We all know the common stereotype of an IT professional – socially awkward loners who enjoy spending most of their time in front of a computer screen. Behind this stereotype though are the very real differences between introverts and extroverts. We live in a world that overly rewards the socially outgoing extrovert, misunderstands introverts, and therefore undervalues and underappreciates their contributions to the workplace.
For example, introverts are not automatically shy people, but because they think before they speak and prefer one on one conversations to group activities, they are often labelled as shy. Susan Cain writes in her bestselling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, “Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.”
Cain “questions the dominant values of American business culture, where forced collaboration can stand in the way of innovation, and where the leadership potential of introverts is often overlooked.” By seeing extrovert traits as inherently better and rewarding those attributes in the workplace above all else, we are all losing, all missing out. Research shows that introverts think, interact, and communicate differently than extroverts but different doesn’t mean bad. In fact, it can offer important advantages. These individuals are often the quiet thinkers, the problem solvers that every company needs. They offer an important balance to the extroverts.
Cain also points out that smart people who choose professions that are more aligned with their E/I personality type will likely be happier and more successful as a result. This is why you may notice more introverts in IT roles that provide the environment they are most comfortable in. Here are some things to keep in mind when working with the introverts in your world. If you do, you’ll be much more effective in working with the technical introverts you know and you’ll harness their potential more effectively.
1. Social/group interactions take a lot of their energy
Technical introverts are not antisocial. It’s just that group events drain their energy. Making small talk with a group at a social event does so even more quickly. Don’t take it personally if they aren’t as chatty as everyone else. You can often find them in a quieter place where they are more than happy to engage in an interesting one on one conversation. Likewise, larger staff or department meetings tend to be seen as a waste of time even more by introverts. Make sure it’s really important for them to be there before including them.
2. Most prefer online conversations
Email, instant messaging, and texting are a godsend for introverts. Don’t be afraid to do most of your communications with an introvert using these methods. You may view it as impersonal, but an introvert often views it as an efficient communication method that allows for them to answer succinctly without the effort and interruption of conversation. Keep your messages on point, use proper grammar (the introvert will be watching and cares!), and remember that emoticons are often viewed negatively by an introvert.
3. Get to the point
There is nothing more frustrating for a technical worker who is an introvert than a recruiter, colleague, or manager who doesn’t get to the point, whether it’s in an email, meeting, or face to face conversation. Get to your point and then make it clear why this involves them and what information you need in return, if any.
4. They want to know that you know what you are doing
An introvert’s initial instinct when speaking with someone for the first time is to surmise whether they know what they are talking about. Introverts spend much of their lives listening so it is extremely difficult to BS your way into their trusted circle. However, introverts have tremendous respect for individuals who take the time to become experts in pretty much anything, even if it is something they may not have a particular interest in.
5. They don’t waste their words and will hear and remember EVERYTHING you say
Just because a technical introvert is not talking, doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in speaking with you. Introverts often don’t want to bother others and will wait for them to start the conversation. If they are standing near you, they probably want to talk, otherwise, they would move or leave. One key characteristic of an introvert is that they think before they speak and listen carefully to what’s being said. They are contemplative and don’t talk as much as extroverts, so nearly everything they say has a purpose and a reason. They often mistakenly assume others view talking the same way. Don’t say anything that you don’t mean and it’s probably safe to assume that anything an introvert says, they mean.
6. Give them all of the information and allow them to think
If an introvert does not know the answer to something, they won’t pretend that they do. They will also have a tough time finding the right answer without all of the facts. Give them all of the information that you have and tell them what you need in response. Then give them time to digest everything and get back to you. They will probably find the answer and get back to you sooner than you might expect.
7. Do what you say you are going to do
Don’t ever tell an introvert that you will do something and not follow up. The trust will be broken and you will have a very difficult time earning it back. The technical introvert especially will view roadblocks and red tapes as frustrating. Whatever is going on, they want the truth and the facts, no BS. They will see through platitudes and excuses and you’re back to losing trust again. Don’t bother if you’re not going to be honest.
8. Their networks are about quality not quantity
Introverts do not like superfluous interactions. Thus, their networks on places like LinkedIn are focused on quality connections rather than a quantity of connections. If you want a technical introvert to connect with you on LinkedIn you will need to demonstrate that you can provide some sort of value or expertise that they themselves cannot provide. They will not connect with you simply to grow their network.