Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you probably already know that there’s a difference when working with introverts and extroverts. For cave-dwellers, here’s a quick recap:
Remember that these terms aren’t a way to label or stereotype people. In fact, “true” introverts and extroverts are rare. Instead, think of introversion and extroversion as a spectrum, with some being more (or less) introverted/extroverted.
How These Traits Affect the Workplace
A person’s place along the introvert-extrovert spectrum contributes to workplace culture, and you know how important workplace culture is. (I’ve devoted a whole chapter to it in my new book, You Got That P.h.D.?)
Maybe you’re not yet convinced of the importance of recognizing introverts/extroverts or of workplace culture. That’s fine. I understand that some of you need a bit more convincing! Here’s a few quotes on the topic by some experts:
- Nick Arvanitis, the Head of Workplace Research and Resources at Beyond Blue explains, “The root of stress for a worker lies in feeling as though their core skills do not match the working situation. That’s why it’s imperative to match skills, personality and working style appropriately with tasks.”
- Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, writes that extroverts and introverts take “dramatically different approaches to work and social processes.”
- Erin Wortham, People Engagement Manager at Insights, writes, “Working together … [is] about recognizing that people have different interpersonal preferences, and if you take time to identify and recognize them and are willing to adjust your communication styles to better connect with others, you will be on the way to a healthier and more productive workplace.”
Sources of Potential Conflict
Just by looking over the introvert/extrovert “recap” at the start of this blog post, you can see a few ways in which introverts and extroverts might step on each other’s toes:
- Introverts prefer quiet work areas to enhance their focusing ability. Constant noise and frequent interruptions drain their energy.
- Extroverts needs to see and hear a hum of activity in order to get their “juices flowing.” To them, the quiet place that introverts prefer feels depressing and stagnant.
In the office, provide a mixture of private and open concept workspaces. If you’re not already doing it and the job requirements support it, allow workers to work from home according to their preferences.
- Extroverts are in their element when speaking in front of large groups. Although most of us have some public speaking anxiety, extroverts are much better than introverts in masking it. In a meeting, they might view the quiet introvert as deliberately holding back.
- Probably an introvert’s worst fear is being called on unprepared to comment or “make a short speech.” Although they have just as much knowledge as their extrovert co-workers, it’s more difficult for them to assemble their information into a smooth verbal presentation if they haven’t had time to prepare. In meetings, they are often quiet and prefer to listen, letting their extrovert co-workers run the show.
Keep meetings small whenever possible. If a large meeting is truly necessary, think ahead to the information or feedback you need and alert everyone ahead of time so they can prepare. This is also important for brainstorming sessions; have participants jot down ideas in advance and bring them to the meeting instead of expecting everyone to blurt out their ideas on-the-spot.
- Extroverts like to “think out loud” and don’t see anything wrong with just stopping by someone’s desk or calling them on the phone to run things by them.
- Introverts like to handle their communication more subtly via text messaging, emailing, and IMing.
This area is a bit more delicate and not entirely within your control. It’s not reasonable to ask employees to only communicate in person or by phone or only use digital communication. However, what you can do is make sure all of your employees are aware of each other’s communication preferences:
- Encourage them to take the Myers-Briggs test to help foster tolerance and understanding.
- Ask them to post their preferred methods of communication where others can either see it or access it (perhaps via the employee directory).
You can also consider whether it would benefit your employees to have one or two blocks of “quiet-time” (i.e., no-interruptions) during the day to encourage deeply focused work.
To Sum It Up…
It’s not possible to avoid all conflict at work, but I believe awareness and some tweaks here and there can help prevent misunderstandings from growing into deep-seated resentment. I hope this information helps to reduce the drama at work and increase productivity!