Episode 87

CREATIVITY:

Supporting and empowering introverts.

Too many people think “good” leaders or teammates have to be energetic extroverts while introverts as described as shy, anti-social, asking too many questions, or needing too much time to think. In this episode, we will find a new perspective and understanding of what introverts go through, why their way of work is really valuable, some tips for those of you who work with introverts, and some things introverts can do to find more support and understanding at work.


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For a long time, people thought seem to have through that “good” leaders or team members had to be loud, brash a personality, strong extroverts like we have been shown in every TV show and movie. That has been a damaging stereotype for a lot of people who just don’t work that way.

In my travels, over the past few months, I have noticed a rising trend and had my way of thinking rewired as I was approached by a lot fo brave people who are t to frying to find ways of having their voice heard or feel accepted in a world that mainly seems to value extroverts. It’s something that I have experienced to a small extent in my career as I will often describe myself as an introverted extrovert as I have introverted tendencies but will force myself into an extroverted state to do my job. As an industry, I think we are a place where we need to have a broader view of leadership styles, our team members and create a broader understanding that there are many different working styles – all of which we need on our teams.

I think we can do this because we have programs and training to work on communication style, leadership style and everything else in between but I have never seen any training for how to work with people who have different personality styles. I think this is going to be an increasing conversation for many of us because I see more people who are jumping into leadership roles, regardless of if they are extrovert or introvert because they are fed up with the problems of “poor” leadership as it can kill teams maybe more than anything. Before you tune out thinking this episode is just for people who are introverts trying to break through – hold on a second. This is also for those of us who need to step up and support all types of work and leadership with a better understanding of what everyone is going through. In this episode, we will look at a new perspective and understanding on what introverts go through, why their way of work is really valuable, some things to work on if you are an introvert and some tips for those of you who work with introverts.

The basics

If we are going to talk about introverts and extroverts lets start with the basic and general definition of each of them.

Extroverts
• Talkers and doers
• Enthusiastic, outgoing and sociable
• Solve problems collaboratively
• Have may good friends

Introverts
• Thinkers and planners
• Reserved and like alone time
• Solve problems in their head
• Have one great friend

Like anything – very people are going to be all in one camp or another. I move between both.

From the source

I wanted to start with one of the most interesting and most sincere conversations with a Creative Director named Adrianna Arambula. We had an initial conversation over Twitter and about a day later she sent me an incredible Google doc with her thoughts. When I asked her if I could share what she sent me she responded – I think one of the most difficult issues with people being shy, introverted, anxious, etc. are the negative stigmas and frequent shame that accompany it. Personally, I would hate to shut someone out of my team that could bring incredible creative ideas because I just thought they were too shy – When in reality they just operate a little differently.

Her Google doc was titled – A Creative Director with Social Anxiety

There are many different levels of anxiety I experience both as a designer and as a manager of a creative team. Every career comes with different levels of interaction, but I feel like the creative industries, in particular, come with an inherent amount of teamwork and a never-ending feedback loop. There are so many small things that I do as a coping mechanism for my anxiety that can make me seem like a bad leader or an unapproachable manager… simple things like just having my door to my office closed because If I hear the Customer Service center phones ring any more I’m going to lose my mind! Haha So I have to make every effort to let members of my team – whether in house, outside freelance, or vendors know what’s going on. That my being introverted has nothing to do with them personally, that I am always available… Just knock on my door if closed, send me a text or an email if I don’t answer the phone right away, etc.

But I can’t expect people to just deal with MY issues, so I structured the department around my crazy and it just ends up working. Because people don’t tend to question methods that just happen to be conducive for production (and creativity.) We schedule meetings well in advance EVERYONE is expected to vocally participate in feedback because then No one is put on the spot (including me!) And I don’t have to be “on” for an hour straight – because that can literally wipe me out for the rest of the day. More direct feedback from me is provided through a combination of online tools and then meeting to review those notes and any other outstanding questions. This helps me to give focused feedback that is well thought out and I have time to gather my thoughts and articulate clearly – otherwise, sometimes on the spot feedback I give can be jumbled, unclear, and doesn’t help anyone do their job better.

The other, larger part of my role as a Creative Director for my company is outside interaction. This can be a client/end user, a sales manager, a sales rep, a trade-show, a product & catalog introduction seminar, etc. And in these instances, I just have to bite the bullet, put on a brave face and talk and talk and talk. At the end of days like these, it’s not out of the ordinary to find me in tears – and that is not an exaggeration.

And that’s about it. That’s a lot, I know but it’s a strange thing to try to explain something inside me that I KNOW is completely irrational.

You can find her on Twitter at @missadrialise so go show her some love and support.

A new perspective on introverts

I think in Adrianna’s words, you can hear her perspective, pain, and power. You probably either felt like she was speaking for you or that this was something you had not ever heard described like this. As I talked to a lot of people prepping for this episode, I talked to a lot of people and found a concerning amount who would describe “introverts” as shy, quiet, anti-social, asking too many questions, needing too much time to think or in some cases even weak. I doubt they talk this way in meetings or are open about their views, but as I have started to pay more attention to the more, I have noticed it.

The irony I find in all of this is how much time and effort we spend developing empathy for our customers, but so rarely practice those same skills on the people we work with. Introverts have a different style of working that many people are not used to – that just means we need to adapt and work with them, not shun or belittle them. Like so many things on this show, it is a two-part problem where this isn’t just a “them” problem where they need to change to be more extroverted. Here again, I think this can be an unconscious bias we all have as we can make bad decisions or practice bias even with the best intentions.

It has also been very enlightening for me to talk to so many people like travel to see that the word introvert can mean so many different things. Some people would describe themselves as shy, or socially awkward, or some had a medical condition that made social interactions difficult for them and even creatives who are on the autism spectrum who don’t know how to tell their coworkers about what they are going through. This may be overly simplistic, but I want to start with us looking at these things with a new perspective that people of all backgrounds, styles, personalities, and more are what great work. If your teams all think the same, dress the same, work the same way, etc., then your work is going to be weak. The best teams are the ones who embrace diversity, differences, and even tensions because they know those differences will push the work and the team to be so much better. This goes back to the show on cognitive bias, and a lot fo this is based on confirmation bias where we unconsciously surround ourselves with people who are like us. We need to create a place everyone can be we accepted, valued, and seen as a critical part of the process.

Empathy for introverts

I reached out to the community for insights including Jennifer Aldrich who also works at InVision. She is an amazing author and voice in the community but she is also an introvert. I would recommend checking out her work on Medium as she has so many amazing articles but will let her talk more about her life there. I went to her to get a better understanding of what she goes through. She grouped it into a few different areas where she will struggle.

Being put on the spot
Often being unable to think or speak clearly on the spot, especially in stimulating environments like the workplace. When pressured to do so, they can become extremely anxious.

Lack of structure and clarity
Vague, agenda-less meeting invitations are something else that will give them anxiety. Introverts may ask for more information before they accept, or declining altogether because of the uncertainty.

Need for background or context
If there’s background reading for the meeting, It is greatly appreciate when it’s shared in advance so I have time to digest it. Without time to absorb the context, introverts tend to feel ambushed. Like, “Why am I here? What’s going on? Is it bad? Good? ”

Understand they will communicate and give feedback differently
Introverts find it unsettling to have to interrupt the more talkative people at work, so they usually don’t.

How to work with an introvert

Again taken from a collection of different interviews but mainly from Jennifer Aldrich.

Listen
Introverts won’t always speak up when they should, but when they do it’s important to pay attention. These types are careful with what they say and tend to put in a great deal of thought before getting vocal.

Give them a heads up
Introverts’ brains are wired to “process information about their environments—both physical and emotional—unusually deeply,” Because of their ability to feel things to their core, it’s important to give them the freedom to do just that. Instead of springing an event or meeting on them, let them know beforehand whenever possible. Most introverts do their best communicating through writing so you can use instant messaging, texting or email as it doesn’t interrupt their careful focus on their work. After meetings, follow up to see if the person had ideas they didn’t get a chance to share.

Ask Introverts for their opinion
Public speaking can be the stuff of nightmares for introverts, even on a smaller scale like a conference room table seated with familiar coworkers. In meetings, introverts will often hold back and refrain from volunteering their thoughts and opinions if it means impromptu vocalizing. The worst mistake you can make would be to assume they have nothing to offer the discussion – in fact, introverts often have deep insight into the topics at hand due to their penchant for reflection and observation. In the second half of the meeting, before closing a topic, make sure to ask their opinion specifically or risk missing out on their studied insight.

Respect their need for quiet or alone time
Give them plenty of time to work on a project alone, even when it’s a team effort. Introverts thrive and do their best work when they have time to fully immerse themselves into the activity without the distraction of other people. Once introverts have had a chance to really get a handle on their assignment, they will be able to come together with the rest of the group to tie all the pieces together.

Give them Time to Process
Try to avoid springing last-minute meetings and brainstorming sessions on an introvert as they prefer to think things over first. Give as much notice as you can for meetings, conferences, and especially events outside the office. Once an introvert has the time to fully wrap their minds around something, they will be much more comfortable.

Don’t leave them out or count them out
One really outdated concept is that introverts are shy or would prefer not to interact with people at all. In actuality, many introverts love to socialize and would welcome an invitation to collaborate on an exciting new project, they would just need some alone time to recharge their batteries afterward. Also, don’t assume that introverts wouldn’t make good leaders because they absolutely do. Barack Obama was the leader of the free world, Bill Gates was the founder of Microsoft, Rosa Parks was a courageous activist, and all of these people are introverts.

Don’t expect them to show up at large events
Large social gatherings are just not an introvert’s cup of tea. And if she doesn’t come to the company picnic, there’s no need to bring this up when you next see her.

Pair people up.
Pair up introverts with extraverts and let them build off of each other’s strengths; planning / building, observation / intuition, showing / saying.

Brainstorm differently
The average six-to-eight-person meeting, 70% of the talking is done by three people. This will make an introvert into a wallflower so instead spend the beginning having everyone write down their own ideas and then give everyone equal time to go over their favorites.

Advice for introverts

Choose the right role
When it comes down to it, there’s no specific industry or job that’s best for introverts. Some might enjoy an analytical role like research, while others might excel in a creative field like writing. It’s more important to make sure your specific role at work takes advantage of your best skills.

Schedule alone time into your calendar
Even if you have your own dedicated workspace, eliminating distractions at work can be a struggle, especially with the growing popularity of open offices. With people popping by your desk to chat, pinging you with questions on Slack and scheduling ad hoc meetings, it can be tough to get any actual work done ― or recharge with some alone time.

Make an effort to get to know your co-workers
Developing strong relationships with your co-workers is important. You’ll have allies who are willing to hear you out, go to bat for your ideas and support you in meetings.

Keep a brag sheet
You probably know of one or two people in the office who have no problem bragging about themselves. And they’re probably the first ones to be offered new opportunities and additional responsibilities. One of the unfortunate consequences of being the quiet one in the office is that your accomplishments might not be recognized as often as they should. Even though self-promotion can feel awkward, it’s necessary in a competitive work environment if you want to stand out. Keep a running list of these accomplishments and bring them up in meetings with your manager, and don’t forget to update your resume with your biggest accomplishments as well.

Resources

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
More info here

“Introverted consultants” bowl in Fishbowl
More info here

Design Leadership Forum Slack channel
More info here

Designer Hangout Slack channel
More info here

Radicalpause on Instagram
More info here

Final thought

Let’s say it simply – make sure you take time to celebrate these differences, so everyone has their work and working style valued. This absolutely should never be a debate about if introverts or extroverts are better. We have to have both, and both bring tons to the table. The thing that I have seen in the best teams are able to bring transparency and discussion to difficult topics instead of ignoring them or being judgmental about them.

All creatives and leaders need to know they have a voice and can be successful on your team. You need to have a broader view of what leadership looks like and let each person use their own personal style to be successful because it will bring needed thinking and style diversity to the team. Maybe this sounds harsh, but if you are not helping with this conversation, then you are probably part of the problem. I say that because bias and alienation can happen to from nice people who generally have good intentions.

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