Having worked in various offices, of various sizes and noisiness I thought it was only me. I find it harder to concentrate for long in a noisy room. It turns out that when it’s noisy introverts find it harder to concentrate.
In the qualitative part of my research on introverts in business I started asking people about their reaction to noisy offices and found out that it isn’t only me, as more introverts struggle in noisy environments than extraverts. Then I discovered research on the subject, by Belojevic, Slepcevic, & Jakovljevic (2001).
Concentration, noise and introverts.
The study set out to find are introverts more sensitive to noise. Extroverts and introverts completed a mental arithmetic test in noisy and quiet conditions. They found that noise did not affect the accuracy of the work completed.
However in the noisy conditions:
- extroverts performed faster than in the quiet conditions.
- introverts reported greater concentrations and fatigue problems.
How to concentrate in a noisy environment.
I can’t promise a cure for this and some introverts are more sensitive to noise than others (some extraverts are too). People I’ve spoken to find the worst to be:
- Random noise, changing in volume or pitch. This can be tiring and distracting
- Crowd noise, especially in echoey rooms, reduces the ability to focus (and hear properly)
There are probably only three things you can do (other than remove yourself from, or change, the environment)
- Arrange more break points where you can get away quietly for a few minutes
- Use ear plugs. Some of these are unobtrusive and allow you to hear somebody talking to you but dull down the background noise.
- Music. Gentle music might help.
What else has worked for you, I’ve love to know.
As a leader, how can you help introverts?
As a leader you want everybody on your team to contribute effectively and you want the diversity of views that having a mixture of extraverts and introverts brings. So, how could you help?
- Quiet rooms: Where people can sit and work quietly, at least for the periods that have to concentrate in detail.
- Music: Can you either play gentle music or allow individuals to listen to their choice of music through earphones?
- Sound panels: Is it possible to, cheaply, reduce echoes in the office/ meeting room thus deadening the noise?
- Home working: For some tasks can you recommend some people work from home, with appropriate productivity measurements.
As a leader there are other things you can do to help the 30%-50% of your team who are likely to be introverted, most of them don’t involve noise:
- Making your meetings more effective by helping the introverts to engage more, involves only one or two changes.
- Understand more about the extrovert bias in most businesses (although as you’ve read this far, maybe you’re well on that journey)
- Consider the cost of staff turnover
Details of that research.
Belojevic, Goran & Slepcevic, Vesna & JAKOVLJEVIC, B. (2001). Mental performance in noise: The role of introversion. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 21. 209-213. 10.1006/jevp.2000.0188.