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Encouraging the quiet voices to be heard

Posted 26th March 2019

The more freedom we give to Introverts to be them, the more likely they are to come up with their own unique solutions to problems.” Susan Cain

Since 2012, over 20 million people have viewed and listened to Susan Cain’s Ted talk. Since then, multiple articles have focused on the introverts’ valuable contribution to the workplace.

All these articles have focused more on how introverts can fit their workplace better than on how the workplace can fit their needs.

Let’s start by:

– Reviewing the strategies commonly recommended to help introverts feel like they belong.

– Then, analyse our cognitive bias which explains why we always associate assertiveness with success.

– Finally, examine some innovative solutions that promote some changes within the company’s culture that could benefit the most reserved team members.

Strategies

Many agree on the worthy contribution of introverts whilst realizing that most organizations are designed to fit the needs of extroverts. Some concrete measures could be put in place to appreciate and reward the contribution of the quiet members of a company.

1/ Space management; Quiet people NEED some peace and quiet to focus and process information. Constant social stimulation (noise, interruptions and last-minute meetings) drain them. Allowing them to work alone in a closed and quiet space rather than an open-plan office would help them to conserve their energy and be productive and efficient.

2/ Be predictable; Most introverts like to arrive prepared at a meeting. Therefore knowing the date and time of the meeting in advance and providing general subjects to cover beforehand not only reduces their stress level but encourages them to communicate their own ideas.

3/ Allow private collaboration; Often, reserved people do not feel comfortable to voice their opinion in front of a large group, they value more privacy and anonymity. David Kalt (CEO of Reverb.com) encourages his employees to write to him privately if they couldn’t expose their idea during a meeting.

These strategies can be useful and easy to implement. However, a deeper shift within the organization is necessary for the implementation to be effective and long-lasting. Indeed, everybody in the company must agree and trust that these changes would be beneficial.

Cognitive bias

In order to convince everybody about the advantage of such changes, it is important to fight some cognitive biases. A cognitive bias is an inaccurate way of thinking that influences the decisions we make and the judgements we take.

One type of cognitive bias called Availability bias describes the tendency to overestimate the likelihood of something occurring because similar events have happened in the past. For example, most of us exaggerate the likelihood of bold and assertive employees being successful because we saw it happening before. But why is this stereotype so strong and so difficult to challenge?

Firstly because it is ingrained in our unconscious mind. Ancient biological rules point to the fact that the loudest animal within its species is often the most powerful. Indeed, the loudest bird or the loudest baboon is usually in charge of the rest of their group. Therefore, our animal instinct reinforces the idea that boldness and assertiveness indicate power and social dominance.

Moreover, most news coverage reinforces this association that assertiveness is a key to all successful tech CEOs – examples include Jeff Bezos or Carol Bartz (former CEO of Yahoo) .

As a result of this stereotype, most of us have a tendency to exaggerate the frequency of this association which is why the achievements of unassuming employees are likely to be underestimated. This cognitive bias can create a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby only extroverts get promoted whilst quiet employees become increasingly marginalised.

Solutions

Being aware of the power of this stereotype can be the first step to destroy it. But we need to foster a new association; quiet and successful. But how?

1/ Highlight and reward unexpected talent such as good planning, thoughtful remarks, and creative solutions – often the strength of introverted employees. The reward can take different forms. Here are some original reward ideas suggested by employees: “Office perks”, “Assistant for a week”, “Free lunch for your team”.

2/ Correlate these qualities with success and power. A promotion within the company sends an obvious “success” signal. However, an open but private conversation understanding what is important for a successful quiet person can provide more fulfilment. For example, one person would rather be in charge of a new project whilst another believes a micro-bonus is the best promotion (although in our version of WEIRD, people are free to change their salaries).

3/ Use “introvert-friendly” tools to ensure all voices are heard. A new app from Candor.com allows “people to generate ideas privately at the beginning of a meeting before they learn the opinions of the other people in the room. The team then reviews all the ideas generated before evaluating them”. This means that more ideas are generated and therefore the creative potential of the team is maximised.

It is the duty of the CEO to make sure the workplace fits both the need for introverted and extroverted team members. Implanting a culture like WEIRD where projects are developed across departments encourages team members to identify and focus on each member’s special talent and determine how this input/strength can benefit the overall outcome of the project. This heterogeneity is the soil where growth mindset grows not only to see disagreements as useful to reach a better outcome but also to respect and value different approaches of working and be ready to change (I.E. the introverts become slightly more extroverted and vice-versa).

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