The Introverted Manager’s Dilemma
Last year I was coaching a mid-level manager named “Ted” who admitted he was having trouble “making small talk” with his team. Some of them even said he was “unapproachable” in an anonymous employee survey.
So, when I asked him about it Ted came clean, “I come in Monday mornings and head directly for my office. I’m not comfortable asking people how their weekends went, or talking about the big game, etc.” And when I asked him if he has an “open door” policy, he replied, “Well, my folks know my door is open to them on Tuesday afternoons from 2-4pm. The rest of the time it’s closed because I’m working.” Uh oh.
Ted’s reality? He’s an introvert, one of many. Some studies indicate that introverts make up anywhere from 30-50% of the general population. And numerous articles have been written about the power of introverts.
Ted’s problem? He’s also a manager. And managers who are introverts often struggle to connect with their teams. Employees – even introverted ones – usually feel disrespected by bosses who are introverts. This is because in today’s business world, like it or not, employees expect that their managers will demonstrate that they care about them; that they’re interested in their employees as people, and not just focused on making this month’s numbers.
So what’s an introvert like Ted to do? It seems counter-intuitive, but Ted needs to practice the skill of “listening.” Not talking, listening. Most introverts think that extroverts want them to be more outgoing, hyper-talkative, effusive, friendly to all. No, speaking as an extrovert, I can tell you that’s not what I want my introverted colleagues and friends to do. Actually, what makes extroverts – and most employees –happy is “sensing” that they’ve been heard by their boss.
So, I coached Ted on improving his listening and reflecting skills. For example, on Monday mornings he should simply ask “How was your weekend?,” listen closely to the answer, and then do a little bit of reflecting back what’s been said. It doesn’t have to be very specific. Ted can just say, “Sounds like you had a great time going to the game with your kids,” or “wow, that sounds you worked hard on the house on your day off” and that should do the trick.
So, listening and reflecting back aren’t skills that every introvert needs to learn, but if you’re a manager who is also an introvert, then you should try your best. And who knows, maybe you’ll become a little more comfortable making small talk.