Since the 1920s, workplace values have come to privilege personality over character in many instances, as described by "Forbes" magazine in the August 2012 article, “Introverts No Longer The Quiet Followers of Extroverts.” Yet history documents a long line of transformative leaders who were quiet introverts, including Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, and Bill Gates. Perception plays an important role in workplace dynamics, however, so a person who is quiet in the workplace may be viewed differently by different people.
In the workplace, employers and co-workers might view quiet individuals as shy. Not speaking up in meetings, working quietly with clients, and opting not to participate in extracurricular work activities (such as a corporate softball team) might seem like the hallmarks of shyness. Unfortunately, some employers might view this character trait as problematic; they may feel compelled to “draw out” quieter employees who risk appearing uninvolved, according to LaForce Teamwork Services. To avoid being viewed as shy, quiet employees should still forge positive workplace relationships with colleagues rather than withdrawing into the seclusion of a cubicle whenever possible.
Sometimes quiet people in the workplace are viewed and honored for being humble leaders. Employers might recognize that a quieter employee still brings key qualities to the table: for example, analytical skills, strong listening habits, and questioning assumptions, according to The Center for Association Leadership, a collaborative leadership association. Some employers might view these quiet, humble leaders as performing best when permitted to brainstorm alone, present ideas in writing, or negotiate sensitive situations with attentive listening and nuanced communication.
Co-workers sometimes view quiet individuals as passive-aggressive. A passive-aggressive person intentionally takes actions that have negative effects on a specific person (for example, a workplace rival) but that do not call attention to themselves. For example, a passive-aggressive person might not contribute very much to a project – except when the boss is around, causing extra work and irritation to workplace teammates. Because passive-aggressive individuals don’t seek extra attention for themselves, but instead operate just beneath confrontation-worthy levels, cynical co-workers might assume that a quiet colleague may be up to no good.
Unfortunately, quiet people in the workplace sometimes come across as irrelevant. Without a dominant voice in key discussions or workplace politics, a person might be considered to contribute less than more vocal employees, according to Sonia Accosta in the MSN Careers article, “7 Myths About Quiet Workers.” While this isn’t necessarily true, that perception could be costly for quiet workers in terms of preferential job assignments or leadership opportunities. To avoid being viewed as a non-player, quieter employees might look for opportunities to demonstrate competence and leadership that don’t require center-stage theatrics. For example, volunteering to coordinate research for an upcoming project showcases leadership skills without verbal fireworks.
Quiet workers can also be viewed as discreet and trustworthy employees. Employees may value those workers who won’t risk revealing sensitive company information, or become embroiled in negative office politics due to clashing egos. Maintaining a quiet composure helps build an impression of reflective, self-contained professionalism.
- Moore, Karl. Forbes.com: Introverts No Longer the Quiet Followers of Extroverts. August 22, 2012.
- Phillips, Nicholas. Construction Business Owner: Understand and Manage Passive-Aggressive Employees.
- Tobenkin, David. The Center for Association Leadership: Open Your Ears to Your Quiet Employees. June 2012.
Morgan Rush is a California journalist specializing in news, business writing, fitness and travel. He's written for numerous publications at the national, state and local level, including newspapers, magazines and websites. Rush holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, San Diego.