The strength in introversion

Photo courtesy of Taylor Gray, Student Publications

Creating a space to welcome introverted individuals into collaborative work environments and leadership roles is beneficial for all personality types.

I recently read a trend report published by product design platform InVision. It calls for design managers to build team cultures that create an inclusive environment for introverted designers, as their contributions may often be overshadowed by their lack of extraversion. The report also points out that not all leaders exhibit “alpha” qualities, and that’s something that we should all lean into.

“Teach new skills on how to work with introverts. What makes introverts who they are is also what makes them valuable.”

The report recommends that teams ought to learn how to be inclusive of introverted individuals, allowing them grow in their own identities which allows them to produce their best work.

I always thought that being introverted set me back in projects and leadership roles. Networking with companies, attending happy hours and making connections paint a relentless obligation to be extroverted, outgoing and “always on.” As a mostly introverted individual, I find these social engagements to be emotionally and mentally taxing.

Even higher education, which often requires in-class participation in order to receive a decent grade average in the course, push extraverted individuals to the top, leaving behind introverted individuals, who need ample time to think about what they say before they say it.

I never felt the need to challenge this idea until I walked into my design internship at Atlassian last summer. The first person I encountered in the lobby asked if it was my first day there. “You’ll love it,” he told me. “And don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you can.”

I don’t think I fully considered the weight of his advice until I was sitting at my desk the next day, minutes before my first one-on-one meeting with my mentor. I had all sorts of questions running through my mind: How do I request software access? Is it okay for me to sit and do work in the common spaces? What are our team’s core working hours?

I became nervous and fearful. I had thoughts about my classes at Georgia Tech that required me to participate, even when I had nothing valuable to contribute.

Who do I ask? What if I seem dumb for asking these questions? Was there someone I could ask that wouldn’t judge?

But the responses I received were given graciously and without preconceived judgment. Because these teams were already living a culture of learning and continuous improvement, introverted individuals’ needs were seen and heard in a safe way, which also encouraged others to put their fears of judgment aside and implement simple tasks that boost productivity and trust among teams.

My team taught me what it was like to be in an introvert-friendly environment. I learned that sending out an agenda before a meeting is crucial for getting introverts like me to speak up during a meeting. Likewise, previewing slides and activities eases group anxiety and allows them to formulate opinions in their own time. Requiring participation in classes and meetings is not a fair evaluation of performance, but participatory activities need to accommodate those who need time to mentally prepare for large group events. Normalizing team culture and rituals that invite introverts to thrive benefits everyone on the team.