Violaine professionally coaches companies, managers and individuals. A former communications manager who worked in agencies as well as corporate, Violaine now specializes in the subject of introversion at work.
Why this specialization on introversion at work?
I am an introvert myself, but only with hindsight did I understand the impact it had on my career. I received comments from some managers that unsettled me: “you are too discreet”, “you do not speak enough” ... I would have liked to have the keys to better assume my temperament, work on this with my managers for us to collaborate better and rely more on my strengths.
This is why today I coach many introverts, profiles that are still little valued in a lot of companies which tend to be more comfortable with extroverts.
This introvert - extrovert approach at work is a visible and talked about topic in the United States. It is accessible and very useful. In France, we tend to prefer more complex models, such as MBTI, which require real training to be operable on a daily basis.
What is the definition of an introverted profile?
An introvert is simply a person turned towards the world of ideas, who tends to lose energy when faced with strong external stimuli, such as groups or noise. To the contrary, extroverts feed on these stimuli.
Introverts are often seemingly calm, reserved people who do not share their emotions easily and are thirsty for depth. Usually, introverts are calm and rarely speak first. It often takes time to really get to know them.
What is important to understand is that each of us sits on an introversion-extroversion continuum and it is rare to find ourselves at the extremes. Even if our temperament is relatively fixed, we do have the ability to move within this continuum according to the context or the issue. With a little practice, everyone can therefore adopt behaviors and skills of the opposite profile. It is very rewarding to have different types of profiles collaborate with each other, and make them complementary for the team and the company.
Why are introverts interesting as business profiles?
At first glance, an introvert can be a difficult person to pin down. It's easy to put on reductive labels, and in doing so, overlook the unique strengths and talents of introverts. You may risk losing their motivation and engagement if you don’t see the value they bring.
Introverts are generally thought-oriented and are excellent analysts, which allows them to solve complex problems. Their ability to focus is also an asset for working on complex topics, which require perseverance, rigor and attention to detail. They can also be very creative and innovative when in an environment of trust.
Albert Einstein or Elon Musk for example are introverts who have done quite well for themselves!
Certain "soft skills" are highly sought after by companies today: listening, empathy, vision, reasoned decision-making, critical thinking. From this point of view, introverted profiles can therefore be a tremendous asset for companies, especially when they are complemented by extroverted profiles who will in turn bring their capacity for multiple and rapid execution and their ability to collaborate.
However, the strengths and skills of introverts are still too often underestimated.
What advice do you give to introverted employees?
The first tip is to be very vigilant about your available energy resource because it can quickly be consumed in a professional context. It is important not to try to over-adapt because this is even more expensive in energy.
A good practice can be, for example, to block time slots when you will not be interrupted. Also try to deal with your most complex tasks in the morning, when your energy reserve is more likely to be high. It is also important to isolate yourself and take short breaks throughout the day to recover calmly.
Another difficulty that can easily be overcome: accepting not to have the right answers right away during a discussion. An introvert can ask his interlocutor for a time of reflection to structure his thoughts quietly and return with the requested information or decision at the desired time.
In fact, it is about being clear to those around you at work about your introverted nature, and daring to give out your “instructions manual”. Do not hesitate to specify preferred communication channels for example (eg chat and emails over telephone).
With teleworking in particular, video calls are the new norm and are very consuming in cognitive resources. It is important to set aside quiet times to recharge during or at the end of the day (breaks, walks, meditation, music, etc.).
The same advice applies in the office and in open spaces in particular. Care must be taken to identify the most suitable places for regular isolation (closed offices, meeting rooms, even toilet breaks for some ...). In the United States, we are also seeing more and more introverts ambassadors campaigning to integrate isolation spaces for employees in every company. Introversion is also more taken into account in recruitment and onboarding processes, with a more inclusive approach.
And what do you advise their managers?
The first step is to be able to read the behaviors and understand the profiles of your team members, and discuss it with them if necessary. This makes it possible to understand everyone's preferences and adapt your communication and collaboration methods accordingly. It is also key to assign missions suited to each and everyone’s areas of excellence.
More specifically, for introverted profiles, you have to be careful not to push them around. Regular injunctions to encourage them to speak spontaneously in meetings or comparisons with other extroverted collaborators can be more disabling than motivating.
It is better, on the contrary, to send an agenda upstream and ask for preparatory work before meetings so that everyone can contribute effectively. Without this preparation, you run the risk of not exploiting the full potential of introverted collaborators who carefully mature their ideas before sharing them.
Finally, team managers should definitely not ask introverts to act as extroverts. They must respect the way they are and listen to them. One-to-one meetings should be preferred. With teleworking, there is an increased risk for introverts to withdraw without realizing it, up to a point where they would lose the relationship with their manager or team.
Is it possible to be an introvert and a good manager?
There is no glass ceiling and introverts can of course be great managers! Thanks to their listening skills, their vision and their thinking skills, they can have a strong impact on their team and promote autonomy for everyone within the team.
There are, however, certain points of vigilance. Introverted profiles can sometimes have difficulty maintaining a continuous bond with their teams because they personally need it less. Since they themselves are not attracted to social recognition, they can sometimes forget to congratulate their colleagues. Finally, they often have to learn to delegate because their rigor and their desire to do well can lead them to do a lot on their own. Basically, introverted managers should remain attentive to their availability and their quality of presence with the members of their team.
I am thinking, for example, of a manager I coached recently who had simply not thought of establishing new management rituals with his team when switching to teleworking and only communicated with them through emails, because that is what suited him. It is essential for a manager to take the pulse of his employees regularly and to create an informal environment with his team.
Do you think that certain practices can allow all profiles to work better together, face-to-face as well as when teleworking?
Of course. You have to be able to take into account the culture of the team, beyond the culture of the company, to create the conditions for optimal collaboration.
At the collective level, each team can, for example, work on its operating rules: how to approach and drive meetings? Which communication channels to favor for which messages? How can we work better together, synchronously and asynchronously? It is a fun and unifying exercise to ensure that all the profiles of the team find their place.
At the individual level, this requires curiosity on the part of the manager and each of the collaborators towards the others - being aware of others’ preferences helps to work more harmoniously - both remotely and face-to-face and encourages the development of their adaptation capacities .
Can an introvert become an extrovert, or vice versa? Is this desirable?
Not at all ! We are who we are, with talents and singularities that are unique to us and deserve to be saluted. This is what makes the company rich and alive. Someone who is more introverted than extraverted, it is an illusion - and a source of disappointment - to think you can switch.
On the other hand, it is very motivating to know that you can make your behavior more flexible depending on the situation and the interlocutors. The idea is to be aware of the way we behave and the resources that are available to us and to adjust them as best as possible.
To develop behavioral flexibility, you can rely on your strengths and set inspiring and accessible challenges. For example, one might ask the question: What is my superpower as an introvert or an extrovert? We can also try to put ourselves in the shoes of someone of the opposite profile to ours: what would I like to be able to borrow as a skill or an attitude? This can be a good way to expand even a little bit your comfort zone.
One last tip to share?
Speaking in meetings is a frequent sticking point that comes up in my coaching sessions.
It is a pressure that introverts come under and for which they are regularly singled out by those around them.
My advice is to start small and take pride in yourself: speak at least once at each meeting and then step it up - with preparation or by taking notes in writing before speaking - to defend an idea in which you believe in a group session… This mechanism of small steps really allows us to gain momentum while staying true to ourselves, for the benefit of everyone!