Managing introverts and extroverts in the workplace

Friday April 16, 2021

They may not be as noticeable as other characteristics such as age, sex or race, but understanding personality traits is an important part of creating an effective team. As with other forms of diversity, blending different personality types successfully into your business can give you a competitive advantage, not to mention enhance your workplace culture.

Personality has many facets, but one somewhat binary example to consider is whether each employee is an introvert or an extrovert. There is actually a spectrum of extroversion and many people may appear in the middle as they have adapted to their place in the world – they still probably recognise themselves as being more comfortable as an introvert or extrovert though. Understanding this could help you take your team to the next level.

If your team does clash more than you’d like, or seems to be missing some spark, it may be time to explore personality types and modify your management.

How extroverts work and communicate in the workplace

Extroverts get their energy from other people. They thrive on social contact, moving around, talking to people, being vocal in meetings, thinking on the fly, multi-tasking, making quick decisions and articulating their thoughts as they go along.

In this sense, many workplaces of the 21st century are optimised for extroverts. They are typically open-plan, attention is granted to them in meetings because they’ll always speak up, and their energy is associated with leadership.

There is an element of generalisation in the above synopsis, of course, just as there is in negative traits associated with being an extrovert; traits such as impulsiveness and dismissing, or not listening to, the views of quieter colleagues.

How introverts work and communicate in the workplace

Speaking generally again, introverts prefer the quiet. They work better alone or in small groups and like to focus on one task at a time. They are more likely to reflect on questions asked of them, taking time to formulate their answers.

As the modern workplace often appears to suit extroverts, it may be that introverts in your business have adapted their behaviour to fit in. If so, this may be taking an emotional toll on them that goes unseen, because they mask it until they are home behind closed doors (or off screen during these lockdowns).

Introverts may come across as being low energy, devoid of ideas and poor in making decisions. Such pigeon-holing is not helpful or accurate though – good understanding and management can get the best out of talented introverts.

Top tips for managing extroverts and introverts

You can probably tell who’s who in your business, and there is nothing like open conversations with people to find out how they prefer to work. That said, you can have a bit of fun in this area, engaging Myers-Briggs profiling and organising workshops – on communication styles for instance. These team-building activities could bring a bit of formal understanding to the issues.

However you decide to recognise the personality traits of your team, here are some top tips for ongoing management:

Design meetings with introverts in mind – By sharing your agenda with the introverts in your team in advance and asking where you would like their input, you cater to their need to plan and give thoughtful answers to the questions at hand. Another idea is to ask for written responses during meetings on post-it notes which are then shared on a whiteboard, rather than oral responses in which the voices of extroverts will often be heard loudest.

Coach your extroverts to listen to the introverts – This is not about criticising the behaviour of your extroverts, but rather asking them to actively include the introverts in discussion, drawing out their ideas. Your extroverts still get the buzz of interaction, whilst making it easier for introverts to participate.

Make sure your workplace works for extroverts and introverts – We observed that the long-term trend for workplaces was to go open-plan and that this favours extroverts. If this reflects your workspace, consider small design changes next time you have the opportunity. These could be calm zones like quiet carriages on trains, or cubby hole type places to which people can take themselves off to concentrate or recharge their batteries.

Introverts and extroverts in lockdown

All of the above needs an appropriate spin given that many businesses have had staff working remotely or furloughed for many months. It was thought that extroverts would struggle more from this change, given their desire for social contact. However, US researchers are finding the opposite is true: extroverts are less likely to suffer mental health issues because of lockdown. One of the reasons cited is that they are more adept at building social networks, even if these are virtual.

Further assistance

If you would like some independent expert help in exploring how you can set up your business to get the most out of both introverts and extroverts, contact your local HR Dept office. We can help you champion a culture of inclusivity, allowing everyone to shine whilst being themselves at work.

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