When the vast majority think of introverts and extroverts, we think shy or outgoing. The opinions usually aren’t all that sophisticated.
Considering that almost all people are classified as one or the other, it’s time we understood them a bit more and the difference they can make to our workplace.
What is important to note is that you’re not simply one or the other. Extroversion and introversion are two ends of the same scale and they are not absolutes. Forming an identity of people being too quiet or too outgoing doesn’t appreciate the diversity in an appropriate way.
What is an Introvert?
The truth is the vast majority of people hover around the midpoint of the introversion extroversion scale with slight inclinations in either direction. Approximately 25-40% of people are considered to be introverted, so what does that mean?
Introversion is a personality trait first highlighted in the 1900s by famed psychologist Carl Jung. In cases where it is dominant, the person tends to prefer to focus on internal feelings rather than external stimulation. The introvert recharges by spending time alone being reflective and introspective.
Our traditional stereotype is formed on the needs for socialization. Large parties tend to drain energy but introverts do have a small group of close friends despite being more reserved. An introverted individual simply requires less socialization to feel good and prefers to get it in smaller groups because they listen intently.
Introverts in the Workplace
In the employed setting, introverts experience a barrier to progression. While they are less impulsive and work well independently, they are regularly passed over for promotions.
The reserved nature encourages leadership to think that they won’t inspire the team as much as an outgoing manager would. Strangely, there is little evidence to back this up and it is an anomaly we will expand on later.
Introverts work better in quiet environments with less stimulation. They also show a noticeable gravitation toward independent roles demanding high focus and attention.
Those roles include:
- Behavioral Therapists
- Web Development
- Software Engineering
- IT Manager
- Content Management
- Graphic Design
What they are not?
In western societies, we appreciate the extroverted more and give them more attention. The bias leads us to believe that everyone wants to be outgoing and sociable so when they are not, there is something wrong.
Quiet and Shy
Shy is the most frequently used as a synonym for introverted but is actually inaccurate. Someone who is shy will keep to themselves and often feel tense or uncomfortable in social situations. Introverts simply don’t like bigger groups but they can still be chatty.
Less Happy or Confident
Introverts are neither more or less happy and confident than extroverts. Many people think that introverts experience mental illness or esteem issues more often but that is completely false. People gravitate toward their natural amount of talkativeness and it is not an indication of their well-being.
In instances where there is dramatic change, it could be a cause for concern but it is not directly correlated to introversion.
What is an Extrovert?
The extroverts of the world hold a favorable hand in western societies. Our cultures value the person who is willing to put themselves out there, ‘be brave’, speak up and make their voices heard.
An extrovert, in simple terms, is someone who gains energy from being around others. Professor Hans Eysenck believes extroverts get their stimulation from being around others in novel and adventurous situations.
Research shows that one of the main differences is how extroverts process rewards. An extrovert will often be more impulsive, take risks and even enjoy adventurous sports because their brains are different. When extroverts take risks that pay off, a higher level of dopamine is released by the nucleus accumbens – the reward circuit of the brain.
Extroverts in the Workplace
Extroverts thrive in the busier, louder workplace with lots of hustle and bustle. The energy generated by group work and interaction frequently fuels their drive.
In a somewhat astounding report by the Sutton Trust in the UK, extroverts are 25% more likely to be paid over £40,000 ($55,000USD or $69,000CAD) because they seem more sociable, confident and assertive. In an unsurprising twist, extroverted men were quicker to surpass that figure than women.
Extroverts are also more likely to be considered for managerial roles than introverts as “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”. They are more visible to management and more likely ask for promotions. However, it is not just that they are louder. A University of Minnesota study found stronger performance in interpersonal, emotional and motivational categories meaning teams took to them quicker as leaders.
Extroverts tend to prefer roles such as:
- Public Relations
- Event Management
- Healthcare and Social Care
- Coaching and Consulting
What they are not?
While extroverts do enjoy an advantage in the workplace, they also get branded with certain inaccurate traits that don’t illustrate deep understanding.
Due, in part, to their risk taking inclination and impulsive nature, extroverts are rarely commended for their depth. When you are the outgoing and talkative individual, people rarely grasp that some of your thought process will be reasoning aloud.
Extroverts tend to talk things through openly rather than mulling it over quietly. It can come across as attention seeking but it’s just a different method of processing to the introvert.
Extroverts Are Not Socially Anxious
The sociability of extroverts actually constructs an issue for those with anxiety. Whenever an extroverted individual has anxiety or even struggles with their mental health, it always seems to come as a surprise. In truth, it shouldn’t and because it does, extroverts are less likely to speak openly about mental health issues.
Anxiety and other mental health issues stem from feelings of inadequacy which is absolutely not limited to introverted people.
Introverted v Extroverted Leaders: Who is better?
We have mentioned a host of studies, barriers and tendencies suggesting that the extroverts should get the nod for leadership, but it’s not cut and dry.
Often the leaders most visible to us are extroverts given their proclivity for the spotlight. In addition the University of North Carolina found that 96% of managers and c-suite executives have extroverted characteristics as our societies look favorably at the socially brave.
However, in the upper echelons of business leaders, introverts perform better.
Professor Steven Kaplan conducted a study of over 4,000 of CEOs of publicly traded companies in the US to develop this finding. Once described by Fortune Magazine as “the foremost private equity scholar in the galaxy”, Kaplan explains that the depth of thought, willingness to listen, assess options, ability to slow down and avoid rash decision-making gives the introvert an edge.
Oddly, they are not always the preference as board members look to dynamic, extravagant personalities to lead their companies through crises. The issue with this is that what makes an extrovert attractive to a board does not always have a bearing on performance.
How to get the most out of Extroverts and Introverts?
The vast majority of businesses benefit from a healthy mixture of extro and introverted people.
Extroverts break down barriers and social tensions. They provide an appetite for taking creative risks and can inspire with their bravery. Allowing them an open area to bounce ideas off one another and receive public praise helps to get the most out of them.
Introverts help to ground the creativity and inspiration in reasoning and due diligence. While they may prefer private offices and communication through email or text, they are rarely lacking in internal motivation. They might need to be encouraged to speak up but when they do, you had better be listening.
When it comes to the array of personality types in our workplaces, it’s important as leaders to allow people to play to their strengths.
We are all growing to appreciate the extreme benefits of diversity but that starts with understanding. The best management will understand the motivators and ideal environments for the team around them and know how to leverage them.
Various personality assessments such as the Myers Briggs reveal where on the extroversion / introversion scale your employees lie. By appreciating their natural inclinations, you as the leadership team, are better poised to make the best of their talents and make better decisions for the long term.
To really know if you are getting it right, take a look at your team and take a look at your office. Are they set up in a way that makes the most of their talents? If not, what can you do differently to make a difference to their work lives?