Introvert HR

I’m not a huge fan of personality assessments.  Whether that harps back to my early days as a psychology student and lecturer, or an understandable fatigue through my career in HR, I don’t know.  It isn’t that I think that they’re entirely worthless, just that I think for those that are self-aware they add little new and for those that aren’t, there are multiple reasons to disregard any potential insight.

But I digress.  Earlier this week I received some feedback after completing the Dimensions Personality Assessment from Talent Q.  I won’t dwell on the actual tool, because for this post it is neither here nor there.  The fact is that in the large part it was information that I was pretty well aware of.  There was one aspect, however, that made me think more about myself and my career…and whilst it wasn’t new to me, it was highlighted in technicolour (which reluctantly I accept must show some value to the tool and the process!).

You see, I’m an introvert.  Not in the Myers Briggs sense – drawing my energy from within. But as the Dimensions profile terms it, “Socially Confident” or more precisely….socially “unconfident”.  Now it isn’t as bad as it seems….I don’t cry in the corner….in fact I have a strong sense of self belief, but my work based exhibitionist tendencies aren’t at the fore (does that make it sound more intellectual?).

And, what’s more,  I don’t think I’m alone in the profession.

So much of the work of HR is done in the shadows.  I’m sure that there are people out there reading this thinking, “How can a ‘people person’ not be……a people person” but it isn’t as simple as that.  People like me build relationships based on one to one individual contact, not on standing on stage.  We build trust because people know that we will keep our counsel and through that we develop influence.  We are quite happy to work with others and for them to take the credit, if we get the right result for the organisation.  We don’t need to be the centre of attention and we don’t think we should be the centre of attention.

Personally I’d rather been the oil in the cogs than the badge on the front of the motor.

The downside of course is sometimes that we can struggle to get our voices heard.  In a world where the loudest can be seen as the brightest and most relevant, the introverts amongst us need to develop the skills and the confidence throughout our careers to hold our own and demonstrate our capabilities.  As always there is the ying and the yang, the light and the dark, the good and the…..well ok maybe the analogy stops there…..nonetheless, hopefully you get the point?

And that point is that we shouldn’t be afraid to make our views heard (read my post on Unconscious Immunity) but at the same time we shouldn’t be afraid to make our voices heard in OUR way.  Diverse organisations are the best organisations.  We need the extroverts and the introverts, the talkers and the reflectors, the speakers and the listeners.

So if you’re like me and your preference isn’t to be the centre of attention, then be the wise counsel, be the trusted advisor, be the critical friend.  But don’t be afraid to be you and don’t be afraid to speak up. Your organisation needs you to do so.


  1. John Rutter · September 26, 2011

    Think a lot of that applies to other employees too, not just the [sometimes silent] HR role.
    Extroverts and introverts are indeed both needed. And the company need to understand the differences, and not just listen to the loudest.

  2. karencwise · September 26, 2011

    My preference is similar to yours.

    What I’ve realised is in order to be influential I have to make my views and opinions known with the people in the room before I enter the room. I work with my allies so that I’m not a lone voice – particularly when discussing a difficult, complex or tough issues.

    This works well in some organisations, but not so well in others.

  3. Tim Gardner · September 26, 2011

    Neil- I totally agree with your post here – it is directly reflected in my own blog! When we talk about diversity, that includes the broad range of personalities, especially in a large organization. Each HR team of any size should have a balance of skills, but also a balance of viewpoints.
    Introverts with leadership capabilities can also provide an organization a stable, consistent mentorship for its younger talent.
    I enjoy your blog.

  4. changecontinuum · September 26, 2011

    Birds of a feather… fully agree & I think this applies to many walks of life.

    Just thinking about how important it is for managers/leaders to create the right environment and especially to understand the styles/preferences of individuals in the team.

    I wonder if this is as aspect that HR support well for others (working in the shadows) but not enough for themselves? I’m not saying that HR attracts a certain style/preference but perhaps the type of work requires a different management focus to support such a team…

  5. MegP · September 26, 2011

    To be effective an HR function needs to be both proactive in identifying opportunities to progress the business, and be interactive with the business and people in it. I don’t see how introversion/extraversion matters if a person is self determining and is involved with the business. We just approach it in our own ways.

    Oh – and I’m not sure I agree HR has to be populated with people persons – isn’t managing people where the “people” people need to be?

  6. mastersorbust · September 26, 2011

    Interesting post.

    It seems I have had different experiences of personality assessments and have been fortunate to learn lots from them at various stages of my career but maybe been lucky enough to meet those skilled enough in using them.

    I was surpised to hear you say you are not an introvert in a MBTI sense but then again maybe perception isn’t reality 😉

    As someone who is a distinct extrovert (in every sense) it took me some time to learn to say nothing (and still often fail) and to realise that the ‘quiet’ people weren’t being quiet on purpose but just couldn’t get a word in edgeways.

    Having had a few negative experiences where being too extroverted has had an impact on other members of the group it’s been trying to understand both points of view that as much as introverts need to not be trampled all over, that extroverts need help to on occasion use ears:mouth in the 2:1 ratio but that trampling isn’t there intention (hopefully)

  7. John · September 26, 2011

    Interesting post and great stuff.

    I think that people tend to forget that HR is populated with several types. This stratification is best evidenced by certain roles and expectations. For instance, gregariousness could possibly attributed to ones recruiters while stoicism is more evident in wage & comp analysts. Both roles require a bit of specialization, but are key in the HR function.

    By the way, I so want to create one of those “ironic” t-shirts with the caption “I failed the Myers-Briggs” and wear it to a conference just to mess with peoples heads…

  8. Jon Baker (@DivingJon) · September 27, 2011

    Great blog, I specially liked “Personally I’d rather been the oil in the cogs than the badge on the front of the motor” as it rang true. As an earlier comment said, this is not just abut HR people and applies to many people in business.

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