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Introverts v extroverts: Getting the balance right to improve workplace productivity

Building a strong workforce involves hiring a wide mix of people and personality types, who complement each other and work together to solve a wide range of problems. There are times however  when different personalities clash, which can cause issues and miscommunication within the workplace.

To avoid any of these issues, it’s important to recognise the different personality types within your organisation, understand their individual strengths and weaknesses, and know how to manage them effectively.

One of the easiest ways to distinguish your employees’ personality types is to group them into either introverts or extroverts, as most employees will fall into one of these two groups.

Find out how our business health and wellbeing services could support both your business and employees here.

Traditionally, it was believed that the best business leaders were extroverts, and Susan Cain, former lawyer and author of ‘Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’, discusses how society places the value of extroverts higher than those of introverts.

Recent studies however have shown that introverts are beneficial to companies as well as extroverts, and some of the worlds influential  businessmen have admitted to being introverts – Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak and Mark Zuckerberg to name a few.

When properly managed however, introverts and extroverts however can work together and complement each other.

Characteristics of an extrovert

We think of extroverts as someone who is outgoing, bubbly and chatty. Whilst this is generally true, the definition of an extrovert is someone who is energised from the company of others.

Flow Psychology states that an extrovert can be defined as someone who:

  • Enjoys the company of other people
  • Loves to attend social gatherings
  • Is full of energy
  • Who loves to talk, but who is not too good at listening
  • Is enthusiastic
  • Enjoys working in a team
  • Asks lots of questions

Open plan offices and hot desking tends to work well for extroverts as it gives them the opportunity to bounce ideas off other colleagues and talk through any potential problems they may have.

Extroverts do however have a tendency to talk over colleagues, and to not listen to advice or suggestions that might help them. 

Characteristics of an introvert

An introvert can be seen as someone who is shy and closed off, however this is a common misconception. In fact, Introverts are people who are inwardly orientated – they gather strength from being alone rather from the company of others.

Introverts tend to display a combination of the following characteristics:

  • They find very large social gatherings draining or exhausting
  • They feel more comfortable in smaller social gatherings
  • They thrive working alone
  • They prefer to work in quiet environments
  • They like to think ideas through carefully before acting
  • They are strong communicators and good listeners

Because an introvert doesn’t spend as much time socialising, and building their networks, they are able to focus more on completing the task at hand. They are less distracted, which can make them more productive.

How to get the best out of introverts and extroverts

To get the best out of both introverts and extroverts in your workplace it is important to manage them carefully. According to Jim Lew, a diversity trainer and organisational development expert, “Extroverts typically see introverts as unsocial, inadequate, shy, secretive and aloof noncontributors whereas introverts describe extroverts as aggressive, egotistical, unaware, rude and socially needy."

This disconnect can cause disruption in the workplace, resulting in feelings of bullying amongst employees, and our recent research into Mental Health in the Workplace found that workplace bullying was one of the top 3 causes of mental health issues in the workplace.  With a total of 15.8 million working days lost in 2016 due to mental health conditions it’s important to manage this effectively.

Here are some tips you can implement to help you effectively manage both introverts and extroverts:

  • Scheduling meetings in advance – this allows introverts plenty of time to gather any information they need and prepare what they want to say. Springing it on them last minute may send them into a state of panic
  • Be open to different ways of communicating – introverts may prefer communicating by email or messenger rather than in person, whereas extroverts prefer talk things through on a regular basis
  • Reorganising the working space – open plan offices are great for creating a sense of unity, but they can be a nightmare for introverts as they are notorious for being noisy. Make sure to provide a quiet space in the office that can allow introverts the space to think without interruption
  • If your office is set up in smaller office spaces, consider also providing ‘loud’ breakout areas for extroverts, where they can hang out, make phone calls or hold brainstorming sessions, without interrupting others
  • Focus on the things introvert personality types are good at. An introvert employee may hate public speaking more than most, and by forcing them to do it you could be creating further panic and anxiety. Instead, their strengths could be better aligned with other tasks such as planning and research
  • Ensure extroverts don’t steal the limelight – in meetings/brainstorms make sure you don’t let extroverts talk over everyone else. As long as you have given your introvert employees opportunities to prepare, they should be happy to be called upon to share their views as well
  • Remember to praise your extroverts – as extroverts are more social creatures, they respond better to public praise and celebrations. By doing so they will feel more motivated, happier and more productive.

By understanding your employees better, you will be able to more effectively manage them, and create teams that work better together, are happier, more motivated and ultimately more productive.

Have you implemented any processes, or changed your office environment, to better accommodate both introverts and extroverts? Share your tips with us on LinkedIn or Twitter using #introvertorextrovert

To discover how Benenden could support your business with our health and wellbeing services please call 0800 414 8179 or visit our Business Healthcare page.