awareness is one of the most important things you can have to be an emotionally intelligent leader. That self-awareness lets them listen attentively, pick up on social cues, process information, and see the bigger picture. They love that time alone to process the information. 

Shriar then proceeds to give advice to managers about how to manage quiet employees:

  1. Don’t Assume

The best tip I can give you by far is not to assume anything. Like I mentioned earlier, they might be quiet in meetings or at their desk, but don’t assume that they’re in a bad mood or disengaged. They might be processing some information that was just given to them or thinking about something, but they could be one of the more engaged members of your team.

  1. Don’t Just Show Up At Their Desk

Chances are, they’ll prefer to communicate by email or chat, so respect that. If you just show up at their desk or catch them by surprise, they likely won’t give you a good answer. They need time to process and think about what they want to say. Respect that, and give them the space/time they need.

  1. Use One-On-Ones

Trust me when I say one-on-ones is where you’re going to get the best feedback out of your quieter employees. They’ll be comfortable in that calm, quiet environment. If you can, it would be great to send them an agenda 24 hours in advance to make sure they have some time to gather their thoughts.

  1. Ask For Their Opinion The Next Day

If there’s a meeting, discussion, or anything you want their opinion on, it might be a good idea to wait a while before asking them for their thoughts. Again, they need time to process, digest, and formulate a smart response.It doesn’t necessarily need to be the next day, but give them time to think and come back to you with their thoughts collected. It also might be a good idea to ask for their opinion using their favorite form of communication. For example, you can wait an hour or two and send them an email or chat message and ask for their opinion. 

  1. Give Them A Quiet Environment

It makes sense that quiet people would like to work in quiet environments. Try your best to create a quiet environment so that they can work their best. If the workplace is so noisy and there’s no real way for them to get the quiet they need, you might want to consider letting them work from home one or two days a week.

  1. Don’t Ignore Them

It’s easy for introverts or quiet employees to go unnoticed, but you need to make a conscious effort to notice them. Or what about when companies are recruiting employees and there are words like “outgoing” in the job description. You don’t want to miss out on these people. Just remember, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Warren Buffett, Steve Wozniak, and Michael Jordan are all introverts.

Finally, Shriar  reminds us that “A huge reason why I keep stressing the importance of building up your emotional intelligence is that it helps you deal better with all different types of employees.” 

These are all very good ideas. However, there is something I wish to point out.

Being shy or quiet and being introverted aren't the same thing, although they may look the same. An introvert enjoys time alone and gets emotionally drained after spending a lot of time with others. A shy person doesn't necessarily want to be alone but is afraid to interact with others.

Consider two children in the same classroom, one introverted and one shy. The teacher is organizing an activity for all the children in the room. The introverted child wants to remain at her desk and read a book because she finds being with all the other children stressful. The shy child wants to join the other children but remains at her desk because she is afraid to join them.

It’s the same with adults. Someone can appear to be outgoing, sociable and engaged, not in the least bit shy, but may, in fact be an introvert and will soon want to find a place to be on their own and recharge their batteries in order to cope.

So. There is a difference between being shy and being quiet because you are an introvert. Of course, some of the ideas for supporting an introvert may also be applied to working with someone who is shy.

As a manager, you may yourself be outgoing and sociable but inside, be an introvert as may be the case with any of your employees, or you just may have someone on your team who is naturally shy. It’s worth thinking about. Be aware of how employees respond to different situations and try to be sensitive to their reactions.

One last thing, the actress who sat shyly in the corner? It was Ellen DeGeneres.

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