How to be more inclusive of introverts in your team


Introverts have a choice of either not participating or doing so on terms that make their lives tougher.
Asian woman leading the discussing of an electronic project. she pointing to electronic schematic on a glass wall
When organisations expect their people to bring their best selves to work, they need to include introverts in that ambition. | Image source: Getty Images

The world is skewed in favour of extroverts. This leaves introverts with the choice of either not participating or doing so on terms that make their lives tougher. Which is why, introverts can have a difficult time being productive and creative at work.

Susan Cain famously wrote about the missed opportunities of not recognising what introverts can bring to the table in her book, ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’.

Think of open plan offices, no fixed desks, few quiet places, impromptu meetings, spur of the moment brainstorming, and the expectation to speak up. This is geared to extroverts who do well in sociable workplaces. This is counter-productive for introverts, who are not unsocial, but need their quiet time to stay energised.

Also, hybrid work setups and working from home is not an option for everyone. Which means, coming to office becomes an unavoidable drain on an introvert’s energy. When organisations expect their people to bring their best selves to work, they need to include introverts in that ambition.

Here are five ways to create a more inclusive workplace for introverts.

1. Make room for thinking and processing

Back-to-back meetings impose unrealistic timelines on people with barely space for a bathroom break, let alone 10 minutes to regroup. These can feel especially burdensome for those who need the time to quiet their over-stimulated minds and feel more sorted. Which doesn’t mean extroverts are always gregarious and sociable or never need time to themselves. But the need for extroverts to be quiet in order to gather themselves is much less intense. Given workplaces are tuned to socialising, it takes special effort to ensure there is room for introverts. Make space for thinking and processing and discourage relentless meetings. Engagement improves when there is less pressure to ceaselessly communicate.

2. Reconsider the advantages of brainstorming

Brainstorming, an idea generated in the 1930s by an ad-agency in New York, has captured the imagination of teams for decades now. Even so, most introverts will tell you that they have suffered many a brainstorm session and staggered out depleted and less creative. On the other hand, most extroverts can thrive in an unstructured, impromptu, and on-the-go environment. The more energy they gain from active social engagement, the more an extrovert gets primed for idea generation on the spur of the moment. A bit of a nightmare for most introverts! Brainstorming can be done more inclusively. Send questions in advance, structure the session for equitable participation, and plan for creativity instead of chaos.

3. Legitimise quiet time and quiet spaces

Most workplaces are not quiet. A variety of noises and chatter easily fill up every minute of every day. Extroverts don’t always notice or feel as disturbed by this daily invasion of quietude. The idea that extroverts ‘do-think-do’ and introverts ‘think-do-think’ is often true. Introverts need more time to process all the stimuli they receive, without which, things can quickly turn tiring and not fun. For extroverts this threshold is much higher, so they can engage for longer periods without feeling as drained or needing much of a break. To stay thoughtful of everyone (including those on the Autism spectrum) consider designating a quiet room or nook where people can go and signal that they need their time. When they enter that zone, they have the freedom to be quiet and feel calm.  

4. Broaden the idea of self-confidence

Research points to significant positive perceptions related with being outspoken, energetic, and overtly enthusiastic and participative. This is not to say that extroverts are all showmanship and no substance. Rather, extroverts benefit from positive biases that equate high energy and communication with high confidence. These biases work against introverts and can sideline smart, competent, confident, and quieter people. An introvert’s preference to not be as sociable at work can be wrongly interpreted as lack of confidence, shyness, hesitation, and even less competence. Instead, expand the idea of self-confidence to be more inclusive, and challenge what merit, competence, and potential mean at the workplace.  

5. Make space for everyone’s initiative

Extroverts can often be the first few to initiate ideas, give opinions, and jump into the conversation. This gets extroverts noticed, and they don’t mind the spotlight. When overdone, it also robs them of hearing diverse perspectives and gain from insights. Despite that disadvantage, workplaces routinely reward quickness of communication. Speed is not the only version of initiative that is worth noticing. The fact is, introverts are as capable of taking initiative and communicating effectively. In fact, listening more attentively, and paying attention to the environment informs introverts and sharpens their point of view. If you are an extrovert, lean into listening, so there is room for everyone’s initiative.

Sonali D’silva is a Certified Professional in Inclusive Leadership from Catalyst Inc. She is the Founder of Equality Consulting, a training and advisory service for raising diversity awareness, leading with inclusion, and creating psychological safety at work. Find out more about Sonali at