(Written by Gary Skaleski, FEI EAP Counselor)

Much of the focus around communication in the workplace centers on comprehending the individual differences in how people communicate, understand and learn. Communication ranges from specific languages, to slang, to determining if someone processes information visually or through sounds or feelings. The advice is to first determine which mode of communication people are most effective at, and then adjust your own ways of communicating accordingly. This will result in being understood and achieving results with the worker with whom you’re interacting.

There is another difference that shows up both in the workplace and in life which can be misunderstood, resulting in erroneous assumptions about an employee or deriving the wrong meanings. I am speaking of the introverted worker (this also could be a student, friend, family member, etc.).

Introversion is defined as an orientation someone has towards their inner world, who is more aware of their feelings and is inclined to think things through. Introverts are drained of energy when in social situations such as attending meetings, going to parties, being surrounded by groups of people or giving speeches. They can renew themselves by leaving such stimuli and instead involve themselves in individual pursuits: reading, thinking, doing puzzles, or watching TV or movies. This is opposite of extroversion, which is more of an outward, engaging, talkative and energetic orientation. For the most part, business favors the extrovert and sees introverts as shy, quiet, not engaged and spacey.

To diagnose introverts as shy, having a social phobia, having avoidant personality disorder, or as someone who doesn’t care and isn’t involved is incorrect. Some also may be misdiagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum disorder (which might be the case, but generally is not). As a result, introverts can be regarded as not part of the team­—and thus may be shunned—while extroverts have the advantage for inclusion or promotions.

The lesson is to realize social encounters are depleting for introverts, so accommodating and not forcing social behaviors is of the upmost importance. These individuals are the thinkers. They may not talk much or make great eye contact, but can be major resources when finding problems and creating solutions. Forcing introverts to talk in front of others, make speeches or attend functions doesn’t help them attain their full potential as valuable contributors to the company and the bottom line.

Just as left handedness was once considered “wrong” and countless children had to endure the agony of writing with the “correct” right hand, so too introverts are not “wrong” in how they relate: extroverts are energized by others, introverts drained. Having this understanding can help managers be sensitive to such dynamics, be more accepting and maximize the environment within which introverts can thrive alongside the extroverts around them.