I’m an introvert. Most people don’t believe me when I tell them this (I do a lot of public speaking for an introvert 😳), but I am an introvert through-and-through. When I need to recharge, I seek alone time as opposed to being around a group people.
As an introvert, I also tend to avoid questions that seem overly personal or require long, drawn-out answers. Honestly, it can feel draining to divulge so much of myself and talk all the time.
Early in my career, I remember how this played out at work: My boss at the time would ask me for feedback about the company… And I struggled to answer his questions candidly. As introvert, I never felt comfortable being 100% transparent with him about what I thought could be better in the company.
I’m embarrassed thinking back on what was probably viewed as avoidant, disengaged behavior. It’s not that I didn’t want to be honest — I just didn’t know how.
Little did I know that, on the other end as a manager, it’s possible to create a work environment where introverts like me can feel comfortable giving their feedback. Having studied this issue and gathered insights from thousands of employees we work with through Know Your Team, I now know how to build a workplace where quieter employees feel comfortable speaking up.
Here are 11 things you can do and say today to encourage even your most introverted employee to be more forthcoming with you…
1. Set up a time to talk in advance.
My former boss used to walk up to an employee’s desk and ask her, “How are things going?” or “Wanna go grab coffee in like 10 minutes and have a quick one-on-one?” While these seem like positive, well-intentioned gestures on the surface, I remember these “surprise” requests for feedback feeling abrupt and off-putting to me as an employee. As introverts, we prefer having time to reflect, process, and prepare what we might want to share. So asking for feedback on-the-spot without a heads up doesn’t jive. Instead, set up time to ask for feedback in advance. For example you might say: “Hey ____, I would love an opportunity to grab some time with you, and simply listen to what you think could be better in the company. Do you have any time later this week or next?”
2. Be clear on the “why.”
Are you asking for feedback to “check a box” because it’s something leaders are “supposed to do”? Or do you genuinely believe that your employees’ feedback is paramount to the business as a whole? If it’s the latter, make that clear. (And if it’s the former, here’s a bit of data to understand why employee feedback matters). Oftentimes, introverts like myself don’t speak up because it’s unclear why our feedback is being asked for and if it will be valued. If I don’t hear the “why,” then I’m not going to put in the extra energy to share feedback that already feels unnatural for me to share in the first place.
As a manager, you must reveal the “why” behind you asking for feedback and show your employees why their feedback matters to you. For instance, you can say something like: “The reason I’m asking for your input is because I truly believe your suggestions will help the company get to where it needs to be in the long run.”
3. Ask “what” instead of “any.”
When you’re asking your quieter employees for feedback, pay attention to the exact words in the questions you’re asking. Using the word “what” instead of “any” invites a greater response to a question. For example, when you ask, “Do you have any feedback on how the last client meeting went?” it’s very easy for the person to default and say “no.” But when you ask, “What could have been better in that last client meeting?” that question assumes that there are things that could be better. Asking “what” instead of “any” opens the opportunity for someone to provide a more honest answer.
4. “Time box” your question.
Give your employees a specific timeframe to contextualize their feedback the next time you ask them a question. This helps more introverted employees in particular think of feedback that is more concrete to share with you. I call this “time boxing.” For example, rather than asking, “What could we do better?” which usually leads to generic, vague responses, I’ll ask, “What’s something in the past 2 weeks that we could’ve done better? ” When you narrow that frame of reference to “the past two weeks,” it’s much easier for the other person to respond. She or he is now reflecting on just the past two weeks, instead of having to jog their memory for the past year or more.
5. Ask about “one thing.”
Not only do I try to contextualize questions to specific timeframe, but I try to ask about one thing, instead of leaving a question open-ended. For example, instead of asking, “What could we have improved on in that last project?” you should ask, “What one thing in the last project could we have improved on?” By asking for “one thing,” you make the question much less overwhelming for an introverted employee to answer. And the less overwhelming the question is, the more likely it is that you’ll get a candid, in-depth answer.
6. Ask: “I feel X didn’t go well. Would you agree or disagree?”
Another way to create a safe environment for your quieter employees to open up is to admit something you’re struggling with yourself. This is particularly helpful when you’re noticing radio silence from an employee. For example, let’s say you ask her or him, “What’s one thing about the last project we could have improved on?” And the other person is clamming up and can’t seem to think of anything (even though you asked about “one thing”). Try sharing something you think didn’t go well, and say: “I feel like I personally didn’t do the best job at X. Would you agree or disagree?” This vulnerability gives permission to the other person to be critical about something they might not otherwise be.
7. Look to the future.
People tend to be more honest when you ask them about the future versus the past. This is because giving feedback about the past can feel like a negative critique about what went wrong, while giving feedback about the future is seen as a forward-looking, creative opportunity to make things better. Use this to your advantage when looking to get honest feedback from a quieter employee. For example, you can ask: “Going forward, what’s one thing you think we should try doing as a company to improve our marketing?” instead of “What should we have done to prevent the marketing initiative from failing in the past?” See how the first question about the future seems much more positive and inviting compared to the second question about the past.
8. Bring a notebook.
Whether or not you consider yourself an avid notetaker, bring a notebook to your next one-on-one with your employee. When you have a notebook in front of you and a pen in hand, you’re indicating that you’re ready to listen, absorb, and take notes on the feedback the other person is giving you. It also demonstrates that you’re not entering the conversation with an already fixed agenda of what you want to get out of it. For an introverted employee, this is especially important, as it reassures her or him that the energy it will take to open up and give honest feedback will be worth it.
9. Say thank you.
Showing gratitude to an employee who shares a dissenting point-of-view is one of the most effective ways to encourage her or him to be honest with you… Yet it’s something we often forget to do. Get into the habit of regularly saying, “I appreciate that viewpoint” or “It means a lot to hear that” or simply “Thank you” every time an employee gives you feedback. When you do, you prove that candid feedback is welcome — even if it’s an opinion you might not outright agree with. Your quieter employees will be more willing to open up again the next time around, if you show gratitude for their input.
10. Be quiet.
Perhaps the best way to show someone who is more introverted that you want to listen to their feedback is to do that: Just listen. Be quiet. Don’t rebut. Don’t talk. Don’t think about what you’re going to say next. Just listen. Why? Typically, when you respond right away, you come across as defensive. And when you come across as defensive, it means you didn’t really want to hear the feedback. This will discourage an employee from sharing their honest feedback with you in the future.
If you do feel like you need respond, you can say something like: “I’m grateful to you for sharing that. Let me take some time to digest what you’re saying and get back to you.” Introverts in particular recognize silence not as an absence of thought, but as a space for deep thinking. They’ll respect that you’re not trying to counter every point or talk over them.
11. Let her or him know WHEN you’ll follow up — and stick to it.
The biggest reason why quieter employees tend to not be as forthcoming with feedback is because of the sense of futility: It feels futile to give feedback because no action will be taken. In fact, studies have shown that futility is the #1 reason employees don’t speak up at work. This means in order to overcome the sense of futility and get honest feedback from your employees, you must communicate how you’re going to close the loop about a piece of feedback that’s been given to you.
To do this, the next time an employee shares some salient feedback with you, try saying: “This is a helpful piece of feedback. I’m going to chew on it and get back to you by next Friday on how we’ll more forward.” Or if it’s something you can take action on immediately, you can say: “Because you shared this, I’m going to change X for our next project.” If it’s something that requires some time to think through, you can say: “Can we follow-up 2 weeks from now, and I’ll have an update on where I think we should go from here?” Notice in each of these examples, I’m very specific about when I will follow up with the employee. Make sure you do the same to show you’re serious about acting on their feedback or resolving their issue in some way.
These tactics are helpful not only in asking for feedback from introverted employees, per se. As managers, founders, and CEOs, we all have at least one employee who we wish we heard from more regularly: An employee in our company who we might not see all the time, an employee who we haven’t developed a strong personal rapport with yet, or an employee who we’re dying to know what she or he really thinks.
The next time you’re wanting to get honest feedback from one of these employees, try a few of these 11 suggestions. It’s as simple as setting up a time to talk in advance or bringing a notebook (or both!).
You’ll hear more honest feedback from your employee than ever before.