Our lives are shaped as profoundly by personality as by gender or race. And the single most important aspect of personality is where we fall on the introvert – extrovert spectrum.
– Susan Cain
Workplace is society’s miniature. All types of personalities can be found in a crowded open space work setting, sometimes peacefully co-existing and other times lustily interacting. Or, in a few cases, respectfully ignoring each other’s existence and avoiding working together at any cost. Which would be perfectly fine if this was taking place in the actual society where there is from zero to minimum obligation to interact with people you don’t quite match. But in society’s miniature, that’s not what someone would call the key to success.
A closer look might solve the mystery of what brings those employees together or moves them apart and it might be the case that they belong to opposite ends of the social spectrum. If you are an ambivert who acts as an extrovert when surrounded by people but turns into an introvert when alone, or an omnivert who acts as an extrovert in small groups of people but turns into an introvert as the group becomes bigger, then you are safe. You’ll most probably find your way to team-up with the rest of your colleagues in a more or less harmonious way.
But for the opposite ends of the social spectrum, the common admission that opposites attract may not apply to the restless extroverts and the low-key introverts that struggle to find a way to work through their differences and get the job done in a civilized manner.
Before anything else, let’s make something clear. Introverts are not better employees than extroverts. Having said that, extroverts are also not better employees than introverts. Performance has nothing to do with your personality type. It has everything to do with the extent to which the working environment acknowledges your personality features and incorporates them to the job design in a way that keeps you comfortable, motivated and high-performing.
Here are a couple of their most fundamental differences and a few suggestions on how they could be moderated to keep a team on top of its game:
Extroverts are sociable, enthusiastic and action-oriented employees. Introverts, in turn, are more reserved, calm and detail-oriented. Consequently, extroverts thrive when they are given the opportunity to be around people while introverts prefer a more isolated way of working and being interrupted while doing so can stress them out and disorient them. It comes as no surprise that extroverts prefer to start their day with socializing and networking while introverts long for some alone time that will let them get organized and ease into their workday. An effective solution to this end might be a more flexible desk policy. Instead of randomly allocating the team members in the office setting, invest in a more strategic and mindful approach that will encourage them to pick their own desks. You’ll be staggered to see introverts naturally moving towards the more isolated, hidden corners of the office while the extroverts will go directly to the most visible, crowded parts.
The difference is in this area is that introverts need to think things through before sharing them with the world while extroverts are perfectly comfortable with thinking out loud even on the very early stage of brainstorming. Underestimating this imbalance and letting it evolve naturally may lead to introverts being side-lined by extroverts who steal everyone else’s thunder. An effective approach is to be proactive with the introverts and give them time to prepare and ease their anxiety. As they feel more comfortable with one-to-one meetings, invest in an active communication channel including mailing, instant messaging or short regular meetings to make sure their ideas and feedback is heard. At the same time, being assertive and asking questions can be a very effective way to work with the extroverts who feel quite comfortable introducing themselves to new people and presenting their ideas in front of a big audience. That way they will stay both motivated and on track.
Moral of the Story
Embracing diversity applies to all aspects of life and personality is not an exception. Strong leadership is about achieving a deeper understanding of different personality types and an honest effort to work with both their strengths and their weaknesses rather than trying to convert introverts into extroverts and vice versa. Ultimately, as it applies to all opposites, introvert and extrovert personalities are mutually complementary and each one’s strengths is the other one’s weaknesses. Finding effective ways to make them work together in a climate of acceptance, respect and trust can skyrocket productivity and encourage healthier relationships among the employees. Plus, it may help to avoid some unnecessary drama. After all, they don’t contemn each other, they just don’t understand each other.