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The Truth About the Office Wallflower

He never speaks up in group meetings and cringes when invited to after-work happy hours. What's the problem? Maybe it's you.
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Introverts could be the secret weapon to your success--if you know how to work with them.

Before I get to the how-to part of this post let me first dispel a common myth about the so-called office wallflower:

They're arrogant, shy, or rude.

It is common to want to connect introverts and depression. Though this at times may be the case, it is not necessarily related, nor is it appropriate for anyone other than a professional to determine. So what you see on the surface doesn't mean something is "wrong" with an introverted employee. 

Bradley Sharkey is one of the creative directors at my Web marketing agency, Ciplex. He sees himself as an introvert, so I asked him to explain commonly misinterpreted introvert behavior and how to use it to your advantage.

1. They're quiet.

What it really means: Introverts often filter their words more than extroverts do. They give a lot of thought before speaking, whereas most people think by speaking.
Make it work for you: Sometimes, knowing what not to do can be just as powerful. Do not interrupt them. Although this holds true in conversation with anyone, it's especially critical with introverts: Since they take a lot of time to think before speaking, it is insulting to interrupt them once they finally speak up. Cutting off an introvert is a great way to ensure they won't want to respond to you in the future, so don't do it.

2. They avoid large group settings.

What it really means: Group dynamics simply don't mesh with their characteristics or sensibilities. No more, no less.
Make it work for you: Don't take it personally if he or she says "no" to social invitations. Don't think you are saving them or changing their lives for the better by getting them "out of their shell." Just let them do their own thing.

3. They do not enjoy repeating themselves; in fact, they hate it.

What it really means: They listen to what you say and expect you to do the same.
Make it work for you: When they do speak, listen carefully. Bradley describes it in the following way: "Think of communication like fuel economy for an introvert. You are a Hummer and they are a Prius--squeezing as much communication out of the fewest words possible. Saying the same thing twice is just bad MPG."

4. They seem OK in one-on-one conversations but withdraw in big meetings. 

What it really means: In one-on-one conversations, the structure and expectations are clearly set in place, so introverts don't have to rudely interrupt someone for their turn to speak. Likewise, they may enjoy public speaking or board meetings where the communication volley tends to be rigid and clarified. But don't expect them to jump into a chaotic conversation where people randomly add their thoughts and opinions, leaving introverts without a clear indication that it is their turn to talk.
Make it work for you: Introverts are not shy, they just hate small talk. When you ask your introvert for his or her opinion, try to make sure your question can't be answered in one word. An open-ended question offers more of an opportunity to speak out. But be careful not to force it: Forced conversations prove less productive and more harmful than no conversations at all. In fact, introverts often feel quite comfortable with silence, while extroverts tend to feel the need to fill that silence constantly.

Introverts: What else would add to this list?

IMAGE: vubui/Flickr
Last updated: Mar 8, 2013




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