With various personality types and characteristics on a team, all employees offer unique skills and insights. However, some employees need more support and reassurance than others. It's crucial to work with each person's strengths and weaknesses while ensuring they feel comfortable and valued at work.
This is especially true for shy and/or introverted employees. Individuals with a reserved, timid nature often have different management needs from more outgoing, social workers. Here's how to manage and understand these workers, and work with their strengths to help them succeed.
Don't take their silence personally
Shy workers might stay quiet in the office, avoiding confrontations and keeping out of office chatter. It's part of their personality, so try not to make any negative assumptions about them. Just because an employee doesn't talk much does not mean that they're unhappy or disengaged, said Cord Himelstein, vice president of marketing and communications at Michael C. Fina Recognition. Often, it means that they're in their own mind, where they are focused and content, he added.
If you feel bothered by their silence, understand that some employees take more time than others to warm up to their employer.
"Some new hires need a 'shy period' to adjust to new surroundings, and some people are only talkative in the afternoon," said Himelstein. "A person is always more than just one thing, so don't make the mistake of generalizing."
Everyone has their own approach to work-related tasks and assignments. Managers should understand that shy employees have a method behind their silence.
According to Andee Harris, chief engagement officer at employee engagement company HighGround, shy employees are more likely to think before they speak or act, which may help with decision-making. They are also generally more creative thinkers and planners, she added.
Give them space, but show your support
If you want your introverted employees to feel comfortable at work, give them space while making it known that you are around should any issues arise. Himelstein noted that regular one-on-one touch-base meetings are ideal for shy workers because you're interacting with them in a friendly, personal environment.
"Give them autonomy and space where you can, but also keep encouraging them to give feedback, because that's the only way you will truly know what accommodates them," he said.
It's just as important to develop relationships with introverted employees as it is with other workers. Often, these employees require more attention to understand their needs.
"Not only should managers take the time to find out shy employees' communication habits and strengths, they should also find out when and where their employees do their best work," said Harris. "Then, adopt strategies that accommodate these preferences."
For example, if these workers prefer a more solitary environment, arrange a day or two a week where they have the opportunity to work from home, or perhaps create a quiet space for them in the office.
Communication is important in the workplace, but it's often a source of anxiety for more timid workers.
"Typically, shy employees prefer asynchronous communication over in-person interactions," said Harris. "With this in mind, managers should leverage tools like IM, texting and other forms of communication that allow quieter employees to work independently while still offering channels for support. Figure out how your employees prefer to communicate and establish a standard process moving forward."
When it comes to meetings, presentations or special occasions like work anniversaries, take them aside to discuss the best options that won't cause anxiety.
"The key to accommodating shy employees is pinpointing the situations that cause them anxiety, then avoiding or minimizing them," Harris said.
Rather than forcing them into situations that cause panic, work within or just outside their comfort zone until they are willing to take further steps.
"Research shows that some social situations may trigger anxiety for shy people, causing them to withdraw and not produce their best work," Harris said. "Because of this, managers must get to know their shy employees by building relationships with them and becoming aware of the situations in which they thrive and which they prefer to stay clear of."
From there, you can gradually push introverts past their boundaries to facilitate professional growth, she added. Provide them with lists and information ahead of time to ease the process.
Most importantly, do not try to change the individual.
"Don't go in thinking you're going to turn a shy person into an extrovert," said Himelstein. "Reach out and build a bridge."