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Introversion, Ambiversion and Extroversion at Work

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Introversion and extroversion are not binary personality types; people fall somewhere on the scale between the two types and the way someone behaves can change depending on the context they find themselves in at the moment. In fact, most of the population are ambiverts. Despite this, there is a lot of discussion about the differences between introverts and extroverts and how the different perspectives contribute in the workplace.

The overall consensus is that neither tendency is better than the other overall and finding the right mix of people in the right roles is the key to a successful effective workplace. David Mizne of 15Five explored some of the available research and found that overall the ambivert is likely to be more successful. He states that:

Social psychologists and behavioral scientists now believe that the adaptability of the ambivert may provide some personal and professional advantages.

In an article in The Minds Journal, Elizabeth Bernstein provides these characteristics of the three personality traits.

 The Ambivert

  • Socially flexible—comfortable in social situations or being alone.
  • Skilled at communicating—intuits when to listen or to talk.
  • Moderate in mood—not overly expressive or reserved.
  • Adaptable—no default mode, so they change their approach to fit the situation

The Extrovert:

  • Energized by external stimulation—with people, environment, activity
  • Processes thoughts while talking
  • Motivated by external rewards, recognition and feedback
  • Outgoing—easy to get to know

The Introvert:

  • Energized internally, while being alone
  • Craves solitude to balance out social time
  • Speaks only when they have something to say
  • Thinks before speaking, processing thoughts internally

There is lots of advice available to help team members begin to understand each other’s perspectives, such as a recent post on the Atlassian blog by Season Hughes titled "Working with Introverts (written by an actual introvert)" in which she explains some of the challenges she experiences as an introvert working in an environment which is geared more towards extroversion, and provides some specific advice around two areas – meetings and social events.

All-purpose tip #1: In meeting invites, include a note saying what decisions will be made in the meeting and/or what will be discussed. And share any docs in advance. Everyone will walk in better prepared – especially the introverts.

All-purpose tip #2: Plan an activity as the central focus of office social events. It’s probably best to give everyone something to do besides just drink, anyway.

As she points out, these are tips which should apply irrespective of personality profile, and they are particularly useful when considering how to engage and support your teammates who are more introverted.

In an article on Business News Daily, Sammi Caramela quotes diversity trainer and organizational development expert Jim Lew as saying:

Typically, extroverts see introverts as unsocial, inadequate, shy, secretive and aloof noncontributors. Introverts describe extroverts as aggressive, egotistical, unaware, rude and socially needy.

She goes on to provide some advice for people who have different traits to work together. For the extrovert dealing with their more introverted colleagues, the advice is:

  • Provide an agenda in advance
  • Go electronic with idea sharing; use the tools that for allow thinking time
  • Provide them with airtime – recognize that they may not want to speak up in a group setting and find other ways of ensuring their voice gets heard

For the introverted dealing with their more extroverted work mates, she says:

  • Let them speak and be visible, don’t shut them down
  • Be assertive – allow them to have their voice but not to hold the limelight all the time
  • Ask questions. Extroverts express ideas even when they are not fully formed – help them to find the best options by exploring and asking questions

The article concludes with the advice to ensure that people are given tasks that fit with their preferences and strengths. This echoes the advice from Minze of 15Five that:

Managers have to find the right role for the right personality and skill set.

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