Zounds, We’re on Zoom! Introverts Can Lead Virtually – Part 2

Source: StockUnlimited, used with permission

How can introverts lead amid the “new normal” of working and taking classes virtually as companies and schools adjust to COVID-19? I’m back with Heidi K. Brown, a Brooklyn Law School professor, to explore this more.

In Part 1 of this interview, we explored introverts’ strengths, such as working independently, problem-solving, and articulating ideas in writing—which position them to lead well in virtual environments.

Here, in Part 2, we discuss opportunities for introverts to be visible leaders in online communications. Brown is the author of The Introverted Lawyer and Untangling Fear in Lawyering.

NA: What introvert strengths will become more apparent through this shift toward remote working and learning?

HKB: This is obviously a difficult time, globally. Everyone—including introverts—should be mindful that we all are going through a major adjustment period and likely will experience daily moments of sheer mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion. Introverts attune to energy depletion and can model for others how to recharge.

I see introvert strengths becoming more visible in three ways. First, while everyone will experience workflow challenges in the coming weeks, introverts ultimately will find focus in environments that minimize overstimulation, noise, and disruptions. Second, introverts tend to be highly aware of the dynamics of online gatherings that thwart productivity, such as constant interruptions, background noise, and dominant talkers, and are well-suited to develop protocols to eliminate frustrating features of virtual interactions. Third, the depth of introverts’ ideas will show as employers and educators experiment with online communication platforms that allow participants to express thoughts in writing or virtually “raise a hand” to speak, affording time for contemplation instead of requiring instantaneous dialogue or interruption to be heard.

NA: How can introverts showcase their strengths in these scenarios?

Source: StockUnlimited, used with permission

HKB: Right now, everyone should be engaging with online communication tools that amplify often overlooked voices. Introverts resist interruption. For us, it’s energy-depleting. Many of us like to think before we speak and prefer writing over speaking, so we can take time to articulate a thought more clearly. Our ideas might remain hidden during an in-person meeting involving multiple competing voices. However, in virtual meetings or online classroom scenarios, introverts likely will thrive when using virtual communication tools such as “electronic hand-raising” and “chat” features.

Employers and teachers should realize that, instead of approaching online experiences the same way they lead in-person meetings or classes—such as expecting participants to interrupt others to be heard, or calling on students out-of-the-blue—they can enhance participation by encouraging electronic hand-raising to indicate a desire to speak without interrupting someone and sharing ideas in writing. I anticipate substantially increased participation of quiet individuals through these tools.

NA: How do you see job interviews changing in a way that will enhance introverts’ visibility?

HKB: This is a pivotal opportunity for employers globally to improve how we recruit talent, making the hiring process more inclusive. Forward-thinking employers should step away from traditional interview dynamics in which applicants are expected to readily banter and instead get creative. Merely shifting “business-as-usual” interviews online—without adjustment and innovation—is not going to adequately reveal candidates’ key strengths.

Instead, employers could ask applicants to craft and submit “five questions to ask, and five questions to be asked, that showcase what you would like us to know about you as a person and as a worker.” Or employers could send candidates a 30-minute writing or problem-solving assignment in advance of the interview and use that as a focus of the online discussion. Some employers are experimenting with having applicants submit ten-minute video self-interviews.

Introverts will thrive in interviewing scenarios that allow for prior contemplation. Alternative methods of assessing talent will amplify more voices and identify often unnoticed introverted skills like creative problem-solving and thoughtful writing that don’t surface in traditional interviews. These techniques also might yield a talent pool that will excel in teleworking, if that remains a new reality this summer.

NA: What message do you have for introverts about these uncharted educational and employment settings?

HKB: Let’s pause and appreciate how we thrive. We know we flourish in quiet work environments. Now is our chance to make that happen and model change. If we have family members at home, we can converse about ways to foster quiet space and time so everyone can be healthy, supported, and productive in communal living spaces. We can eagerly let our employers know that we’ve got this, explaining why and how! Let’s share our techniques with colleagues unaccustomed to—and apprehensive about—working at home.

Source: StockUnlimited, used with permission

Let’s champion introverted strengths. Perhaps we love communicating in writing or have ideas for improving the problematic dynamics of online communications, eliminating barriers to engagement, and enhancing respectful and effective dialogue. This is a time for introverts to lead.

NA: Great! Any suggestions for extroverted teachers or employers who are concerned about these shifts?

HKB: Please invite advice from introverts who are confident in their abilities to produce excellent work at home—even sharing space with others—and contribute effectively online, especially in writing. I urge educators to allow students to participate in classroom dialogue by writing questions or comments in “chat” forums. Some employers might need to enhance at-home technology support and recognize that some employees do their most productive work in the early morning or late at night.

NA: Yes. All of these are important in contributing to an inclusive environment. Anything else you’d like to add?

HKB: This is obviously a stressful time, globally. My heart is with Italy—my favorite place—and everyone wrestling with this tragic situation. We can carry one another through this. As educators, let’s model flexibility, inclusion, and growth mindsets.

As office leaders, let’s cultivate a virtual environment that allows everyone to shine, especially those often overlooked in the “business-as-usual” way of communicating and engaging. Let’s be change-makers for positivity, inclusion, and improved communication—in our communities, our country, and the world.

Thank you for describing how we can all work together more productively and inclusively, especially during these extra-challenging times.

Copyright © 2020 Nancy Ancowitz

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