CPA INSIDER

Supporting the introverts in your workplace

One-on-one talks and clear expectations can help these workers shine.
By Teri Saylor

In today's fast-paced, highly competitive business world, extroverts, with their people skills and outgoing personalities, tend to stand out and are often the first employees to be promoted, get the best work assignments, and receive the top salary increases. In all the excitement, introverts are quietly getting things done, often without much recognition.

Kristine Latchaw, CPA, knows how they feel because she views herself as an introvert too.

"I used to be very shy, and I feel I am not a polished conversationalist, so I often feel awkward in social situations," she said. "I need a lot of time to myself, including time away from work to feel rested."

In her role as firm manager of Maner Costerisan in Lansing, Mich., for the past eight years, Latchaw has found a comfort level in dealing with people. Spending most of her days interviewing, hiring, and managing employees, she feels a special empathy for the introverts in her firm and works hard to help them reach their full potential. One easy method is to simply spend time with them.

"As a leader and people manager, it is important to get to know your employees," Latchaw said. One-on-one meetings and individual coaching will help you determine what motivates them and can foster strong relationships.

"Invest in your introverted staff and connect with them in a way that gives them confidence," she said. That valuable investment of time will allow you to harness their expertise and encourage a strong work ethic.

Latchaw and other management experts provide tips on how to motivate introverted employees and bring out the best in them.

Build a diverse workforce. Building an effective team starts with the hiring process. "Accounting is a profession that lends itself to both introverts and extroverts," said Gina Golden, senior director, national learning and professional development at RSM US LLP in Boston. She added the most effective teams are composed of employees who display diverse working styles and different ways of thinking. This blending of styles and personalities also gives employees the opportunity to grow and learn from one another. "It is actually easier and more fun to manage a team of people who display diverse styles than those who are all the same," Golden said.

Provide clear expectations. Introverts, who often prefer to work independently, may not engage with managers or co-workers on their projects. Therefore, managers should always be clear about expectations from the beginning, according to Fintan O'Toole, an independent human resources consultant with the HR Dept in South London. "Outline your expectations, set clear goals, and be specific," he said. For example, instead of instructing your introverted employees to complete more work, tell them which tasks you would like them to complete in a designated time frame. Then give them the space to do it.

Prepare them for group interaction. Typically, introverts are not the first to speak up in meetings or give immediate feedback during discussions. But this doesn't mean they are disengaged or not interested. They often need time to think and process information before responding to questions or contributing to problem-solving exercises, according to Latchaw. "Help them prepare for meetings by giving them an agenda in advance and schooling them on the nature of the discussions," she said. In meetings, be sure to give the introverts in the room time to process discussions and respond without being overshadowed by the extroverts, who may be more eager to express their opinions. After meetings, it may be helpful to meet one-on-one with the more introverted employees to gauge their feedback and receive their ideas in a quieter setting.

Help them be their best selves. Introverts, by nature, are introspective and don't like to draw attention to themselves. A perceptive manager will understand this and will help them feel successful by asking them to look inside themselves and describe what would make them feel good about their work. O'Toole described a comfortable way to get introverted employees to visualize success by imagining they are sitting around a fire at year's end, enjoying a drink and reminiscing about the positive aspects of the year gone by. "Talk about specific things that happened during the year to make it successful," he said. "This helps employees acknowledge the good things they did both at work and in their personal lives." As a follow-up, discuss what they want to accomplish in the coming year. "Looking back, while also looking forward, will help them put things in perspective," O'Toole said.

Golden believes recognizing individual personality types will help managers create an environment where employees can perform at a high level, whether they are introverts or extroverts. "Look at how they prefer to work and interact with others. Ascertain their style. Give everyone a part to play," she said. "This will allow them to feel valued and a part of the team."

Teri Saylor is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, a JofA associate director, at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com.

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