Introverted women face many hurdles in our Type A, extroverted organizations, where there is strong pressure to be sociable, outgoing, and friendly. In male-dominated workplaces, their comments often are passed over and ignored. Yet these introverted women are an untapped resource, and if you aren’t harnessing their powers, your organization is losing out on the competitive edge and the many potential contributions they can bring. As a manager or team member, how do you bring out the talented introverted women in your midst?
Here are five effective strategies to tap into their wisdom and influence:
1. Give her space. Introverts think first and talk later. So in meetings, conversations, and even casual chats, slow down, pause, and give them time to reflect and respond. If you are an extrovert, you’re probably tempted to fill in the silences. Resist that urge, and introverts will freely express themselves. You can even try putting a space between your questions—counting “1…2…3” to slow yourself down. Avoid barraging them with fast-paced questions, which can make them feel like they’re being cross-examined on the witness stand.
2. Offer the gift of solitude. Introverts want and need to spend time alone. They frequently suffer from people exhaustion, so allow them to retreat to recharge their batteries. If you see a female coworker hanging out by herself at lunch, for instance, don’t assume she wants to chat. She may need that time to recover from all the stimuli of the day. As the Kelly Clarkson song goes, “Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone.” Instead of stopping by her office throughout the workday, bundle your nonpriority items and schedule a single conversation.
3. Write more, converse less. Try expressing your thoughts in writing to give her time to digest information. Introverts let their fingers do the talking. They prefer writing to conversation, and gravitate to email and social networking over the telephone and face-to-face meetings. Build on this preference, and whenever possible, communicate with her in writing. Take the time to read her emails and respond thoughtfully.
4. Give her prep time. Play to the introverted woman’s preference for preparation by sharing in advance the agenda and relevant materials needed for meetings and conference calls. Let your introverted colleague know what areas you would like her input on in a meeting. During the meeting, encourage her comments by directing questions to her such as “What are your thoughts on that action, Sheri?” You also need to do your own preparation to understand how she can best contribute.
5. Get to know her. Introverts are private at first, and they self disclose in one-on-one dialogues. Start building a work relationship with an introverted woman by asking about her work and her outside interests. Once you start to self-disclose and ask her good, open-ended questions (“So what has been keeping you busy lately?”), she will open up. Chances are, you’ll find things in common. By honoring and adapting to the preferences of the introverted women in your organization, you will gain their respect, help them to build on their natural strengths, and develop your own repertoire of effective behaviors, ultimately benefiting the organization.
As a follow up to this article I led a webinar called the Power of Introverted Women. You can listen to the entire program with a Q & A included. Check out the Women’s Leadership Center at AMA for relevant courses and career skills.