We asked members of our DevOps team to talk about their experience as introverts and to give extroverts some advice. Before we get into their responses, though, let’s first define the term.
What does being introverted mean?
Being an introvert is commonly defined as someone who finds it more energy depleting, as opposed to energizing, to be around people. It can be a helpful term when we think about how we recharge: introverted people may require more alone time to recharge, especially after spending a lot of time around groups of people. A big myth about introverts is that they are necessarily shy, but science suggests that is a separate personality trait.
Introversion and extraversion were popularized by the Myers Briggs Type Indicators and are now more commonly referred to as two ends of the same spectrum. Even though it may seem that there are more extroverted people in the world than introverts, psychologists tend to believe that a majority of us fall along the spectrum closer to ambiverts or introverts.
Now, on to the questions and answers.
What are some techniques DevOps leaders can use to make sure introverts feel like part of the team and increase their willingness to share ideas?
"Everyone is a little different, so it’s important to be observant. Someone from GitLab once told me their philosophy is that if you aren’t offering your opinion, then they’re being exclusionary. If someone isn’t offering an opinion in a meeting, then find ways to include them. When I know an introvert is interested in a topic we’re meeting about, I’ll ask in advance for written input. A lot of meetings can be avoided by moving the discussion to slack or GitLab where introverts are more willing to engage. In stand-up, everyone gives an update, and introverts seem to do fine in this context. So we sometimes do the same thing in other meetings just to make sure everyone has time to speak. I also encourage introverts to speak in front of small groups either at work or in the community in order to build those skills." —Dan Barker
"I think the best thing that anyone ever did for me was to make sure I had the skills necessary to answer the big questions when they came. As a very young enlisted Air Force member I was giving status briefings to my units’ senior leadership. That required that I have a number of data points available at any given moment as well as the why behind any delays or deviations on the way towards established objectives. That propelled me from a behind the scenes person into being willing to share my opinion and thoughts with others." —Chris Short
"Lead through culture. Design and try out a ritual for your co-workers. You can design a smaller weekly ritual for groups or teams or a bigger yearly event for your department or organization. The point is to try something and observe your leadership role in it. Identify gaps or tensions in your culture. Look back at the beliefs and behaviors of teams. Where do you observe tension? What’s missing from your culture? Start with a simple statement 'I see a tension between X and Y'. Or 'My team is missing Z'. Next, flip the gap or tension into a question: write down 3 'How might we’s (HMWs)'." —Catherine Louis
"Introverts are not a different class of people, they are either people who think or wait too much before they share their mind or people who have no idea what's going on. I was one among the first category, I thought too much and sometimes worried about what if my opinion is laughed upon or not entertained or thought otherwise. It was hard coming up of that kind of mindset but it was also eating my chances of learning better things. Once, we were discussing in the team about an implementation issue. My then manager asked me one on one, why I am not participating as I am one of the more experienced people on the team, and I opened up (after I gathered all the power in the universe to say something) saying everything I wanted to say was already shared. He suggested 'I could use a repetition sometimes, as there are many things going on, it would be helpful if you just repeat your thought even if it is discussed'. Well, that was not a very persuasive way but that gave me a bit of confidence that someone at-least wants to hear me.
"Now, the way I used to make people speak in my team, is I often ask the introvert person for help, even if I know the resolution, and appreciate them in team meetings and discussions to boost up their confidence encouraging them to share more knowledge with the team, by slowly giving them time to come out of their reserved nature. They may still remain a bit isolated in the outer world but within a team, some emerge a player we can count on." —Abhishek Tamrakar
"My advice to introverts when participating in conferences is to find friends/colleagues who are also attending so you have people to talk to comfortably, reach out prior to the event to schedule some smaller meetings/meals with other attendees (friends, industry contacts, former colleagues, etc.), be mindful of your exhaustion level and take care of yourself: skip the social/evening events if you need to recharge, write about your experience in a post-event retrospective." —Elizabeth Joseph
What are some tips for increasing productivity when working with a teammate who tends to be more of an introvert?
"Productivity is increasingly challenging to really qualify. In many cases, a break from work or a casual conversation can be the spark needed in our creative endeavors. Again, I find slack and GitLab to be very helpful mediums for exchanging ideas and interacting with others when you have introverts on your team. I also find pair programming to be very useful for most introverts as one on one interactions aren’t usually as taxing but the product quality and efficiency gains are substantial. However, when an introvert is working alone, everyone on the team should be discouraged from interrupting them. It’s best to send them an email or some non-intrusive medium." —Dan Barker
"Give them great tools for doing and documenting their work. Enable them to be the best they can be at their job. Check in with them frequently enough to make sure they’re on the right track but also be mindful it’s a bigger distraction to them than it is more extroverted people." —Chris Short
"Don’t interrupt me when I am heads down. Really, don’t. It could take me 2 hours minimally to get my brain back to where I was when I was knee deep in something. It feels painful. Really. Instead, email me and ask me to come to a place where there is a whiteboard. Share the problem from the customer's point of view—draw it—not from your point of view. I may have dozens of customer issues niggling in the back of my brain. If your issues sound like 'make me look good to my upper management', it will get less attention from me than the true customer's issues I already have. Draw a picture. Give me time to think. Make sure there is more than one marker in case I am ready to share. Be prepared that your hypothesis about the problem is completely wrong." —Catherine Louis
"Appreciation and encouragement is the way out, appreciation may not be an appraisal, but an appreciation that encourages people to feel comfortable in presence of more than one living entities, so that everyone feels heard and not laughed or underrated." —Abhishek Tamrakar
The biggest takeaway from our conversations on introverted DevOps enthusiasts is one of equity: Treat people as they need to be treated, and ask people to treat you as you want to be treated. Whether you are extroverted or introverted, we all need to respect the fact that we do not all experience the world in the same way. Our colleagues deserve the space they need to get the work done, and knowing how to support them starts with a discussion on their needs. Our differences are what make our communities so special and it makes our work more useful for more people. The most effective way to communicate with others is to communicate in a style that works well for both of you.