When asked, many extroverts describe introverts as being shy, unsocial or downright rude. Introverts, by that same token, describe extroverts as loud, aggressive and domineering. Each group casts the other in a negative light, rather than embracing and learning from their differences. The way to value one personality type is not to devalue the other. An introvert’s need for quiet, or an extrovert’s need for interaction, are not flaws. Instead of vilifying personality types that differ from our own, we should embrace these differences as the yin to our personality’s yang. Although introverts and extroverts seem like two very disparate types of people, learning to work together and appreciate each other’s best qualities will lead to a much happier work environment for all.
Understanding the Difference
The best way to begin to understand the unique strengths of introverts and extroverts alike is to examine the science. The terms Introversion and Extraversion were popularized by psychologist Carl Jung, and are now commonly viewed as the opposite ends of a single continuum. While some people fall directly in middle of the spectrum – which is referred to as ambiversion and is arguably the best of both worlds – the majority of the population would categorize themselves as either having more predominantly introverted or extroverted traits.
The main difference between introverts and extroverts is how they use energy. As Susan Cain writes in her book Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, “Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.” Introverts feel most alive and capable when they are in low-key environments and are easily over-stimulated, whereas extroverts feed off of social interaction and require more stimulation from the world to keep them feeling alert and awake.
An introvert can adopt extroverted qualities for tasks or people they are truly passionate about, but these acts will inevitably drain an introvert of energy that can only be replenished through solitude. Similarly, extroverts can find great benefit in self-reflection and independent work, but will eventually require human interaction to restore their energy supply. While it can prove beneficial for both introverts and extroverts to push beyond their individual comfort zones, it is also extremely important to remember that their energy is drawn from very different places.
Western society tends to favor a man of action over a man of contemplation. The migration of people from smaller agricultural towns to the big city during the 20th Century created a culture of personality, as individuals needed to prove themselves to strangers. Charisma became the most sought after trait, and exceptional salesmen were viewed as role models within society. Social skills and teamwork will always be vitally important in business, but more freedom must be given to all personality types to be who they truly are. Since introversion and extraversion is a spectrum, we need to find more of a balance between these types, especially as it relates to creativity and productivity.
Schools and workplaces are designed to cater to extroverts and their need for large amounts of stimulation, as is evident in the trend towards open plan offices. At least 1/3 to 1/2 of the world’s population are introverts, so finding a new way to allow all personalities to flourish in their ideal environments is critical. For example, if an introvert is spending all of their time and energy working in a group setting and trying to be more outgoing, they may not have the opportunity to find unique solutions to problems in their own time. By that same token, if an extrovert is made to stay in their office all day, they might not have the interactions needed to spark a new idea and keep them productive.
Collaboration among colleagues is important, but solitude matters. For about half of the population, solitude is absolutely essential. The trend of constant group work needs to come to an end. Studies have shown that groups begin to mirror the opinions of the most dominant person in the room, regardless of the quality of their ideas. Susan Cain has said, “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.” Ideas should be generated separately and then discussed as a team in a well managed environment, giving both introverts and extroverts a chance to shine. The ideal combination is an office that provides autonomy and privacy, while also encouraging spontaneous chatter and casual interaction.
A common misconception about introverts is that they are shy. Shyness is about fear of social judgement and is emotionally painful. Introversion is simply a matter of how people respond to stimulation. While many introverts loathe small talk, they enjoy engaging in deep conversations, especially in a one-on-one environment. Extroverts love to talk, so it’s easy to assume that interacting with large groups of people would be a snap for them. However, their desire to talk can sometimes overshadow their ability to listen and make valuable connections. When it comes to networking, introverts and extroverts can learn from each other to improve their own skills.
Large gatherings are not necessarily an ideal environment for networking. When introverts encounter a crowd of people they can easily become overwhelmed due to the large amount of stimulation, and will instinctively seek out a quiet space. When extroverts encounter a crowd of people, they can become so energized that their social nature will prohibit them from stopping long enough to have a meaningful conversation with any one person. Smaller groups will put an introvert at ease, and focus an extrovert’s energy. Emphasizing the quality of interactions rather than the quantity will allow for meaningful and memorable conversations to be had, and true connections to be formed.
Before going into any networking setting, be sure to prepare. Introverts dislike surprises and think inside their heads, so taking time before a networking event to plan an introduction and some topics of conversation is crucial. Extroverts love impromptu conversation and tend to think out loud, but taking the time to prepare some valuable questions ahead of a business gathering can prove equally beneficial. This will ensure any lulls in conversation can be filled with a thoughtful question or comment, rather than prompting an introvert to shut down or an extrovert to fill the silence with empty words. If an introvert consciously prepares to say more, and an extrovert decides to ask more questions and listen more, increased success will be derived from networking.
Introverts and extroverts can seem like polar opposites, from how they communicate to what they like to do on a Saturday night. They derive their energy from very different places, but should be looked at as the true compliment of the other. By taking the time to understand and recognize our differing personality types, we can begin to work to highlight each other’s strength and diminish our weaknesses.
Nothing new would ever be created if we were all the same. As author E.E. Cummings said, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you a really are.” This is as relevant to your work life as it is to your personal life. So, let’s all be courageous and embrace our own uniqueness, along with the uniqueness of others. Be happy with who you are, and stop focusing on what you “should” be. That is where true happiness, innovation and success lies.