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Three steps to attract—and retain—introverted employees

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking speaking at Fortune's Most Powerful Women 2015 summit in Washington, D.C.Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking speaking at Fortune's Most Powerful Women 2015 summit in Washington, D.C.
Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking speaking at Fortune's Most Powerful Women 2015 summit in Washington, D.C.Photograph by Stuart Isett

Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg. Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. Louise and Thelma. An introvert and an extrovert. Your business will be better off if it has a good mix of both. That was the takeaway from “The Quiet Revolution,” a panel discussion at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women summit on Monday.

“The more diverse the perspective, the more innovative [a group or company] is going to be,” said panelist Beth Comstock, vice chair of General Electric. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, agreed. You can’t perform at the highest level if your team is “lopsided,” she said. “Life is more productive if you’re not.”

For the record: Introverts are people whose batteries recharge when they go off alone or when they’re with close friends. Extroverts, on the other hand, get their energy from mingling with other people.

So, how do you make sure you have both on your team—and get the best out of all of them? The three women on Monday’s panel identified three main steps to the process:

1. Interview carefully.

When you are looking for candidates to fill a certain role, make sure you’re asking questions that will show whether you’ve got an introvert or extrovert sitting in front of you. Jana Rich, founder and CEO of Rich Talent Group, said she asks candidates to tell a story of transition that happened at some point during their careers. If a person is still talking 45 minutes later, she knows she is speaking to an extrovert. An introvert will typically tell the story in a quarter of the time.

2. Do a GAP analysis.

Look at the dynamics of what’s missing from your leadership team, Rich said. Pay special attention to how well people are listening to you, to how well they can keep up a back and forth dialogue. Those attentive listeners? Probably introverts.

3. Draw them out.

Once you’ve got introverts in the mix, do what you need to do to bring them out. That may mean asking for memos prepared in advance of a meeting so that you know what everyone wants to say. (In a typical meeting, three people do 70% of the talking, Cain said. Yikes!) Or, if you feel like you’re getting enough out of everyone, send them to the white boards in the room to jot down their ideas so that everyone can read them. It even helps to give meeting attendees a heads up that you’re coming to them for feedback next, Comstock added.