When people talk about diversity in the workplace, they often mean a better balance between men and women, employees of different ages and diverse cultural background. But it just as important to have right balance between extravert and introverted personalities.
Personalities come in all different forms. Some people have loud, outgoing and socially confident personalities whilst others have quieter, shier and more independent personalities. It is quick to assume those who are quieter are introverts and those who are louder are extroverts but this assumption undermines the idea of personality and the notion that we all fit on a spectrum.
As Carl Jung famously said “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.” Therefore there is a little introvert in all of us as well as a little extrovert. Some people tend to exert certain characteristics more than others. And neither one is better than the other.
But, generally speaking, what is an introvert and what is an extrovert?
The Oxford Dictionary defines an introvert as “a person predominantly concerned with their own thoughts and feelings rather than with external things” and an extrovert as someone preoccupied with “external things or objective considerations.”
However, whether you’re a shy, reticent person or an outgoing, socially confident person such a rudimentary explanation doesn’t fully do justice to these personality types. There is more to it than that. Essentially, it can be simply put by asking the question: how do you recharge? Do you recharge by being alone or in a group of people. But what can we learn from each type? Well, quite a lot.
What can we learn from extroverts and introverts?
They’re complex. You can be introverted but not shy like one of the world’s richest men, Bill Gates or conversely you can be an extrovert who is shy like singer Barbara Streisand. Susan Cain in her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts, details how shyness and introversion are not the same thing. They do overlap, though. But in life we need both. Extroverts with their boundless energies and introverts with their introspection.
Introverts tend to get energy from being alone which is why in the context of the workplace, they may prefer to work in a closed space – this is when you can get the most out of an introvert. Give them their alone time and they will come to you with their own thoughts and findings. Cain also notes in her book that the world at large favours extroverts and this can not only be damaging on a business level but also on a global scale.
If you think back to twenty years ago, children would work at their desks quite autonomously. Likewise with cubicles in the workplace. However this trend has changed over the years. The preference for extroversion has meant children now work in pods, staring at one another and offices have become places of open space and persistent buzz. Companies such as Google have pioneered the open plan office, however, their generous flexible working policies aim to help various types of employee. A work culture that focuses on employee well-being and understands how best people work will often reap the rewards. The constant need for brainstorming and collective thinking can be a massive hindrance for introverts and in the long run could have a negative impact on the business. Whilst useful in some instances, the introvert does not work well in this manner.
The extrovert however thrives in shared spaces with daily meetings and open door policies. They were made for the open office concept. This is great because in general extroverts want to participate and be heard. Think team building exercises, staff parties and group thinking. These things energise and engage the extrovert. Conversely, introverts prefer smaller groups, one on one meetings, flexible working policies (sometimes they need to have days working independently).
How to manage both types?
It might seem like the solution is segregation but in fact when you bring introverts and extroverts together, magical things can happen. Steve Wozniak, an introvert, invented the first Apple computer whilst alone in his garage but when he joined with famous extrovert Steve Jobs, they created one of the world’s most well-known and recognisable companies.
Businesses can gain a lot if they champion both types of personalities and ensure that employees are happy and looked after. Indeed, extroverts can bring in clients and customers and encourage enthusiasm from those around them yet it is the introverts who push the business forward with their insights and deep expertise.
Understandably it’s hard to be an introvert in an extroverted world but for real progress to happen, introverts should ask for what they need from the business in order to really thrive. Either personality type is tenacious in their own way, businesses need to learn how to adapt to different work styles because after all, everyone is different. And it’s within that difference that success can really be found.