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Personality diversity in the workplace: 5 tips to unlock its power

Former official videographer to British Prime Minister Theresa May, Richard is currently Director of Internal Communications at Elsevier and teaches a Guardian Masterclass series: Self-promotion for introverts.

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Hands up if you’ve heard the saying: ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease’.

If you grew up in the East End of London as my family and I did, you would have heard many people use this old American adage.

Used to convey the idea that the most noticeable (or loudest) problems are the ones more likely to get attention, it’s commonly referenced in my Guardian Masterclasses on introversion in the workplace to describe the unfair advantage most louder colleagues receive.

But this attitude starts long before our time in employment. It actually begins in school.

Remember that kid who was always praised by your teacher for raising their hand in class?

How about the one rewarded for reading in front of everyone?

You almost certainly remember the children during recess or lunch who were seen as having better social skills than the child engaging in solitary play.

This imbalance of recognition for outspokenness and dynamism has wormed its way into our place of work and has subsequently created a communication divide between two personality types: introverts and extroverts.

Introversion and extroversion

Introverts tend to enjoy quiet concentration, listening more than they talk, and thinking before they speak, according to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Cain adds that introverts have a more “circumspect and cautious approach to risk”.

Alternatively, extroverts are “energised by social situations and tend to be assertive multi-taskers who think out loud and on their feet.

Adapting your internal communications to treat differences as assets – rather than as barriers to be overcome – can have a profound effect on the productivity and wellbeing of your workforce.

Here are five ways to achieve this parity of voice in your campaigns.

Personality diversity can become a competitive business advantage.

1. Bring the offline, online

For extroverts craving a return to the office, find ways to recreate “watercooler moments” in your company events. 

For example, introduce the use of breakout groups on Zoom or Teams at companywide events so that they have the airtime to talk out their ideas without dominating the meeting.

2. Foster a culture where everyone’s voice can be heard in meetings

Use your communication to people managers to ensure they create meeting environments where quieter voices aren’t overshadowed.

Here’s what I’d try:

  • Encourage using tools like the chat function or hand-raising feature to designate who has the floor to speak.
  • Practise of waiting five seconds before jumping in, or non-speakers keeping on mute.
  • Sending questions out in advance so everyone has more time to prepare
  • After the meeting ends, encourage people to email you their thoughts or create a Google doc where people can share input.

3. Intentionally address the needs of introverts

Thoughtfully examine your organizational practices to ensure introvert concerns are addressed. Ask introverts their ideas for creating more inclusive workplaces, and provide forums they’re comfortable contributing to. But how will you know who to address? This brings us onto number four…

4. Encourage teams to identify personality differences

Facilitating discussions about individual team members’ work and communication preferences will help colleagues understand how to grow personality diversity in your organization.

First, however, colleagues will need to understand the personality make-up of their teams. Asking employees to take a personality quiz can help you discover the stats and provide insight into their communication styles and preferences. Using this information, you can understand more about why your teams behave the way they do and how to create impactful comms campaigns.

5. Bring senior leadership into the conversation

Change must occur across the organization to ensure personality diversity becomes an organizational priority. Only once your senior leaders are bought into the fold can any change take place.

My final thoughts

Regardless of where your colleagues place on the introvert-extrovert spectrum, the instant switch to remote work almost two years ago forced all of us to adjust to uncomfortable workplace environments.

Internal communication campaigns helped many of us learn much in the process as personal stories of colleagues’ compromise and challenge were shared across organizations everywhere.

These lessons will make us stronger and more inclusive as we transition to a hybrid model of work longer-term. Understood properly, personality diversity in the workplace can become your competitive advantage.