The hidden gems of introverted crew

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Q: Rob, Captain, 43:

“I have a stewardess who just doesn’t seem to fit in with the others. She’s quiet and doesn’t socialise much with the other crew. She’s friendly enough when you talk to her, but she definitely hasn’t bonded with my other stews, who are all bubbly personalities. It’s causing real problems in that department and throughout the rest of the crew as we are all quite outgoing. I thought this might be resolved over the season, but she pretty much hides in her cabin on breaks and doesn’t go out socialising with the others. Unfortunately this just adds fuel to the fire and it’s beginning to cause a bit of a rift. We’re meant to be a crew, but she’s not being a team player. She’s very good at her job though – and the boss has said he likes her quiet unobtrusiveness, so I don’t feel right about firing her. How can I bring her out of her shell a bit more and get her to bond with the rest of us?”

A: The Crew Coach:

Well Rob, it looks like you’ve got yourself a classic introvert there, and from the sounds of it she’s drowning in a sea of extroverts at present! But before you decide to replace her with someone more ‘bubbly’ to be more like the other girls, I’d urgently counsel you to stop and consider the positives of having a balance with some other quiet personalities on your team. You mentioned that the yacht owner values her ‘quiet unobtrusiveness’, so that already indicates she is adding value to the team. I think the problem here is that the other crew (and potentially even you) are not seeing her true value, or perhaps you are not sure exactly how to utilise it.

The thing is, you can’t ‘make’ someone bond with other people, especially if that person is an introvert and the others are all extroverts. If you do try to do that you’ll just create awkward situations where she and everyone else will feel the relationships are being forced.

Across humanity there is a full spectrum of personality and character types, and what you have here are two polar opposites. There are inherent character differences at play here that, when recognised, can be used as a strength (because like yin and yang they actually complement each other), but if not understood, can be seen as irreconcilable. This isn’t a case of one side being ‘right’ and the other being ‘wrong’ – they are both right in their own way, but they need to learn to appreciate each others’ perspectives.

Let’s start by having a look at the many attractive qualities of introverts so you and the other crew can start appreciating the unique qualities this Stewardess brings, rather than trying to change her.

Here are just a few of their brilliant qualities:

They’re fantastic listeners. While your more extroverted crew members often dominate conversation, introverts are wonderfully good listeners. Over time you’ll probably find that your crew will come to really respect her quiet and calming presence. Don’t forget still waters run deep!
Introverts don’t do things for ‘glory’: they do them to meet their own personal standards. An introvert doesn’t seek as much extrinsic recognition for their work, and will generally work hard regardless of what others around them think or do.
Introverts often outperform extroverts in the end. Extroverts often shine in groups at first due to their confidence and big personalities, but according to research, as the shine wears off they can sometimes fail to perform to the high expectations of their arrival, whereas introverts often impress more over time. Think about it: your boss has already singled this girl out favourably, and you mention how good she is at her job. This is a good indication that she is actually a good choice of crew member and is actually bringing some balance to your team.
They love planning, research, optimising and detail. If you want someone to spend a solid week organising the uniform storage (AND loving it), pick this girl. Introverts get into the ‘flow’ of this kind of work easily, and can spend hours focussing intently on tasks rather than flitting about getting distracted. They will often find a better, more efficient way to process information or systems, and love keeping track of fine details. They don’t let things slip through the cracks.
So in your introverted stewardess you have probably found a good listener, a calm presence, a good performer, a great planner and a person who loves detail and finds focus in her work. And the boss likes her. This is sounding to me like a very good crew member!

Last but not least, your question actually flags up a potentially deeper problem – which could require us to look at the type of people you’re hiring across the board, as it sounds very much like you could have hired a crew full of people like you: extroverts! This is a very common leadership trap, as with little else to go on we often fall back on hiring people we like (which usually means people like us). On the surface of it that seems like a good idea, but ultimately hiring similar personalities across all departments will create disharmony because there will be certain essential skills and strengths that are lacking and being overlooked, and the team will therefore be inherently weak overall.

When working with Captains, Managers and Owners to create super high performing and harmonious teams I use a personality profiling tool called Talent Dynamics to help them assemble a good range of personalities and create a really strong team. Of course this is more complex than simply ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’ – as there are 8 core profile types, but every individual has blends and nuances that make every personality and profile unique. The trick is to form a fully rounded team that represents skills and strengths across all the profiles. Even without going into this much detail, in your existing team it could really help the next time you are hiring, to go for someone more like your ‘introverted’ stew, and this way you will begin to redress the balance.

If you’re interested in learning more about profiling for yourself and your current crew, or to profile potential new candidates to see how they might fit in, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

**If you’re reading this and are an introvert who feels misunderstood and overlooked, you’re not alone! Check out this great book by Susan Cain (who also has a great TED talk on this topic too) to find out more about the abundant gifts of wonderfully introverted people.

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Alison Rentoul

Alison Rentoul

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