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Q&A with Jennifer Kahnweiler, Leadership Expert on Introverts in the Workplace

We asked bestselling author, leadership expert and Accel5® contributor Jennifer Kahnweiler about strategies to help introverts shine at work.

Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D., is a bestselling author and one of the top global leadership speakers on introverts in the workplace. We asked Jennifer for her advice on creating an inclusive workplace for introverts and extroverts and strategies for both types of people to succeed.

Q: Your books and videos that appear on Accel5® focus on the management styles of introverts and extroverts. Why is it important to focus on those two aspects of leadership?

One of the hallmarks of a strong leader is self-knowledge. The more we know about our own personality assets and liabilities, the more we can apply them effectively. We are then also able to better understand and flex to the needs of others.

What I have learned from working with both introverts and extroverts is that we all can run into blind spots. For instance, introverts, who have success with careful preparation and deep thought, can also overuse these characteristics and stall out. Extroverts, who bring outgoing energy and expressiveness to a room, can overwhelm others and cut them off if they don’t temper these strengths.

Knowing who we are allows us to take our “temperature” at any point in time and recalibrate our approach based on the situation.

Q: You have stressed the importance of partnerships between introverts and extroverts. What tips do you have to ensure that these opposites can work effectively together?

We can achieve exponential results when we learn to harness our differences, which is sometimes easier said than done. One important tip is to realize you won’t be able to change the other person, and once you accept this fact, you are in for a lot less stress.

Another strategy is to think about what roles in which you each shine. An introvert might be better off doing the project planning and analysis, while an extrovert might enjoy facetime with customers. I call this “Casting the Character.”

Successful pairs of Genius Opposites don’t jockey for credit; they are happy to share in their accomplishments. And one more tip is to not run from conflict. The most brilliant breakthroughs, including the birth of the airplane, did not come about from politeness but because the partners disagreed. The Wright Brothers were known to vehemently argue before they achieved their brilliant invention.

Q: How can organizations help introverts assert themselves in this new, remote and hybrid work world?

Although remote and hybrid models can mean we are more productive, one of the challenges is becoming invisible. Consider that we need to be more intentional about checking in with people and getting to know them. This includes people who we don’t naturally work with on a daily basis. We can begin relationships through texts and chats and then also make some space for conversation. If you are in a hybrid situation, take the opportunity to connect with colleagues when you are in the office.

Virtual meetings are a place where facilitators can add structure that allows everyone to contribute, not just the extroverts who find that easy to do. Go around the room, send prep materials beforehand and notice when certain people are not contributing so that you can gently bring them into the discussion.

Q: What strategies can introverted leaders take to build on their strengths? 

The 4 P’s Process I created is a user-friendly framework to step into your power based on the lessons of thousands of introverted leaders. The 4 P’s are preparation, presence, push and practice.

  • Preparation examples include writing thoughtful questions prior to a meeting, reading the resumé of a job candidate before an interview or researching a client prior to a sales meeting. Preparation gives you confidence to handle situations as they emerge.
  • Presence refers to being present in a way that allows you to be in the moment. Because you’re not preoccupied with the past or worrying about the future, you are able to respond to what is in front of you and people know that you are engaged with them. Examples of presence include looking directly at a team member when they ask you a question, calling out a keen observation at a meeting, or switching gears during a presentation when the audience is not responsive.
  • Push will likely put you outside of your comfort zone, but is what allows you to grow. Examples of push include attending a professional event when you’d rather stay home, initiating a conversation with a coworker, or even approaching your boss for a raise.
  • Practice allows you to seize opportunities to practice new behaviors. Virtuosos like violinist Joshua Bell practice continually, even when they’re at the top of their game. Engaging in conversational ice- breakers, sharing at meetings, and becoming proficient in a new technology can all take a great deal of practice to master.

Q: How can we create introvert-friendly workplaces?

An individual at any level of an organization can become a change agent and help create a workplace that is inclusive.

You can help create awareness about introverts and ask questions such as these:

  • “Are we writing people off before we give them the time and space they need to contribute?”
  • “Are we allowing them to reflect and write down their thoughts before answering important questions?”
  • “Are we ensuring every person has the opportunity to contribute to meetings?”

You also can encourage senior leaders to tell their stories. Our company has been running fireside chats with introverted leaders and this role modeling helps introverts throughout the organizations we work with to step into their own power.

You can read Jennifer’s practical five step change model here: Creating Introvert-Friendly Workplaces.

Jennifer Kahnweiler

Jennifer B. Kahnweiler

Jennifer B. Kahnweiler is a bestselling author and one of the leading speakers on introverts in the workplace. Her pioneering books, The Introverted Leader, Quiet Influence, The Genius of Opposites, and Creating Introvert-Friendly Workplaces have been translated into 18 languages. The Introverted Leader was named one of the top 5 business books by The Shanghai Daily.