Collaboration drives open spaces for introverts


One of the best things about going on the road to give speeches (aside from sampling the local cuisine) is to see how workplaces are evolving. Last week I had the honor of delivering a keynote to the folks at the American Chemical Society and their Chemical Abstracts Service. CAS, as it is known, “is made up of scientists who collect, and organize all publicly disclosed substance information creating the world’s most valuable collection of content that is vital to innovation worldwide.”

After lunch, I was taken on a tour of the Columbus, OH facility and heard the story of how they are transforming much of their building to meet the demands of a new work flow.  The software developers in the IT area, for instance, have adopted Agile as the way they perform work and this lends itself to ongoing discussions and connection throughout the day. In the “before” photo at the top of this post, you can see how many of the offices were set up in what they call “submarine hallways.”

Joe Sjostrom, Director, Product Technology, and Operations at CAS is an astute introverted leader who shared his experience in this transition from offices to open space. At first, he was very skeptical, but now says he would never go back to the old ways. In fact, his office sits smack dab in the middle of the open space, near the feeding bowl for the cat. Yes – there is a company cat who hangs out with everyone.

Joe explained why he thinks introverts thrive in this new open workspace, contrary to what you might expect; that they would hole up away from people.

“I’m really glad you got the opportunity to see our new work space” he wrote me in a follow-up email,  Regarding introverts and work environment, I’m sure many would balk at a statement that “open spaces are good for introverts”. The key issue is that the work of software application development has changed from what used to be a mostly solo activity to what is now a highly collaborative activity.”

Joe continued, “So the work environment has necessarily evolved, and the (surprising/counter-intuitive) discovery is that software engineers (in general, a highly introverted population) are actually able to adapt in a very positive way to this new environment. As I see it, we introverts don’t actually “change”, there is still a strong bias for some element of isolation.  But my experience has been that the human mind is actually much more highly adaptable and without actually being physically isolated, the open environment can be well-tolerated – and the overall team productivity is *greatly* enhanced. As I mentioned, I can hardly comprehend how we ever got work done in the “submarine hallway” days!” See the photo of the offices Joe refers to at the top of this piece.

But my experience has been that the human mind is actually much more highly adaptable and without actually being physically isolated, the open environment can be well-tolerated – and the overall team productivity is *greatly* enhanced.

Joe also told me that most team members learn to tune out extraneous conversations but will chime in when they think they can contribute. He also said that the headphones they ordered were not used.

The wave of the future is connection and collaboration. And while having spaces and places for breaks can help, the bottom line is that more work is getting done in this open space. In fact, the marketing director told me her work area is removing offices and creating a new open space environment to support the new Agile work processes they are implementing.

There might be a reason to keep a few old offices that offer privacy and quiet. A few of the editors and proof readers said they LOVE those submarine like spaces with doors because they can concentrate. So maybe some work functions won’t ever find it necessary to change. In this collaborative software development department, though, they are have gone “all in” and are not looking back. The results are speaking for themselves.






How Introverted CEOs Make A Powerful Impact

How CEOs Can Use Introvert Strengths to Get ResultsA business leader need not act like Indiana’s Bobby Knight to be the ultimate influencer, communicate his vision and inspire people to get on board. In fact, the opposite may be true. Often introverted leaders exercise their quiet influence in ways that prompt new ways of thinking, challenge the status quo and inspire others to move forward. Here’s how some CEOs have borrowed from the introvert’s playbook to elevate their effectiveness.

There are many ways one can be effective as a leader. Smart CEOs know that they are most transparent and trustworthy when they lead from their own natural strengths. For introverts, those strengths may be quieter, more measured and less obvious, but they will be no less effective. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not always the loudest voice in the room that gets results.

Doug Conant, former president and CEO of Campbell Soup Company and CEO, Conant Leadership, builds trust and open communication with his teams by being honest about his own way of getting things done. He uses two strengths common to introverted leaders – preparation and focused conversations. “I came out of the closet in my beliefs…I have this belief that it’s very important for a leader, particularly an introvert, to declare themselves. It took me a long time to realize the obvious; that people were not mind readers and because I was quiet and sort of introverted they didn’t know how I thought or felt,” he said.

Doug developed a best practice called “a DRC (after his initials, Douglas R. Conant) conversation.” Using preparation, he gathers necessary facts and knowledge and explores resistance points to create a document that lays out his beliefs, how he likes to run the company and his perspective on how the industry works. Then he walks each new team member through it.

This focused conversation—a purpose-driven dialogue that leads to problem-solving, selling ideas and working through conflict—is open and honest. In his dialogue, Doug doesn’t exclude personal information like his values, favorite books or quotes. In one thoughtful conversation, he eliminates the guesswork in getting to know him and keeps himself accountable. He tells new hires, “If I behave consistently with this, then I guess you can trust me. If I don’t, I guess you can’t, but at least you will know.”

Preparation and focused conversations get results for Conant, but other “quiet influencers,” as I call “introverted leaders” in my book, “Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference” have also achieved tremendous results by relying on four other common strengths.

They regularly take quiet time to think, recharge their batteries, boost energy and foster creativity.

They use engaged listening to build rapport, mutual understanding, and trust with their co-workers.

Because talking isn’t always their strong point, writing becomes a way to find clarity about their own positions and articulate authentic, well-developed positions to others.

Some develop a thoughtful use of social media to propel their ideas and reach a previously untapped, broader and global audience.

Engaged listening has become a hallmark trait of Sandy Parillo, CEO of The Providence Mutual Insurance Company. She had not recognized the importance of engaged listening until a coworker pointed out its value. She encourages co-workers to come to her with their ideas and solutions. Her response is “to ask them additional questions, offer alternatives for consideration, give them the benefit of my experience and offer support for their decision,” said Parillo.

After one such conversation, an employee told Parillo that he knew she probably had a hundred things going on, but that during their time together, he felt that she was entirely focused on the topic and gave him full attention. It was a light-bulb moment. Something she did naturally—listening closely and giving thoughtful feedback—added value to the company and both parties.

“I am truly humbled that people want to ‘run this by me’,” she said. She knows that they value her attention, her advice and her encouragement in their own management decisions. “The key is to challenge people appropriately and support them accordingly,” said Parillo.

Writing was the go-to strength for Ronnie Wilkins, executive director of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology when he wanted to launch a new non-profit organization. It would align with and enhance his organization’s scientific mission by providing association management services. Ronnie knew the need was there was there, but it meant selling the board on creating an additional new company. He prepared a carefully outlined memo, finding it easier to have conversations and answer questions once people had a chance to consider his proposal carefully. Within three months the new company, Parthenon, was up and running. It has helped retention of employees by providing new career opportunities and it has exceeded all performance expectations.

More CEOs are borrowing plays from the introverted playbook. They find these quiet strengths to be powerful and that they directly relate to highly-desired soft skills so in-demand in today’s workforce: the ability to communicate clearly, think critically and collaborate to build trust and strong teams. As these examples show, “quiet influence” can be a powerful way of making your case and leading your company forward.

This post is taken from an article I wrote for Chief Executive which appeared on Oct. 27, 2013.

How to Design Workspaces that Engage Millennials


The Millennial Manual - The Complete How-To Guide to Manage, Develop, and Engage Millennials at Work


As some of you know, I have written about the importance of considering workspaces in addressing the needs of introverts. Author Ryan Jenkins has written a comprehensive guide to getting the best out of Millennials and in this guest post Ryan makes a strong case for creating functional and flexible workspaces that cater to all styles. Check out this book. It is a great read!

The envelope of today’s workspaces is being pushed further and further. Facebook recently moved into their new 430,000 square foot “garden-roofed fantasyland” office. Apple has plans for a new Cupertino campus that resembles a giant alien spacecraft. And a new Mountain View headquarters at Google will have miles of super-transparent glass and an interior workspace that can be reshaped by cranes and robots according to the company’s needs.

If Steve Jobs taught us anything, it’s that design matters. The better the design, the better the experience and the higher the engagement. The same applies to today’s workspaces.

Seventy-eight percent of Millennials were strongly influenced by how innovative a company was when deciding if they wanted to work there. It’s no wonder so many of today’s tech giants are investing heavily into new innovative workspaces. Besides creating a functional workspace, the office’s design is being used as a recruiting and employee engagement tool.

What does the design of your workspace communicate to potential new hires and existing employees?

Seventy-nine percent of Millennials would rather be mobile than static while working. It’s become more and more challenging to engage the next generation of employees at work. Providing workspaces that entice collaboration and offer unique experiences are a must.

Work-life integration has replaced work-life balance. Nowadays, we take home more work and we want more life at work. More employees (especially Millennials) are looking for companies that offer a rich and immersive experience at work. And that starts with the physical workspace.

Here are four workspace elements that will engage the Millennial worker.

  1. Collaboration

According to the 2014 Qualtrics Millennials in Tech Survey, 74 percent of Millennials ranked a collaborative work environment as the first or second most important characteristic they look for in the workplace. The quickest way to boost collaboration is to observe where your team naturally gravitates. Once the high traffic areas are located, encourage the collaboration by offering food or drinks nearby, placing stools or high tables at the location, or streaming wifi to the area.

  1. Flexibility

Millennials are more productive and ultimately have a better impression of their employer when they have workplace flexibility. In fact, 90 percent of managers believe that workers are more productive when given the flexibility to choose when and how they work. Cater your workspace to meet a wide range of needs and interest by offering solo workstations, mobile workstations (e.g. desks with wheels), small team rooms, large conference rooms, lounge areas, and relaxed community area.

  1. Value-infused

Company values that are visible on a daily basis will help to engage the Millennial generation who are massively motivated by meaningful work. Bring your company values to life by naming meeting rooms after each value, writing them on the walls, printing them on business cards, looping them on digital displays, or creating images or badges that employees can share on social media.

  1. Wellbeing

Millennials value a healthy lifestyle and are interested in blending that lifestyle with work. Natural light enhances energy and results in more productivity; find ways to leverage natural light in your workspace. The right colors can brighten moods. Color psychologists have found that green promotes calm, blue is stimulating, and yellow spurs creativity. Other perks that can promote a healthy workspace: ergonomic chairs, meditation space, nap rooms, dogs at work, and standing desks.

For more examples and inspiration on how you can create an innovative workspace, search “modern workplace” or a related search term on Pinterest.

Barry Salzburg, the former global CEO of Deloitte Touch Tohmatsu Limited, recently said, “To attract and retain talent, business needs to show Millennials it is innovative and in tune with their world-view.” Leverage an innovative and forward-thinking workspace as your catalyst for Millennial engagement.

This post is a chapter from the new book, The Millennial Manual: The Complete How-To Guide to Manage, Develop, and Engage Millennials at Work by Ryan Jenkins. Jenkins is an internationally recognized Millennial and Generation Z keynote speaker, generations expert, and columnist. Ryan is also a Partner at, a micro-learning platform dedicated to helping Millennials perform better at work


An Introvert Lesson: Technology and Talk

The Genius of Opposites: How Introvert and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results Together Author Day

Jennifer with Kristen Frantz, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Berrett-Koehler

This blog post was published 2 years ago and I thought I would share it again. Thanks.

2) Queen For A Day My publisher, Berrett-Koehler (BK) invites each of its current book authors to its Oakland, CA headquarters for an “Author Day.” Why? It allows the entire BK team from production to foreign rights to sales to talk with the author and get pumped about selling the book. I jokingly call this “Queen For A Day” as you are the center of attention.I was barely off the elevator when Sales and Marketing VP Kristen Frantz and others surprised me with a wand and crown to wear during my one-day reign!Note that there are literally hundreds of emails that transpire during the process of publishing a book. But it was the “Queen for A Day” experience where the connections solidified. We hashed out challenges, planned for The Genius of Opposites book launch and did our share of laughing.

Another introvert lesson: technology and talk

Jamie Showkeir Rockin’ At Home

3) Keep Jamie at Home A group of five friends joined together to support our fellow author and friend Jamie Showkeir,  who was diagnosed with ALS this past summer. We launched a crowdfunding campaign called Keep Jamie at Home as a way to tackle our helplessness and so that Jamie and his wife Maren could obtain the costly in-home care that is needed.

The results were astounding. Many of you all helped us surpass the goal of $60,000 within one week and today the figure stands at $66,575! (note: the funds increased after this post) Thanks to ALL of you who made a difference and shared so selflessly. Check out Jamie and Maren’s terrific books Authentic Conversations and Yoga Wisdom at Work. 

Technology came into play through emails and phone calls in the planning and execution phases of the project. We also took advantage of the advances in crowdfunding technology. And afterward, we celebrated this marvelous outcome with a virtual photo of a champagne glass and multiple exclamation emails. Then we reached out to each other in a group call and agreed that out of the bad can come some good. Through our grief, we had become closer friends.

Technology and talk did their magic once again. Just enough technology to share data effortlessly and just enough talk to express what was in our hearts.


How to be a more creative person


I am so pleased to share this new TEDX talk by my friend and speaking colleague Bill Stainton. Bill is a living example of how practice is the key to greatness. He prepared for his moment on the TEDX stage for months, rehearsing 5 times a day or more. And the results clearly show…Bill shares wise, powerful lessons about creativity that will make you think for days and weeks afterward. That is the mark of a great speech!

For those of us who write, speak or otherwise create for a living, the art of creativity remains elusive. Yet, Bill’s idea about cracking our cocoon offers one clue to get closer to it.

From the speech description:

“What do Johnny Depp, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and a little old lady from Russia have to do with creativity? More important, how can they help you tap into your own creative genius?

Bill Stainton believes that when we isolate ourselves from ideas, experiences, and people who are “different,” we are robbing ourselves, our businesses, our communities, and our world of the creative ideas that are essential to solving our biggest challenges. Only by becoming less isolationist—by “cracking our cocoon” and embracing people and experiences that may at first seem “weird”—will we discover the connections that can lead to breakthrough ideas….”

I have been more aware of how collecting different experiences helps awaken my creative spirit.  They take me out of my cocoon.  For instance, last weekend, while in DC, I visited the new National Museum of African-American History & Culture. My eyes were opened and I  was so moved. The triumph over adversity showed by African-Americans was so impactfully displayed. The museum images continue to play in my head and I am still processing my feelings. They have shifted something inside and that alone jostles my creative muscle.

I have little interest in gardening but found myself at a plant show this morning, I was struck by the vibrant beauty of the blooming pansies. Another shift.

And I  broke through an impasse on a writing project when away from my desk, stretching in a Yoga class. The idea came as the instructor voiced some soothing words in the background.

By bringing in disparate ideas we often catch that golden one.

I am so grateful to Bill for sharing his gifts with the world and helping us all find the creative genius that lies below the surface.

How can you move out of your cocoon? If you like Bill’s talk please share it with your communities. Thanks!

Evolent Health Tunes into Introverts

Last week I presented a session on introverts and extroverts in the workplace at a fast growing company called Evolent Health. They have grown from 5 employees to 2400 in the last 5 years and are partnering with health systems across the country to provide value based care.

Casey Wilson, Managing Director of Learning and Organizational Effectiveness, along with senior leadership, believe that styles are an important part of the diversity and inclusion agenda. They have previously addressed gender and other issues and saw the need to bring styles into the conversation.

The of 100 participants were made up of remote employees and in-person attendees who were at the Arlington headquarters that day. The class was particularly receptive to learning more about how we can approach conflict. We covered practical approaches such as using key phrases (ex. “you may be right”) and eliminating “but’ from our sentences. We also demonstrated approaches like not standing head on but at a 45-degree angle and implementing the “walking meeting” option.

The importance of humor was also addressed and I shared clips of the Chicago film critics Siskel and Ebert who turned a hostile relationship into one of deep friendship. In discussing, “Destroying the Dislike” I noted that it is when you act like friends and show respect,  your team can accomplish a great deal.

Class participants committed to specific actions and by taking the time to increase their awareness they believe that their effectiveness with teammates will increase.  I am encouraged by the steps of organizations like Evolent Health and Casey Wilson who know styles differences are important to address.

Five Ways An Introvert Can Participate in a Political Debate

Five Ways An Introvert Can Participate in a Political Debate One of my favorite introverted editors, Jeevan Sivasubramaniam, Managing Director, Editorial, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc asked me to write a guest post on introverts and politics for the Berrett-Koehler blog. If you have not seen the fantastic newsletter he sends out you are missing a terrific opportunity. Sign up now and tell me I was right. Here is the post with some additional introductory content.

In this age of political divisiveness, it often feels like we are living in different worlds from our co-workers, friends, and neighbors. In trying to preserve these relationships we avoid discussing political issues with those who have different opinions from us.  

Yet, when we connect with our “opposites” we often find that we can develop compassion, and even grow from understanding a wider range of views. If we see disagreement as necessary to arrive at better outcomes we can challenge each other to come up with better solutions. I agree with Penn Jillette who said of his longtime partner in magic, Teller, “We often hate each other but it is the kind of hate that is worth the while.”  

Introverts have an advantage over extroverts in discussing hot topics. They bring strengths like listening, calm observation, and delving deeply to truly understand a topic or person. Here are
5 specific ways introverts can participate in a productive political discussion while
maintaining their cool.

1)  Listen without defending. You most likely are a great listener already and demonstrate this by nodding, paraphrasing what you hear and asking great questions. Your conversational partners will not feel defensive if they know they can express themselves freely. You will preserve the relationship and continue to be perceived as a calm, reasoned person who shows respect. The key is to check yourself on your judgments as you listen. Just be curious about where your strong emotion is coming from and set that aside while you try to understand the other person. An introverted colleague listened to her teammate argue against gun control and though she vehemently disagreed with his position, she didn’t cut him off. They still have many areas of disagreement but their dialogue continues.

2. Get Your Voice in the Room. Don’t hold back your ideas. Your voice matters. So get comfortable with stating your opinion by first writing down your ideas before speaking them. Consider keeping a journal or use your mobile device to record your private beliefs. When it comes time to share them you will have given them deep thought, something you are comfortable with doing as an introvert.

3. Take Quiet Time. The onslaught of negative news can create stress for introverts, and the overstimulation can be difficult. Be sure to build in breaks from news, social media and political conversations. Be careful not to overreach and make your breaks morph into isolation. This can lead you to spend too much time brooding about events in your head and having circular conversations with yourself. 

Read the rest here: 


5 Proven Approaches to Bring Out Introverts

Five Proven Approaches to Bring Out IntrovertsMany introverts tell me that they prefer live meetings to conference calls. Why? They find it easier to read people when they can see them. Body language cues and facial expressions are helpful in understanding more about who is speaking and what they are expressing. Listening to voice cues alone is often limiting.

Smart managers know workarounds to this dilemma and use 5 proven approaches to bring out introverts.

  1. Prepare an agenda. Even if you are not an agenda maker, pause and take some time to write down the items you want to address. Also, include a space for the action items and who will own the task. Introverts will appreciate having the time to carefully consider the topics and their input will be more substantial.
  2.  Tell Introverts Why They Are There: If you have points you want quieter participants to contribute you can let them know by providing a quick email beforehand. Tell them why they are there. To avoid conflict introverts may not push back when they are not sure why they have been included on a call. If you explain the reason they are on the call they will be able to contribute in a more meaningful way.
  3. Get There Early – Get on the call at least 10 minutes before the start time. Technology can fail and it is good to test all connections. You can also use this time to develop rapport with others as they get arrive. When you start the call, try to avoid immediately diving into the task. Go around the “room” if you have no more than 10 people and ask them for one short positive update which can be either personal or work related. Introverts,` who don’t usually volunteer personal information as easily as extroverts will appreciate this structure. As a team leader, you are building relationships between meeting participants, which will make the work go more effectively.
  4. Create Structure on the Call – Put some structure in place that sets the stage for everyone to be heard. A ground rule like “One person speak at a time ” can encourage introverts to voice their ideas. You can also ask people to write down some solutions to a problem or question and allow for a few minutes of quiet time as the ideas take shape. Since introverts find meetings and conference calls draining consider how you can incorporate small task forces outside the meeting to cut the calls shorter and play to the introvert’s strong suit of more focused conversations.
  5. Consider technology –By using programs like Zoom, Skype  Google Hangout  or  you can incorporate video into your calls. This allows introverts to have access to body language cues. These web-based platforms also have a chat feature that allows everyone to post comments and questions during the call. Having the ability to reflect and express their ideas in writing is very natural  for introverts.

 A special word to Introverted Meeting Leaders:

Dan, a senior director at a government agency shared that he and his team rarely talk because they are all introverts and don’t like to meet! He had to push himself to schedule calls with his remote group. Introverted leaders can see the benefit of drawing from the synergy of teams but do find the experience draining.

It is most important that introverted leaders  allow enough time before and after meetings to energize and recharge. Breathing space will help you to function at your best. Also be sure to meet participants by phone or in person. Connecting one-one-one is a strong suit and you will have a better understanding of who is on the call when you speak “off-line.” This is true for after the call as well, if there are unfinished items or you are unclear about next steps.

So with a little planning and sensitivity to the needs of introverts, conference calls can be a tool for gathering the best from your entire team.

There are more suggestions for introverts and meetings in my book The Introverted Leader: Building On Your Quiet Strength.