CPA INSIDER

Tips for managing introverted employees

Don’t be afraid to talk about temperament in the workplace.
By Sue McMillin

Some researchers estimate that about half of the population is introverted, and accountants tend to anecdotally report that they and their colleagues are more introverted than other professionals.  

Introverts may face some challenges in the workplace. Jillian Rose, CPA/CFF, a senior director at FTI Consulting in Washington, D.C., said that introverts "recharge" internally and so need time alone to think and refresh. To advance in the work world, though, introverts often must do things that may not be second nature to them such as network, make presentations, and bring in clients, Rose said.

The issue for managers is that introverted employees may be more reluctant than outgoing employees to speak up in meetings, advocate for their ideas, seek help, and disclose their preferred work habits.

Here are some tips for managers to help introverted employees flourish:

  • Observe employees. Jessica Cormier, CPA/CFF, senior manager of professional oversight with the Society of Louisiana CPAs in Baton Rouge, La., suggested observing new employees to see how they interact with others. "I think it's really about observing people around you and getting in tune with that," she said. "Your job as a manager is to get the best out of people."
  • Rose said she tends to go into "listener mode" in groups of six or more people. If an employee seems willing to talk one-on-one or in groups of three to four people, but not so much in larger groups, managers can use smaller groups to hear introverted employees' ideas and get them involved.

  • Don't make assumptions. Managers should not assume that an introvert is a shy, disengaged, or anti-social person, because they generally are none of those things, experts said.
  • "Interestingly, my personal friends think that I'm a social butterfly because I do like going out, and I do like being with people," Rose said. "But then I need alone time."

  • Start the conversation. "One of the most important things people can do is talk with their colleagues about how they like to spend their time," said Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. "For some, they need to put their head down and focus for several hours at a time.
  • "The minute you make it socially acceptable to talk about this, people have a ton to say," she continued, noting that employees likely will offer suggestions that can help managers create an environment where all temperaments flourish.

    Rose said she likes to get to know people one-on-one, so she can learn what motivates them. "That helps you to assign tasks or projects to one of the people it is most suited for."

    W. James Gosline Jr., professor emeritus of clinical business communication at the University of Southern California, said getting introverts to communicate and participate is important, but so is listening to them. "I think a critical element is listening skills," he said. Rather than doing all the talking, he said, managers should practice effective listening.

  • Consider the physical environment. "I like having people around me while I'm working, but the fear is of being interrupted," said Cain, who is also co-founder of the Hudson Valley, N.Y.-based Quiet Revolution, which offers workshops, speakers and free resources to help managers get the most out of introverts. She suggested balancing work areas between those needed for collaboration and quiet areas where introverts can work without constant interruptions.
  • Working off-site, such as at home, can appeal to introverts for some projects and could be considered by managers. But it has limitations.

    "Introverts may be comfortable in a situation where they work at home and grind out a report for management, but maybe they are hurting themselves in the long run," said Thomas J. Naughton, an associate professor of management at Wayne State University in Detroit. He said managers must ensure that introverts don't isolate themselves through such practices.

    "The modern business world requires some level of skill at working with other people," he said. His experience has shown that businesses in his area seek "for example, engineering and/or accounting skills, but more important, they emphasize the importance of being able to work with other people," he said.

  • Provide a meeting agenda. Introverts often prefer to think through an issue before they speak about it, whereas extroverts are more comfortable speaking off-the-cuff. Provide a fleshed-out agenda prior to a meeting to give introverts time to focus on what they want to contribute, Cormier said.
  • She also suggested meeting with more reserved employees briefly before a meeting to learn what their ideas are. That way, she said, you can ask them directly about their idea during the meeting.

  • Empower introverts. Try asking them ahead of time to share one of their ideas, asking them how they would prefer to frame the conversation, or encouraging them to recharge privately. "Maybe it's just encouraging introverts to block time off on their calendar to be alone — to take control of their own schedule," Cormier said.
  • Get employees into the habit of jotting down thoughts and ideas that can be fleshed out later, Gosline suggested.

    Simply asking an introvert how you can help get them more involved is a great step, Cormier said.

Sue McMillin is a freelance writer based in Colorado. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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