Remember back in school when class participation made up 10 percent of your grade? For some people this was the easiest 10 percent of the semester. You know the types--the ones who loved to hear the sounds of their own voices. They commented on everything, whether or not they had something to say.
For others, though, this 10 percent was the hardest part. Getting up the nerve to say something took half the class period, and sometimes the whole class period, and then it was too late.
Introvert Shona Maher described her experiences with class participation requirements like this:
In high school and college, the pressure to participate intensified. Now my GPA depended on it, because in many classes, there was a participation grade. This grade was the bane of my existence. Even though I did well on tests and papers, my final grade was lower because of my dismal participation scores. In my senior year of high school, my English teacher did these Socratic Seminars in which there was a circle of people on the inside and a circle of people on the outside. If you were on the inside, you had to say something at least three times during the discussion, and someone on the outside kept track of when you talked and what you said. For a shy introvert, this was a living hell. As much as I tried, I could not be the outgoing, talkative person all my teachers wanted me to be.
Thankfully, this demand to adopt a different personality goes away in adulthood, right? Not completely. Managers often act like Maher's high school English teacher when evaluating employees. The person who speaks the most in the meetings must be the person with the best ideas, right?
Hardly. The person who speaks up may simply be repeating what others have said before, or may be just blathering on.
A recent study found that companies headed by introverts actually perform better than companies headed by extroverts.
So, how can you, as a manager, stop making performance judgments on personality? Here are some tips:
Does the job really require an outgoing personality?
Most people will argue that the ability to wine and dine and persuade customers requires someone with an extroverted personality. That may be true, but are you sure that's the best fit for all your clients? This may shock you, but not every client wants to go watch the local professional sports team. Introverted clients may well do better with introverted sales people.
Does speaking up in meetings match actual performance?
Lots of times, meetings are held to gather ideas, so it makes sense that the people who speak up are the ones meeting the department's needs. But, do you ever get follow up emails from your introverted staff? Who is doing the actual work? Are the ideas presented by the office extroverts really their own, or are they saying things that have been tossed around before?
Do you need that many meetings?
Introverts are often happy and productive working on their own. Are the meetings actually accomplishing work, or are they simply traditional? Or are they a place where the extroverts feel comfortable?
There's nothing wrong with being an extrovert and there's nothing wrong with being an introvert. But, one personality or the other shouldn't be rewarded based on personality alone. Always look at work product, and make sure that you, as a manager, can find a way to meet the needs of all your employees. Everyone will perform at a higher level in situations where they are comfortable.