Why Introversion and Extroversion Do Not Make or Break the Job
There has been much navel gazing in the professional staffing and job interviewing communities lately about how introverts can function in a high-pressure office or how to care and feed an extrovert boss and other similar pop psychology pablum. In practice, serious-minded managers and company owners understand that while where a worker falls on the introversion-extroversion spectrum will have some effect on her functioning in the workplace, they also know that this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around. It’s a job and people are being paid to do theirs.
Talkin Cloud reached out to reality-based business thought leaders and on-the-ground supervisors to get the real deal on how they get introverts and extroverts to leverage their individual personalities and come together as a cohesive team. Obviously, because the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Teams of Many Personalities Stave off Groupthink
Strategically, the best teams comprise a variety of personalities, working styles and introversion-extroversion tendencies, according to experts. They feel that the reverse is also true: the worst teams consist of only a few—or even one—personality types, which can lead to poor decision-making processes and outcomes not even noticeable to the participants until dire consequences result, such as what happened to Enron, WorldCom and Tyco International.
“When too many members of the group are similar—too many extroverts or introverts—you create a condition called ‘homogenous group’ which can lead to groupthink,” says Elizabeth Minei, Ph.D., CEO EMinei Consulting, consulting on team dynamics, and assistant professor, group communication and managerial communication, Baruch College. “Groupthink is the tendency for groups to reach consensus too quickly and as a result, implement bad decisions, which create long-term problems. The trick is to diversify but also establish a comfortable understanding of each team member’s preferences of communication, expectations and ways of working.”
To stave off groupthink Minei recommends establishing a static set of organizing ground rules at the beginning of any new task group (e.g., meetings on Thursdays; group will organize through Google Docs). Because establishing expectations will make group day-to-day processes better. For example, in brainstorming exercises, which can lead to conflicts, extroverts enjoy the free-flowing, social exchange of ideas, whereas introverts feel put on the spot and struggle with spontaneity, according to Minei. In that case, consider partnerships where introverts concentrate on researching brainstorming topics and extroverts present the findings, playing to the natural strength of each. Some company founders concur.
“I once belonged to a Vistage group that had a high-priced consultant give us a test that placed us on the introvert-extrovert, thinking-feeling spectrum,” says William Gadea, creative director and founder, IdeaRocket LLC, provider of animated video for businesses. “I learned that I was a thinking introvert. Where he really whiffed was in his prescription. He said that in the workplace we should learn each other’s type and give each other the kind of interaction we preferred. That just rung false to me. Diversity of personality is not a liability, it’s a strength in an organization.”
Listen: It’s not all About Personality
In truth, introversion and extroversion are not fixed stars in the constellation of the mind. People can move dynamically from one end of the spectrum to the other as the social situation changes or the pressure to act differently ebbs and flows. And typing people is a disservice to individuality and science, according to Marian Thier, president, Expanding Thought, Inc., executive coaching and leadership consulting. After two years of research, which included with neuroscientists, she came to the conclusion that the mode in which workers talk and listen has a much stronger correlation to success at work than other factors.
“My findings pointed to communication: the degree to which an individual interacts clearly, frequently and openly with others,” Thier says. “Digging down, evidence pointed to how well, how often and in what ways someone listens. People who were good listeners did well, and those who did not, failed to succeed.”
But not all good listeners are alike, they fall into categories, none of which are attributed to introversion or extroversion, according to Thier. And in a nod to introverted tendencies, some listeners do spend more time gathering information and thinking internally before responding, while others potentially more extroverted expand quickly on what they hear, but those patterns can change when listening requirements change.
“For example, a project engineer in a product review session asked a lot of questions and took notes before offering a well-considered analysis,” Thier says. “That same person, when meeting with a marketing specialist, provided ideas about how to translate technical aspects of the product to language the customer could grasp. The context determined the person’s behavior—not introversion or extroversion.”
The Team Versus the Boss
Many times managers run the recruitment experience process to find new hires that check references to their own personalities. But the truth is these bosses should be thinking of a framework for their teams to achieve success.
“How do you serve the team—not the boss—the team?” asks Dr. Janice Presser, CEO, Teamability.com and The Gabriel Institute. “Consider the team itself as a living, breathing thing. It has needs. And if the people are meeting those needs, the results will be what you want. The living team does not care what you look like, when or if you graduated or if you’re extroverted or introverted. It does care that you’re making meaningful contributions. It cares that you can handle pressures and demands of the team. And it cares you can get outside yourself and be completely responsive to the team. This is where team chemistry and collaborative culture come from.”
Perhaps, part of the answer is to create a structure within which the individual team members will operate. Something more elemental and not so subject to the vagaries of human nature. For example, Presser served as the architect of Teamability, which she describes as an “operating system” of teamwork. “It nails how people team together because it’s based in physics and systems theory—not psychology,” she says.
According to Presser, even without a teamwork operating system, four key tips can minimize personality conflicts and maximize collaboration:
- Make sure your work aligns with the way you make your most meaningful contributions
- Verify to see that the team is having all its needs met, because if not, you’ll be forced to do something you don’t like and aren’t good at
- Connect with people who do well what you don’t, because team needs are best met when someone starts and someone else finishes
- Respect, appreciate and communicate with teammates using language that aligns with each person who serves the team
It’s up to Management to Tap Everyone’s Potential
In the end, it’s up to management to tap everyone’s potential and make the most of their skills for the benefit of the company. For example, even though the shy or quiet employee (i.e., introverted worker) may not speak her mind freely in team meetings does not mean she cannot or is unwilling to contribute insights that could be key to updating problematic corporate policies to inspiring innovation to finding new growth opportunity.
“It is important to play to a shy employees’ strengths; you should take the time to get to know more about their personalities and understand why they are shy,” says Steve Pritchard, HR consultant with UK mobile carrier giffgaff. “With shy employees, the real key to helping them come out of their shells is to spend time developing friendly and relaxed relationships with them. Ask the quiet team members for their opinions—they probably won’t volunteer it otherwise. In time, they will come to expect that you are going to ask for their input, which should encourage them to speak unprompted.”
But merely encouraging the introverted to contribute may not be enough. Managers may need to take active steps to curtail the natural proclivities of the extroverted to monopolize team discussions and other group interactions. Part of this “action” may be cowing a manager’s unconscious reinforcement of an extrovert’s feedback loop.
“How are you creating a conducive environment for those more shy?” asks Bruce Cameron, licensed counselor and executive coach, Concierge Coach. How are you using extinguishment to discourage over-the-top behavior that disrupts the smooth functioning workplace?”
Cameron recommends placing folks on teams and into roles that match their personality. He feels that it takes careful consideration but is worth it in the long run.
“Have introverts do tasks off to the side and turn them into a relay person they get along with; the extroverts can do their thing in the group forum,” Cameron says. “Be fair as a boss. Both styles recognize fair play. Don’t take sides or show preferential treatment. Use separate motivators for each style of employee.”
Also realize these roles aren’t absolutes. Such as in off-work, personnel-related activities, the entire spectrum can be turned on its head, like a in a snowball fight or something similar. The pecking order reverses itself, and the meek shall inherit the earth.
“Sometimes you will see the introversion-extroversion stuff get messed up,” says Perry Oostdam, cofounder and CEO, Recruitee, a modern platform for hiring teams. “One time when we were playing paintball, I saw the ‘extroverts’ keep hiding in corners while the ‘introverts’ went on a rampage throughout the entire game. Take those personality tests with a grain of salt.”
Emphasize Work Styles not Personalities to Get Stuff Done
Part of the problem with managers and workers realizing whether introverts or extroverts are more effective and/or efficient workers lies not in their apparent sociability but to underlying work styles. According to emerging research in this area, any arbitrary task can be performed equally well by an introvert or an extrovert, it’s more a question of which one’s work style gives them the most inner motivation.
Specifically, psychologist/psychometrician Michael Sturm looked at personality assessments in terms of inputs and outputs based on neural pathway efficiency, believing that inputs should address issues externally observable and repeatable. In his view, personality is highly context-sensitive, where in some situations people may be introverted, but not in others.
“Sturm’s research concludes that personality does not determine how well a group of people work together or an individual can work in a certain setting,” says Karen Gordon, CEO, 5 Dynamics, experts in neuroscientific team collaboration. “An introvert and extrovert can execute the same projects with the same competency, but neural pathways aren’t about what you can and can’t do—it’s about what you have energy to do. For this reason, Sturm used cognitive and behavioral theory, rather than personality, to design the 5 Dynamics assessment.”
So with employers properly assessing employees, they can understand their natural working styles and energies, not personalities, to work together more effectively, while simultaneously avoiding burnout, maintaining satisfaction at work and mitigating conflict scenarios, according to Gordon.