Coaching and mentoring: chemistry for introverts

by Arnold Palmer

06 April 2017


The classic introvert may not say much, but has a universe inside their head. The introvert derives energy from dealing with the ideas, pictures, memories, and reactions that are in their inner world. So, how do HFMA executive coaches connect with this universe when working with NHS finance leaders who are introverts?

Introverts often prefer doing things alone or with one person that they feel at ease with, a coach can provide that comfortable one-on-one relationship to support their learning and development. Introverts often choose coaching because they want to develop their confidence, increase their contributions to discussions and meetings or find more effective ways of working with extroverts.

Often seen as quite serious people, someone with a preference for introversion might avoid small talk and prefer listening. They take time to reflect so that they have a clear idea of what they’ll be doing when they decide to act. They are frequently great problem solvers with excellent ideas. The following statements generally apply to introverts:

  • I am seen as "reflective" or “reserved”
  • I feel comfortable being alone and like things I can do on my own
  • I prefer to know just a few people well
  • I sometimes spend too much time reflecting and don't move into action quickly enough
  • I sometimes forget to check with the outside world to see if my ideas really fit the experience.

So, what do HFMA executive coaches pay particular attention to when working with an introvert. Building rapport is fundamental, described as “the invisible wave along which information can flow.” Rapport is not about two finance professionals agreeing on an accounting method, but “a close and harmonious relationship in which we understand each other’s thinking, feelings, ideas and communicate well.”

In my experience, finding a common interest or experience is the easiest way to quickly build rapport with an introvert at a first meeting. These important building blocks can come from any aspect of day to day life and don’t need to be work related. Shared experience of family responsibilities; a recent film or book; interest in sport or even the weather are just some of the topics that have enabled me to develop common ground with more introverted coachees. 

The coach shouldn’t be trying to turn the introvert into an extrovert. It is not the coach’s job to “fix” the client in any coaching relationship. And indeed, labelling someone can get in the way of a good quality conversation. The coach can, however, provide their introvert coachee with practical tools and techniques which will help them in difficult circumstances and improve their confidence in handing challenging situations.

To help introvert coachees digest or process new ways of doing things it’s important to give them time to think and reflect. Learning to accept and embrace pauses in conversation without interrupting and practicing active listening all provide a good environment for working with introverts. Encouraging coachees to take notes before, during and after the sessions and to simply tell the coach if a subject is new or difficult and therefore requires time and patience can make all the difference.

There’s sometimes an assumption that introverts don’t make the best leaders. However, as quiet and thoughtful leaders, introverts guide people towards success, their quiet influence inspires without intimidating and their ability to listen more than they speak encourages the flow of creative ideas. Introverted leaders focus on preparation, staying with problems longer and looking at them from different angles.

HFMA executive coaches tailor their approach to each individual. When working with introverted coachees relationship building, enhancing confidence and giving space to think and reflect are particularly important to get the most of the coaching relationship . Let’s embrace and celebrate the introvert and make sure that we value the important contribution that many are making to NHS Finance.  

Arnold Palmer recently chaired a webinar on Coaching and mentoring: chemistry for introverts that you can watch here