When thinking about personalities in the workplace, you might hear the term introvert and immediately assume that person is quiet and shy. Conversely, when you hear the term extrovert, you are likely to believe that person is very outgoing and talkative. It may surprise you to learn that these assumptions aren’t exactly right.
Being extroverted or introverted does not refer to a person’s personality as much as it refers to how they recharge and process information. Introverts typically find alone time the best way to recharge while extroverts derive their energy from spending time with other people.
In this post we will explore the fundamental differences between introverts and extroverts, how they approach work, how they perform at their best, and why each type plays an important role as personalities in the workplace.
What is an introvert?
Introverts might appear to be the quieter type as far as personalities in the workplace go, but not because they don’t have something to say or they lack the confidence to say it. Highly introspective, introverts typically process information and focus on projects best when they are alone or in a quiet space. They need this solitude not only to do their best work, but also to recharge when they’ve been drained of their emotional energy from excessive social interaction. Research shows that introverts have fewer dopamine receptors in their brain than their extroverted counterparts. In short, they need less dopamine – a neurotransmitter associated with the pleasure response – to feel happy. This could very easily explain why they enjoy endeavors that require less external stimulation.
Though introverts might not be the first one to speak up in a crowd, they will offer their valuable feedback under the right circumstances. Introverts feel more comfortable opening up in gatherings of two to three people rather than in larger groups. Most types of introverts take time to observe and reflect before making decisions and joining important discussions. A recent study revealed that introverts actually take more time than extroverts to process information. Once they do speak up, introverts don’t usually say the first thing that pops into their head. They are precise communicators who carefully consider what they want to say. They may appear reserved at first, but can be powerhouses of thought.
Society tends to favor and reward more extroverted personalities -- especially in the workplace, which can oftentimes place introverts at a disadvantage. But it is because of their unique qualities and characteristics that introverts make valuable employees. As keen observers that pay close attention to detail, they are excellent at taking calculated risks. They are known to work well independently and don’t typically require the approval of others or bend to peer pressure. They are viewed as trusted employees who know how to protect confidential information. And, as naturally introspective, self-aware individuals, they are gifted listeners who show more empathy towards others.
INTROVERTS WORK BEST WHEN…
They have sufficient down time.
Be aware of how introverts respond to their environment and that they are prone to overstimulation. They need time to recover and recharge when they’ve spent too much time around other people. Mind those physical and emotional boundaries. Give them their space without interruption. Research shows that over 50% of the population are introverts, even if they feign more extroverted behavior. Let them take a break from social gatherings when they’ve reached their threshold for interaction. Allow them to step away from an open office setting and work from home or at a coffee shop for the day.
They are never put on the spot.
Introverts “thrive when they have adequate time to research and prepare.” Consider writing them an email instead of popping up at their desk unexpectedly. Prepare meetings ahead of time with a written agenda that is shared with the whole team. Everyone (including the introvert) can prepare their thoughts, questions, and feedback without necessarily having to vie for airtime during the meeting. Introverts won’t feel put on the spot when asked to participate and extroverts can be prepared to listen without overtaking the discussion.
Their silence isn’t taken personally.
They aren’t being rude or disinterested, this is just how they internally process information. They may not offer immediate feedback during or after a meeting, especially one with a large group of people. Circle back for the input you’re looking for after they’ve had time to mull it over, and keep in mind they will likely respond better in a one-on-one setting.
Typical careers for introverts:
IT specialist, software or mechanical engineer, accountant, graphic designer, writer, editor, psychologist, content marketing manager, artist
What is an extrovert?
Your extroverted coworker is likely more talkative, outgoing, and enjoys spending time with other people. Extroverted personality types in the workplace thrive in an active social setting, seek out conversation for external processing, and derive their energy from this kind of interaction. Extroverts are great at filling awkward silences, bringing people together, and connecting with others.
A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that extroverts show an advantage in four main categories when it relates to performance in the workplace. In the first, extroverts are seen as having greater motivation to achieve positive, reward-based work goals. They also show a tendency to be happier, regularly experiencing more positive emotions – likely related to higher levels of dopamine receptors in the brain. Extroverts need more dopamine (than introverts) to feel joy or pleasure. This is why they are driven to seek out experiences that will provide that “adrenaline [rush], whose presence causes more dopamine to be released.”
Thirdly, extroverts exhibit strong communication skills. They are more adept in a wide variety of social situations, whether large or small, and are skilled in the art of persuasion – a quality highly regarded in positions of leadership. The fourth advantage draws from the previous three, stating that if extroverted employees are more motivated, happier, and socially adept, they are more likely to perform better on the job.
EXTROVERTS WORK BEST WHEN…
They can externally process.
They need the space and time to talk things out. This is how their best ideas come about. Don’t deny them a sounding board or an environment where they can brainstorm in a group setting and actively engage with others.
They connect with others.
Extroverts don’t just need teammates to work at their best, they also need down time in a social setting. They don’t do well with having too much time alone and are often uncomfortable with extended periods of silence. When extroverts are drained or exhausted, they recharge by spending time with other people that feed them emotionally.
They are staying active.
Extroverts process their environments in regard to reward – that is, they are wired for enthusiasm and the desire to seek out activities which bring them joy. They need stimulation to stay productive and actively engaged. A bored extrovert is likely an unhappy extrovert.
Typical careers for extroverts:
Sales representative, politician, nurse, public relations manager, event planner, lawyer, human resources professional, teacher, flight attendant, actor
At the end of the day, when looking at both introversion and extroversion – and all personalities in the workplace – they must be seen as a spectrum. Extreme cases can be found on either side, but studies show that 70% fall somewhere in the middle. The best takeaway is this: be aware of the personality differences that exist between you and your coworkers, whatever they may be. Do your research, ask questions, and take the time to learn about them as much as yourself.
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