Extroversion vs. Introversion: The importance of personality in the workplace

As employees, we show up to work every day as our whole-selves. We show up with our experiences, passions, drivers and most importantly…our personality.

A lot of research has been done on personality traits in humans, the most famous one being the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). MBTI helps you identify the unique gifts that you bring to all aspects of your life; specifically, understanding your personality preferences. Your personality preferences fall on a spectrum within four dichotomies: extroversion vs. introversion, sensing vs. intuition, thinking vs. feeling and judging vs. perceiving.

Focusing solely on extroversion and introversion, this dichotomy focuses on how people prefer to direct their energy and tactics to recharge.

  • Extroverts gain energy from other people and recharge by being social. An extrovert may feel drained if they are alone for too long.

  • Introverts recharge by spending time alone. They lose energy from being around people for long periods of time, particularly large crowds.

However, many people self identify solely as an extrovert or introvert. According to MBTI, everyone falls along the extroversion/introversion spectrum as we all use both sides of each pair, but one is our natural preference.

In the workplace, communication and collaboration is often easier when we are interacting with others who have the same preferences as we do. Likewise, often we can struggle to understand others who have different preferences which can lead to disagreements and frustration. As leaders, it is our duty to help create spaces within the workplace to let people on all levels of the extroversion/introversion spectrum thrive, especially in our new world of working remotely. We need the strengths and gifts of all types of extroverts and introverts.

Extroversion

For people who prefer extroversion, MBTI suggests that they tend to need a lot of stimulation and prefer to focus their energy outwards through face to face or verbal interaction. Contrary to belief, not all extroverts are talkative or loud. Instead, there are variations of extroverts. Katherine Lucas does an excellent job in her TedTalk, “In defense of extroverts,” outlining the different preferences and types of extroverts. There are those who are agentic extroverts who are thought of as natural-born leaders, driven and ambitious. While there are those who identify as affiliate extroverts, they are sensitive to social situations and are energized through interpersonal relationships and collaboration. Both types of extroverts are critical to the success of an organization as they bring different strengths.

Tips for leading extroverts

  • Enable your colleagues to find the right working style. Encourage extroverts to have working meetings or brainstorming sessions. This allows for those with extroversion tendencies to process their ideas out loud with others.

  • Match communications styles. Extroverts tend to prefer phone or video calls over email.

  • Allow for time within meetings for extroverts to offer up ideas and/or ask questions – let them be a part of the conversation.

  • Hold in-person or virtual team events to foster team relationship building.

  • Be aware of biases towards introverts and coach extroverts accordingly. According to MBTI, due to differences in communication styles, extroverts may think introverts are uninterested or are not forthcoming with all the information needed.

Introversion

MBTI references that those who tend to prefer introversion are drawn inwards and get their energy by internal reflection. According to Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” historically, those with introverted tendencies tend to be overlooked for management positions. However, this is often misguided because introverts bring a lot to the table, their quiet demeanor and need for reflection is a strength. An introvert’s thoughtful approach can unearth new ideas and creativity. In the TedTalk, “The power of introverts,” Susan Cain states that “introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated.”

Tips for leading introverts

  • Enable your colleagues to find the right working style. Encourage them to block off parts of their day where they can take “me time” to re-energize and focus on the work they have at hand. This allows them to critically think about the problem, reflect on it and then provide a solution.

  • Match communications styles. Introverts tend to prefer email and instant messaging instead of phone or video calls.

  • Send out the agenda and request insights, questions and ideas ahead of meetings to provide introverts a space to reflect and share their input as they may not be as inclined to jump in during the meeting.

  • During a meeting, incorporate tools such as anonymous polls and chat panel exercises to increase the likelihood of hearing thoughts from a wide range of participants.

  • Be aware of biases towards extroverts and coach introverts accordingly. According to MBTI, due to differences in communication styles, introverts may think extroverts are inconsistent and unpredictable when they are processing an idea or decision out loud.

No matter where we fall on the spectrum, it is up to us, as leaders, to pivot and create spaces for our colleagues’ personality preferences to shine through. This will result in increased employee satisfaction and a greater likelihood of success for the organization as we develop a more inclusive culture that respects our differences and allows individuals to thrive.