Psychologists have long debated the ‘nature versus nurture’ argument – the struggle between what we’re born with and what we learn – in making sense of how humans behave in the world.
Our inherent features and qualities, including our personalities, come into the world with us, while our behavior – how we act and react – is shaped by our personal experiences.
We are who we are – introvert or extrovert. It’s a wide spectrum, bookended by extremes with most of us falling somewhere in the middle. Those of us with both tendencies are called ambiverts. While our preferences and predispositions are hard wired, understanding ourselves and others goes a long way to helping us operate at our best and ensuring optimal production in the workplace.
We’ve talked a lot about generational stereotypes and biases in the workplace, and come up with ways we can undo these preconceived notions to everyone’s benefit. Biases and stereotypes also exist around personality traits, specifically introvert and extrovert personalities.
The effects of those biases are no less detrimental to a highly functioning team, and its subsequent productivity and engagement than those of ageism or sexism. That’s because anything that negatively affects an employee’s sense of self in relation to the world around him/her – in this case, the workplace – negatively affects the organization itself. What’s inherent in an individual is ultimately inherent in the organization, because the organization functions only as well as its employees.
Introvert vs Extrovert
The conflict between these two personality traits is an unfortunate construct that comes from a lack of understanding of how each operates ideally. We judge the manifestation, often missing the real value each brings to the table. That’s because we live in a culture where people who speak up and first, are more expressive and seen as ‘people’ people are valued and highly regarded in the workplace, while quiet, introspective employees are often overlooked. Employers who don’t learn how to value the personalities of their introverted employees miss out on the contributions this other half of the working population brings to the table.
Introverts and extroverts are different by virtue of what energizes them. Extroverts feed off other people, social situations, lots of stimulation and conversation. Introverts are energized by quiet time alone to think and recharge, small groups of people, less talk and more face-to-face communication. Polar opposites that make up a community of workers.
Extroverts process quickly (if not always completely) before dashing off to the next idea, meeting or group activity. They’re considered natural leaders because they’re gregarious and are generally good public speakers. Their leadership style tends to be positive because they like people. They pick up and feed off the energy in the room and respond to it. Generally, they’re comfortable communicating.
Well known extroverts include Bill Clinton, Steve Jobs, Muhammad Ali and Winston Churchill.
You won’t get a quick response from an introvert, and you don’t want one. That’s because while this person needs time to process, he/she is really multi-tasking – processing and assessing thoroughly while formulating a well thought out, analytical response that often contains a plan. Introverts are great listeners and keen observers, which compliments their leadership style. They value the opinions of others (even if it’s because they’re reticent to share their own), prefer one-to-one communication and, because they’re analytical, they’re well positioned to anticipate problems and come up with solutions. What we’re saying here is that introverts are great leaders as long as their style is valued and understood.
Well known introverts include Ghandi, Hilary Clinton (yes, she is), Bill Gates and Mother Theresa.
This is the rest of us who fall somewhere towards the middle of the spectrum. That is, we share traits common to both categories. While our true natures are what they are, we can bring ourselves more easily and readily towards the opposite personality type and function well within it when required to do so.
Working with an extrovert?
You want to appreciate and respect their independence, offer opinions and let them talk things out. Often, extroverts sound like they’re rambling when really, that’s how they formulate and clarify ideas. These people function best in open workspaces where they can be in the company of colleagues and hold – or run – frequent meetings. Extroverts are motivated by public praise and rewards for a job well done.
Working with an introvert?
Respect their need for privacy and down time. Don’t assume that someone eating lunch alone is shy, lonely or antisocial. They’re probably recharging. Suggest one-on-one, or small group meetings instead of large, back-to-back meetings. Don’t single them out, interrupt, publicly criticize or push them into situations that make them uncomfortable. Give them time to think without demanding an instant response. Introverts appreciate advanced notice - they excel when they have time to prepare or learn new skills at their own speed.
And in conclusion…
If you’re an employer, you want to get to know your employees and how they function so your management style is inclusive, not restrictive, and allows everyone to contribute. Employees would do well to get a better understanding of their own personality traits so they can function alongside and better relate to coworkers.
Remember, we all want the same things from our working lives – we just go about achieving them differently. Good news is we humans are nothing if not able to adapt.
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