The words ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’ get tossed around a lot. If you’re like the majority of us, you think about them in the most basic terms — introvert = shy, extrovert = outgoing.
While that’s a good starting point for understanding the differences between the two, the lines between introverts and extroverts may be a little more blurred than you thought. If you’ve ever known someone who describes himself or herself as an ‘ambivert’ or an ‘introverted extrovert,’ you’ll know what I mean.
If you’re reading this and saying to yourself, “Introvert, extrovert, ambivert — why should I care?” I urge you to read on a little further, because knowing the distinctions between the types is an important factor in hiring and developing your staff.
Where do you get your energy?
Something that stood out as I researched this article was that, rather than it being a “shy vs. not shy” issue, whether you’re an introvert or extrovert actually has more to do with where you get your energy.
For a textbook example, take a look at me and my husband. As an extrovert to the nth degree, I get my energy from interacting with other people. When I’m working on a project I’m constantly sending out notes asking for feedback, and walking around the office asking for thoughts on the subject from anyone involved. That interaction fires me up, sparks my ideas and gives me the energy I thrive on.
Now, my introverted husband? When we go to parties together he’ll meet people, talk with them and enjoy the conversations…to a point. Then he hits a wall, tells me, “I can’t meet anyone else,” and goes off by himself for a while. All the personal interaction drains his energy. To recharge it he needs quiet and alone time. After that, he’s ready to venture out among his fellow partygoers again. His energy comes from within, while mine comes from without.
Me being me, I chatted with several of my co-workers about this article as I worked on it. When I asked them whether they considered themselves introverts or extroverts, the answers that came back didn’t surprise me in some cases — but did in others.
In the unsurprising column, those who work in Development (the majority of whom do programming and other types of mostly solitary back-end computer system-related work), tend to be introverts, while those who work in the Training and Consulting area — well, we’re a mixed group. The trainers and consultants, who frequently present to and work directly with our customers, tend to be extroverts. Those of my team who work on our Help & How-To Center, which tends to be more a back-office function, are more introverted, like this co-worker:
“I consider myself an introvert. I’m a teacher at heart, but I do not consider myself a great trainer. That’s why I love authoring for the Help & How-To Center.”
So in our group, people are, for the most part, working in functions that suit their personalities. Is that the way the division falls in your firm? Or do you have employees who are forcing themselves into a mold that doesn’t quite fit?
Does the business world demand extroversion?
Which leads me to my first surprising discovery: a lot of people think they need to be extroverted to be successful at work. They’ve been convinced that the networking side of their career is so important that there’s something wrong with them if they can’t be that extroverted networker, shaking hands and making connections until the cows come home.
Frankly, I think that notion is a myth. Yes, networking is important, but you don’t have to force yourself to meet every person in the room. If you’re more of an introvert, take a page from my husband’s playbook; when your energy is depleted, exit the scene for a bit and recharge. Even if you only connect with one or two people, that’s one or two more than you knew yesterday.
And that segues into my second surprising discovery: the “introverted extrovert,” or ambivert. I’d always suspected that many people were a mix of the two types, but didn’t know quite how to define it. One of the support reps I interviewed for this article enlightened me.
“I was never quite satisfied calling myself either introverted or extroverted, so I’ve identified as ambiverted since I came across the term a couple of years ago. I find that I highly enjoy social situations, as well as time spent alone. If I have too much of either, it can become overwhelming and I crave the other. I would say I fall slightly more on the introverted side. I struggle with small talk, especially when first meeting someone, and am more likely to stay quiet in a group situation.”
This perspective fascinates me, especially since our support area is set up in an open plan where walls are virtually non-existent, leaving few to no barriers between you and your neighbors. That made me wonder: How does this kind of an office environment work for different types of personalities? Ambiverts like our support rep can probably function well enough, but for many introverts an open work plan is their worst nightmare come to life. How do they function day to day?
Maybe like this member of my team, who works on the Help & How-To Center.
“I’m mostly an introvert who has learned how to work my way through the extrovert world. I’ve learned how to appear a little more outgoing than I actually feel inside. What I’ve discovered is I feel most safe working with users over the phone, rather than in person. I enjoy working with other introverts, too, as long as I get decompression time. In most all instances, I can work with most people since I enjoy observing and know I can gain knowledge from extroverts.”
Awareness: the first step toward understanding
Extroverts have to do their share of adjusting, too. As one of our trainers told me, he used to get frustrated when he sought opinions and the more introverted people didn’t express their thoughts, feelings or opinions in a timely way. Now he realizes that it wasn’t that they chose to remain quiet, it was that they needed time to process information and begin to share.
As our team members demonstrate, you can teach yourself to be aware of your tendencies — and those of others — and make them work for you. Knowing how you get energized can help you prepare for events, and ensure you keep your energy levels up during long meetings or conferences.
It can also inform how you deal with your staff in your own firm, and how they deal with each other. Asking your team how they view themselves — introvert, extrovert, ambivert — is not only be an interesting exercise in getting to know them, but a good way to see if you’re using their talents and temperaments in the best way to benefit your business and their careers.
Try it, and either comment below or let me know the next time you see me at a Thomson Reuters event how it went!
Do you think your firm has a good mix of introverts and extroverts? Do their job duties support the way they think and get energized? Do you offer flexibility in their duties to ensure they get a mix of both types of experiences? We invite you to share your experiences with us.