Ask Lighthouse: Supporting Your Introverted Team Members

by Jason Evanish, CEO Get Lighthouse, Inc.

So you've just hired an introverted team member and they're having trouble communicating to others. What can you do to make them feel at ease and incorporate them into the team?

Welcome to the 6th edition of "Ask Lighthouse”, our weekly format that answers your questions about leadership and management. Each week, Jason Evanish, the CEO and founder of Lighthouse, and other leaders will share their advice for overcoming your biggest challenges based on their experience and lessons learned helping others.

The goal is to provide you with the nuance and detail that you can't find in our long-form posts that try to be more generally applicable. 

Want to have your biggest, burning management question answered next? You can send in your questions for next week here: Submit Your Questions for Next Week Here

This Week's Ask Lighthouse: Helping Introverted Team Members 

Today's question is focused on supporting introverted team members who've recently joined your team.

Some of the stereotypes about introverted people include being shy, quiet, and even poor collaborators. There is also a suggestion that leadership for introverts is something difficult, and they don't have any chance to be them. However, as Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking explains, these assumptions are completely unfounded.

And as an article from WSJ journalist Elizabeth Bernstein points out, introverted people often possess traits that can make them great leaders, such as being detail oriented and great critical thinkers.

Given 30-50% of the population are introverts, we wanted to give you a better idea of how you can make your new, introverted team members feel comfortable while settling in.

Question: "How can I get a new remote team member who's introverted to interact with the rest of the team more often?”

Getting introverted team members to interact with others proactively can be tough. And since the outbreak of COVID-19, we've all been feeling more isolated than ever, making things even more difficult. 

The following five strategies are meant to give you ways to encourage introverted team members to open up regardless of whether you share an office or are working remotely:

  1. Encourage them to declare themselves
  2. Call on them in meetings
  3. Suggest peer 1:1s to build bonds with their colleagues 
  4. Use async communication to give them time to think & reflect
  5. Have agendas for every meeting
play to your introverted team members strengths

1. Encourage them to declare themselves

One of the best ways to get an introvert settled in is to avoid forcing them to act against their natural tendencies. As Cain notes

"Since businesses have placed more value on extroverts, introverts have had to adopt extroverted behaviors in order to survive in corporate culture. When introverts act like extroverts, it's very stressful. It's not their natural behavior. It takes a lot of effort and results in them having less mental and physical stamina available to do their work.”

To overcome this feeling, let your team members know it's okay to be open about it. This is how Douglas Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup, has managed to lead others while feeling comfortable with being an introvert. Conant has said:

"One of the best ways I've found to help people overcome their discomfort around my behavior is to simply declare myself. 

I tell them, ‘If you see me looking aloof, please understand that I'm shy, and I need you to call me out.' By declaring myself in this way, I've found other people quickly, and compassionately, adapt to my style.”

Instead of trying to copy his extroverted colleagues, Conant practiced introverted leadership. He adopted a style that fit who he was. As a result, he had a much easier time communicating with his employees.

If an introverted member of your team is struggling to deal with their new environment, support them by letting them know there's nothing wrong with their personality type. Make them feel accepted and encourage them to explain how they feel to their colleagues.

By doing this, they'll spend less time and energy worrying about how others see them. Their behavior will be more genuine, making it easier to connect to everyone else on your team.

introverted team members

2. Call on them in meetings

Introverts like to have time to think and reflect before they respond. This is especially the case in big group settings, where they're likely to find it easy to become wallflowers. 

To overcome this, let them know you count on them and their expertise, so they should plan that you will call on them in meetings. Tell them things like: 

"You're an expert at X. In meetings, I'm going to lean on you, so expect to hear from me in the second half of the meeting. Please prepare for that.” 

If you set that expectation and avoid putting them on the spot immediately, that will go a long way in relieving some of the pressure they may be feeling, while getting their valuable input and insights.

peer 1:1s are great for helping introverted team members

3. Suggest peer 1:1s to build bonds with their colleagues 

Large group settings are often the most challenging situation for introverts; unlike extroverts who get energy from such groups, introverts are left feeling drained. That means smaller group chats and 1:1s will make them more likely to open up. That's why peer 1:1s are perfect for giving them an opportunity to interact with their colleagues individually. 

Encourage them to get coffee (or if remote, a 1 on 1 call) with each of their team members at a time of their choosing. They don't need to make these super formal. It could also be a short walk, lunch, or any other activity they feel comfortable with.

Unlike larger gatherings, they won't feel as drained and will be much more active in this type of setting. In fact, many introverts enjoy 1 on 1 conversations due to the smaller and more focused nature of it. 

And if they need ideas on what to talk about beyond work projects, you can help them build rapport with just about anyone with this Lighthouse post:

Peer 1 on 1s are a great way to help your introverted team members build connections with their coworkers and fellow team members in a way they're more likely to enjoy than big group events. 

For more information on how to use peer 1:1s, check out this post:

async communication will make life easier for introverted team members

4. Use async communication to give them time to think & reflect

Asynchronous communication is another great way to ease the pressure on your introverted team members. By not requiring an immediate response, it gives them time to come up with their best ideas without being put on the spot. 

Best of all, async communication makes it easier for you to clearly define your message, expectations, deliverables, and next steps - and for your team members to respond at a time that works best for them. They can step back, take the time to review and edit their reply until they're happy with it, and then click ‘send'. 

While async communication can't replace 1:1s when it comes to uncovering critical issues troubling your team, it's essential for giving them the freedom to do their work how they see fit. It also can free you from unnecessary meetings, or make the meetings you have much shorter and more productive, because so much is already discussed and debated before it. 

For more advice on making async communication a healthy part of your culture, check out our interview with a long time remote leader: 

agendas are a great way to give introverted team members more structure

5. Have agendas for every meeting

Introverted people like to reflect before they respond and be prepared ahead of time. This means they'll appreciate being able to see agendas before the meetings they're attending.

Agendas are a great way to make discussions more comfortable for them and valuable for you. Having enough time to organize their thoughts will encourage them to talk about things they wouldn't normally bring up in other situations. This includes any problems they may be dealing with while settling in.

This is also good for extroverts. It can help them focus their thoughts as well instead of jumping straight to the first thought they have in the moment. 

Having agendas is a win all around and one of 10 good habits for any kind of meeting you have. Learn the other 9 tips for effective meetings here.

Put extra effort into your 1 on 1 agendas with introverts

Remember: agendas allow you to focus the conversation, and set expectations. Nowhere is that more important than in your 1 on 1s with your team members. 

As former Intel CEO Andy Grove puts it:

one on ones can ease the stress on your introverted team members

Encourage your team members to think about any issues they're dealing with personally or at work, write them down, and bring them up in your 1 on 1 meetings. 

That extra bit of thinking time and structure can make a huge difference when it comes to getting them to open up and express themselves.  

You can also bring questions to help open them up, and uncover key insights to help you be a more effective manager of them. If you need ideas, on how to make the most of your meetings, start here: 

approach your introverted team members differently

Management is about adapting.

Getting your introverted team members to gel with others will take some time and effort. You have to use different approaches than works for your extroverts.

Use these five methods to take advantage of their strengths, and overcome the weaknesses of introverts. 

Reward their thoughtfulness, encourage them to prepare for meetings ahead of time, and give them the space they need by making async communication part of your culture. Make them feel accepted and heard, and they'll quickly find ways to connect to other people on your team and do their best work.

What are Your Biggest Leadership Challenges? Let us Know!

At Lighthouse, we always want to give you the most actionable ways to improve.

What are your biggest leadership challenges right now?  Let us know by submitting your question for next week here. 

We'll anonymize anything needed to respect your privacy, and you'll get an answer to your biggest challenge right now. 

Jason Evanish

Jason Evanish

As the founder and CEO of Get Lighthouse, Inc, Jason and the Lighthouse team have helped managers grow their leadership skills in dozens of countries around the world. They’ve worked with a variety of companies from non-profits to high growth startups, and government organizations to well known, publicly traded companies. Jason has also been featured in publications including NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and Fast Company.

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