Is this current disruption of working life an opportunity to redesign our work experience? What would this look like if the designing architect was an introvert asks Aoife Lenox?
Introverts have been experiencing somewhat of a cultural revolution over the past decade, particularly since the publishing of Susan Cain’s 2012 book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Some will even go so far as to suggest being an introvert is now trendy.
Yet, in a recent webinar 70% of participants felt that introversion can be perceived as a negative personality trait. Research also shows that over 90% of leaders are extroverted or act extroverted and introverted characteristics are not viewed positively in leadership circles. The happiness of introverts is not immune either, with extroverts coming out on top in happiness research. The advice for introverts seems to be to act extroverted in order to be happy and get ahead in your career.
What if we had the opportunity to start afresh and design a work experience more in tune to our inner centre? An environment tilted more to the introverted spectrum than the extroverted which has dominated for most of the 20th Century. A correction that perhaps needs to happen.
Let me share five ways I believe a more introverted and inner centred approach could benefit our working lives.
- A Shorter and More Productive Work Week
Introverts, quite frankly, have less to say. Tending to think to talk rather than the extroverted approach of talking to think. Holding back until offering something of substance. Straight to the point and focused on the task. Meetings will be at a minimum, social interactions will have a purpose and remote work will be a must. Small group work or individual contributions will be prevalent. There will be fluidity in hours with the 9-5 a historical concept. Space to think, reflect and be creative is far better achieved outside an office environment. The work week may include walks in the woods or by the sea, time to read on couches, and sitting in the sun reflecting on ideas. Bursts of energy creating productive work will follow.
- Improved Communication and Leadership
Introverts, contrary to common thinking are great communicators, excelling at the skill of listening, the most important component of communication. An emphasis on listening rather than talking means developing space for creativity, engagement, support and empathy. Introverted leaders, referred to as quiet leaders, provide space for proactive and skilled employees to finetune their craft and welcome their contribution, rarely wanting to be in the spotlight themselves. A quiet leader uses compassion, calmness, analytical skills and effective decision making to bring out the best in their team.
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- Increased Innovation and Agility
Natural sensitivity to the environment provides introverts with an ability and an awareness of changing trends, consumer desires and employee sentiment resulting in increased responsiveness. Flatter hierarchies, improved communication and engagement provide ripe opportunities for innovation and creativity to flourish. The introvert temperament will dive deep into research and possess great creativity maximising use of the extra activity of the pre-frontal cortex.
- Sustainable and Strategic Organizations
Introverts, less motivated by external rewards, will focus on longer term decisions less hasty in nature but better for the overall environment. An increased sensitivity to dopamine results in less risky behaviour and more sound decision making. Research from the financial crash of 2008 identified extroverted and risky decision making as a key contributor to much of the downfall of big financial institutions. Longer neural pathways in the introvert brain provide the skills for an introvert to be more visionary and strategic in their approach.
- Happier and more engaged and connected employees
Relationships are important and an introvert designed environment will contain a lot of opportunities for connections and relationship building in a deeper way and in smaller groups. You won’t see big conference style events in the introvert designed environment. Introverts are purpose driven and work should be meaningful with lasting results. In line with the PERMA acronym of happiness, (positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishments) employees will feel connected but have freedom, feel contributions matter but have the creative space to ideate and be recognised individually and in a meaningful way.
We may not get to redesign the entire work experience in one go but an increased awareness of alternative approaches to work not only provide a more inclusive environment for all personality types but in fact are also good for business and our world.