Extroverts and Introverts – they can both thrive in your workplace.

I worked out not too long ago I fall into the extroverted introvert category, which may come as a surprise to many. I thrive one on one but put me in a group social and/or work situation and my anxiety sky rockets and often I make a run for it. If I don’t manage to escape it is extremely energy draining for me. I tend to come home after work and really need my space and quiet to get back to normal, which can be tricky when you live with a partner/friends/family. Even I didn’t understand this for a while but now I have established what works for me and how I can add value in a workplace situation despite the drawbacks as a result of this trait, plus I know how to set up my day to balance it out.

Interestingly scientists now define introverts and extroverts more by their reaction to rewards. Introverts “are not necessarily turned inward; rather, they are less engaged, motivated, and energised by the possibilities for reward that surround them. Hence, they talk less, are less driven, and experience less enthusiasm.” Interestingly, for extroverts that reward is social attention and this can be linked to money, power and personal alliances. Seemingly extroverts have just developed a “high-intensity strategy for gaining social attention”.

If you think about it, from an early age extroverts tend to be more rewarded than introverts. If you actively participated in class by raising your hand you were rewarded. If you were good at making friends and playing in a group as a kid you were perceived as having great social skills, unlike children that preferred playing solo. It’s really important that introverts find their place in a workforce and that as a people leader in particular you integrate them into the team where they fit best. A study at the University of Northern California showed 96% of managers and executives showed extroverted characteristics. But another study by Harvard and Stanford showed introverted executives make better leaders, so let’s give them both the best chance of success.

TIPS FOR LEADERS WITH INTROVERTED TEAM MEMBERS:

Ask for their opinion

Often an introvert won’t volunteer their opinion in meetings but if you ask them their feeling/opinion when you know it’s something they have an opinion on, or you know they have something valuable to add, then you can see them thrive. If you have a particular problem you want their help on, go ask them – they will appreciate it. I know from personal experience this worked really well for me. I was often reluctant to talk in meetings but if it was something I was passionate about, my boss was great at sensing that and asking me and at this point I found my ability to speak eloquently about a topic, even though I had been terrified at the thought.

Check your volume

You might think you are speaking at a normal level, but even so, for most introverts you probably sound loud! Not only this but the body language of extroverts tends to get them noticed as soon as they enter a room – pace at which they walk and physical gestures tend to be more noticeable. Maybe just try and bring it down a notch and become a little more aware.

Meet one on one

Introverts can be intimidated by a group scenario so it’s important to organise one on ones. A lot of introverts won’t volunteer discussions around topics that they are finding tricky or if it is about conflict, so ask the question as it is a means of granting them permission to discuss the tough stuff with you.

Listen as well as talk

This can be tricky, especially for extroverts. They love a good yarn and each story can take a while to get to the point. I think this can be a lot to do with the way they speak as they think, rather than slowing down and taking the time to think first, then speak. Try to LISTEN more than you talk. If you consciously aim to do this, it enables other people to get their point across so you don’t dominate every discussion. Even if this means you lose track of your next point, a great test is to listen, repeat back the point they made to confirm you interpreted it as they meant it, then continue to your point.

Give them time

Introverts analyse and think about ideas before discussing it so expect that they may need a bit more time than an extrovert at coming to a conclusion. Quick thinking is often rewarded and an extrovert may interpret a slower response as procrastination but actually an introvert may be able to bring you a deeper analysis and conclusion as they give the time to weigh up all the information before they come to an outcome.

Keep an open mind

We have a habit of taking this personally even if things aren’t aimed at you. If someone seems less responsive and looking to remove themselves from the room/conversation, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you or are seeking to ignore you. Introverts can need space and a little more time when building new relationships. Just keep an open mind and don’t make assumptions too early on, as you may well have it wrong.

TIPS FOR LEADERS WITH EXTROVERTED TEAM MEMBERS:

Be assertive

It is important as a leader to enable the whole team to contribute and sometimes extroverts can take the spotlight a bit too much, so you might need to be firm at times to ensure this occurs. They don’t often realise they are doing it either, so at times you might have to interrupt, or guide the conversation away from them and on to others

Ask them questions

Extroverts like to talk things through to come to a conclusion. But often they start talking before they have a finished thought, so asking questions can be useful to help them think through the problem they are trying to solve. (Note, an introvert could be great for this as they tend to absorb information well, think things through deeply then ask a great question that can manoeuvre the conversation back on track).

Let them speak

Whilst of course at times the might need to be quietened for the benefit of the team, it’s also important to support the energy that they command as they like to bounce ideas off others and talk, so it’s where you will get the best out of them. Give them opportunities that allow them to interact with others and thrive.

Why introverts are valuable in your team:

They are great at observing.

This can be really useful – if you want to know how good your leadership is, or find out things about the workplace you may not have noticed, ask an introvert (Obviously don’t take advantage of this by creating a perception of the introvert as being the tell tale within the team either).

An introvert needs less external reinforcement

This is also really interesting. I get so much satisfaction from knowing I have worked my butt off, and have been successful in achieving a goal or a target but I hate being rewarded by an employer in the form of speeches, prizes etc. because of the attention this brings on a group level. So as a leader, you don’t need to rely on those types of rewards to motivate an introvert.

They acquire fewer but deeper friendships/relationships

It tends to be the case that extroverts have numerous people they call friends but an introvert might just have a handful but they really cherish and value those few friends creating a deeper sense of loyalty and emotional intimacy. This can be applied in a work environment.

They are often self-starters

Interestingly because they have often already analysed a situation or task they tend not to need so much support at the start of projects/tasks. They have often already worked out how they will go about it. It is, however, important to note that although you might not feel as needed by them as a leader, it is wise to check in as they might also not pipe up as readily as an extrovert when they do need help.

They don’t seek as much approval from others

They tend to be less pressurised from those around them to cave in to a different decision if they have already come to their own conclusion. They take on board others thoughts/feedback but will still come to their own conclusion after analysing the situation.

Why Extroverts are valuable in your team:

They are great at expressing ideas

When you are starting a company, creating a new product for example, it is down to the people creating it that ensures its success. You need effective communication to help market and create visibility and here, often an extrovert will excel. If you look at a service based idea without a tangible product to showcase, you need to sell the concept to your potential customers – this is where an extrovert might do best.

They can energise a team and create engagement

An extrovert can be great for keeping a team motivated when it comes down to execution. Their energy can strengthen the team at crunch time and this is highly useful in highly pressured environments.

You can send them to networking events

Extroverts would be the ones to send to networking events and and seminars as they will tend to be better at selling to a potential customer, or having the confidence in a large networking event to engage and participate – they tend to be a bit more comfortable with the casual conversations required at such events.

They can be great at teamwork

Extroverts tend to be more comfortable in groups, unlike introverts which can be helpful in a team situation. Studies have shown when a team is in agreement on their goals, an extrovert is a great asset.

TIPS FOR THE INTROVERTS:

  • Plan quiet time

Often an introvert performing extraversion, like seeming energised in interactions with others, comes at price. This takes a lot of your energy. So, you need to help yourself out by factoring in time to decompress after such an event. Know the events that diminish your energy and make sure you have scheduled appropriate time around it to work alone and limit time in loud meetings and collaborative discussions on that day.

  • Educate your employers/colleagues on how best to deal with your introversion in meetings.

I had this happen on so many occasions and I waited too long to share with my boss/colleagues and it resulted in a major panic attack that lead to some serious health repercussions. If only I had done this sooner! You need to communicate with your team on how best to deal with it. You don’t deal so well with being put on the spot, but often this happens in an extroversion-orientated office environment. On the flip side you can also help yourself by preparing for meetings ahead of the game – do your best to anticipate and plan beforehand, so you stress less in the meeting if someone asks you to comment.

  • Be aware of stress signals

Interestingly, when put under stress an introvert will often revert to an extreme form of their preferred behaviour i.e. withdraw. But what can happen under extreme stress is an uncharacteristic reaction, the opposite of their normal behaviour – this happens if stress isn’t resolved and goes on too long. It tends to be an immature reaction such as an outburst, or highly emotionally charged behaviour. If you notice this happening, take time for breaks throughout the day to reflect on your thoughts and and feelings and this will in turn help regulate your stress levels.

  • Keep an awareness of your colleagues stress indicators

Remember that the same stress signals that apply to you can apply to your colleagues, and come out in similar ways. Just keep an eye on it as if things go on for too long, they also might end up internalising it and it becomes harder to read and recognise.

  • Get to know your coworkers

Sometimes introverts can come across as unfriendly as they are less inclined to small talk and often work better independently. Often though introverts love spending time with others but just on their own terms. Whilst an extrovert may thrive in the group work outings, you might be better one on one. So schedule some of that time in with your colleagues so you can get to know them in an environment that you are comfortable in.

  • Get out of your comfort zone

Unfortunately, although you might not want to hear it, you do need to get more comfortable with speaking up and presenting if you want to progress in your career down certain paths (not all). If this is the case, you need to get more used to public speaking so you can get your point across, or give an important presentation. Toastmasters is a great one and although you may never be totally comfortable, it will be noticeably easier nonetheless.

  • Choose the right job for you!

There is no job that solely includes or excludes extroverts or introverts. But, if you are in a sales environment and aren’t comfortable with certain aspects of the role, work out what you thrive in and what you don’t and talk to your employers to see if the role can be adapted to suit your strengths rather than your weaknesses.

And just remember….

Situations demand different things. Interestingly studies showed extroverts energised groups that were already in agreement. But if you throw them into a conflicted team, it can cause more conflict. This can be due to their style of sharing opinions seeming domineering and aggressive. Ambiverts, a blend of both, might be the best trait (remember personality traits sit on a spectrum, there are not just either extreme). If you can know when to flex your extroversion but also when to take alone time to reenergise, you might be on to something. I am somewhat lucky because I am extremely self aware, and although I hadn’t known there was a name for it, I was able to identify a while ago where I thrived and where I didn’t. It’s just the introvert part of me didn’t necessarily speak up to others in time for them to understand before it had implications (i.e. my anxiety and panic attacks).

Hopefully this article may help you to realise where you sit on the spectrum and make some useful adjustments in the workplace to enable you and your team to optimise your performance. It’s important to realise that there may be different methods of working needed for different personality traits. Introverted workers might not always benefit from a team working approach and may need some space and time to create their own ideas, which is the opposite to an extrovert that thrives off social interaction to bounce ideas of others.

Below are a few links that might help you as a team leader:

  1. Cain’s Ted Talk on introverts
  2. Great questions you can ask an employer to gain a better understanding of your team
  3. Ashton, M. C., Lee, K., & Paunonen, S. V. (2002). What is the central feature of extraversion? Social attention versus reward sensitivity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(1), 245–252.