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[INTERVIEW] Jennifer Kahnweiler, Ph.D., Author And Top Global Leadership Speaker On Introverts

Jennifer Kahnweiler

Jennifer Kahnweiler, Ph.D., was named a certified professional speaker by the National Speakers Association, and has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Fortune. Her books The Introverted Leader, Quiet Influence, and The Genius of Opposites, have been translated into 17 languages. Her latest book is “Creating Introvert-Friendly Workplaces: How to Unleash Everyone’s Talent and Performance.

We speak with Dr. Kahnweiler about what introverts can bring to the workplace.

In what way are many workplaces extrovert-centric?

Extroverts like to express their ideas by talking them out. They take control, shoot from the hip, and lay it on the line. We still live in a world where the extroverted “ideal” shapes many aspects of leadership in our workplace. Workplaces typically promote being talkative and “out there” to be noticed.

Some of the many challenges introverts describe are getting interrupted, getting little down time, a strong pressure to self-promote, and an overemphasis on teams. In many cultures, introverts have very little chance to be heard. One introverted engineer client told me he would never be a manager in his company. When I asked why, he said, “Because the managers in my workplace talk really loudly and move so fast. That’s not me.”

What traits do introverts tend to bring to a team?

I often ask for volunteers in my primarily introverted audiences to say aloud the strengths of introverts. They offer a multitude of answers, including observers, listeners, writers, humorists, reflectors, calm, resilient, and so on. You can see people sit up straighter as the list of introvert talents and contributions grows and they’re reminded of their talents. Introverts get their energy from thinking and they contribute deep, valuable insights to their teams.  

What are the ramifications of organizations ignoring the needs of their introverted team members?

Introverted employees — who make up half our workforce — become disengaged or jump ship to new organizations if they feel that their employee doesn’t value their quiet contributions. Just like with any element of diversity, we lose so much creativity and innovation when we ignore an entire group. Author and co-founder of Linked In, Reid Hoffman, says of a monoculture, “It starts telling itself self-reinforcing stories that can diverge from reality.”

Where are some key places that organizational improvements can be made to take into account the preferences of introverted employees?

We conducted a study that drew 240 respondents of mostly introverts, and only 35 percent said that their workplace environment provides opportunities for introverts to be productive. We recommend seven key functions that organizations should address to create more introvert-inclusive cultures and work practices.

1. Bringing on great introvert talent – Shallow first impressions and personality biases that favor extroverts often play too large a role in hiring and promotion decisions.

2. Leading introverts – Leaders must open up the conversation around introversion, including checking their unconscious biases about their quieter team members.

3. Communicating with introverts – Given the time and space to communicate on their own terms, introverts have much more than you think to contribute to the conversation.

4. Designing workplace settings – Office plans must allow for the smooth flow of collaborating and socializing, as well as doing the focused work that allows introverts to thrive.

5. Creating remote work that works – Working remotely can offer the increased autonomy and distraction-free solo time introverts require to do their best work.

6. Building teams – Teams should be made up of diverse members and allow for all to contribute, not just the loudest voices.

7. Enhancing learning and development – Adapting training design to accommodate introvert preferences, such as breaks for reflection, will boost the impact of learning.

How can organizational leaders become allies for the introverts on their staff?

Here are five key ways you can create an introvert-friendly workplace.

1. Become a voice for the quiet – Raise the issue of introvert awareness and inclusion in meetings, training sessions, and other conversations.

2. Intentionally address the needs of introverts – Thoughtfully examine your practices like hiring and teams to ensure that introvert concerns are addressed.

3. Involve introverts in your research – Ask them how to create more inclusive workplaces. This is very relevant now, as organizations decide on their next steps for re-entry to the office.

4. Encourage teams to address introversion – Facilitate discussions about individual team members’ work preferences and learn how people want to communicate.

5. Bring senior leadership into the conversation – This will ensure that introvert inclusion becomes an organizational priority.

What are some examples of companies that have successfully addressed introversion in their inclusion strategies and are harnessing the contributions of introverts?

84.51 Degrees is a data analytics company in Cincinnati and has started groups for introverts and provided managers with tools and scripts. Leaders Chief Talent Officer Pat Wadors of Service Now coaches introverts on how they can best contribute in meetings by using techniques she herself has found successful. And an executive at Merck shares her story and journey as an introverted leader with groups across the company. We are collecting more examples of introvert inclusion every day.  

To learn more, visit jenniferkahnweiler.com.

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Daniel Goh is the founder and chief editor of Young | Upstarts, as well as an F&B entrepreneur. Daniel has a background in public relations, and is interested in issues in entrepreneurship, small business, marketing, public relations and the online space. He can be reached at daniel [at] youngupstarts [dot] com.

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