Introverts in the Workplace: Recognizing Quiet Performers

Written by
George Dickson
George Dickson

If you're not an introvert, you're surrounded by them.

Introversion and extroversion exist on a spectrum with most individuals falling somewhere in-between, but by some calculations as many as 1/3 to 1/2 of all people identify as introverts.

So a much larger portion of your workforce than you might have thought is introverted, and there's a big problem with that.

The problem isn't introverts; it's the societal perception of introversion.

What is going on?

Although extroverts tend to get more recognition, introverts are making equally valuable contributions to your organization on a daily basis. The only difference is, they're often less vocal about it.

Introverted employees still appreciate and deserve recognition.

Susan Cain's excellent presentation at TED dispelled many of the misconceptions that exist around introverts, and detailed some of the unique perspectives and valuable skills they bring to your team:

You're probably overlooking a valuable resource.

As Susan explained in her TED Talk,

"Introverts are routinely passed over for leadership positions, even though introverts tend to be very careful, and much less likely to take outsized risks (which is something we might all favor nowadays)."

In the Harvard Business Review article he co-authored with Francesca Gino and David A. Hofmann, The Wharton School's Adam Grant explained that introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes in unpredictable situations, because they give proactive employees the autonomy to run with their ideas.

This is in contrast to a more extraverted manager who is more likely to feel threatened by proactive employees, or (sometimes unconsciously) insist on having their own personal stamp on the work.

Even in occupations like sales, which are often thought of as being predominantly extrovert-centric, extroverts aren't necessarily the most effective employees. If you're not convinced of this, Adam Grant published a fascinating research report on this subject.

The loudest person in the room isn't always the smartest person in the room, and the most skillful speaker doesn't necessarily have the best ideas.

Please don't take all this the wrong way, though.

This is far from a condemnation of extroverts — quite the opposite. By working together and recognizing the strength in their differences, a team of introverts and extroverts can amplify those strengths, and compensate for any weaknesses.

Much like Voltron, your team's strength lies in its diversity.

The key takeaway here is that introverts and extroverts both make valuable contributions to your organization on a daily basis, but introverts don't always get the credit they deserve. It's crucial to ensure that both introverts and extroverts are recognized equally.

Recognizing introverts.

Much of the literature available focuses on 'fixing' introverts, and helping them stand out in an extrovert-dominated organization.

This is helpful in the way that teaching a left-handed person to write with their right hand is. It's a solution; it's just not a great solution. In many cases, this is the best way an introvert can hope to earn recognition for their achievements.

This doesn't have to be the way your organization operates though. You can give introverts the advantage of focusing their mental energy on the task at hand, rather than publicity.

Peer-to-peer recognition is an excellent way to ensure that your quiet performers are recognized for the great work they do. It has the added benefits of helping their extraverted colleagues to see how valuable their quiet teammates' contributions are, and providing a perfect opportunity to show appreciation for them.

If you're ready to learn more, check out our latest guide:

Read the Guide to Modern Employee Recognition

Originally published on June 19, 2015 → Last updated July 11, 2019

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George Dickson

George is dedicated to strengthening organizational cultures with thoughtful leadership and frequent recognition. George formerly managed content and community at Bonusly.


Bonusly is a fun, personal employee recognition and rewards program that helps people feel engaged and successful at work. ✨