Group 1: Warren Buffett. Marissa Mayer. Mark Zuckerberg. Group 2: Bill Clinton. Steve Jobs. Sheryl Sandberg.These two groups of widely recognized leaders represent two different ends of a personality spectrum that ranges from introverts to extroverts. The fact that both lists contain people who are inarguably quite successful disproves the perception that sometimes exists that introverts can’t be good leaders. They can—and they are.
Introverts do, though, sometimes feel overwhelmed and overshadowed by their more egregious peers, who may have a tendency to monopolize conversations, speak first—and most confidently—in meetings, and seem to seamlessly get along with and engage others.
Recognizing the traits and differences between these two groups can help training and development professionals ensure these groups are being adequately supported in the workplace. This is probably most relevant for introverts, whose personality traits can create challenges for them when interacting with others.
Personality assessment tools are frequently used to help employees and their managers identify their preferences in terms of interacting with others. The Myers-Briggs test is perhaps the most widely known and most scientifically based. It uses four dichotomies, or scales, to categorize people:
Here we’ll focus only on the introvert/extrovert dichotomy and what it means in the workplace.
Introversion May Not Mean What You Think
Contrary to what popular perceptions might suggest, being an introvert, according to the Myers-Briggs scale, does not necessarily correlate directly with being shy; and being an extrovert does not necessarily correlate directly with being outgoing. The distinctions are a bit more subtle and, for training professionals, more informative than that. It’s really about where these individuals get their energy.
Introverts get their energy through their own internal world, while extroverts get their energy through others. Introverts gain clarity by thinking things through on their own; extroverts gain clarity through having conversations with others.
Those differences impact workplace interactions significantly in a number of ways:
- Introverts are unlikely to feel comfortable brainstorming in a group meeting setting; they need more time alone to clarify their thoughts.
- Introverts may be quieter, in general, than other employees.
- Introverts may need more personal space and quiet time to focus on their work.
Remember, introverts get their energy through introspection, not interaction. During a meeting, they will be taking in what’s going on around them; they need time to process what they’ve heard or learned before forming—and expressing—their own opinions.
Supporting Your Introverted Staff
There are some important ways that you can help to support your introverted staff:
- Use agendas to let staff know what will be discussed in a meeting and to give them time, if desired, to prepare.
- Whenever possible, don’t ask for decisions to be made on the spot, but offer time to reflect.
- During meetings, on occasion, pause to let participants have some time to think. Using paper and pencil exercises can be a good way to provide a break from the conversation that introverts will value.
- Go around the room during meetings to ask for input or opinions on specific topics, so your extroverted staff doesn’t dominate the conversation. Make sure all know that they’re free to say they have nothing to share at that time so introverts don’t feel as though they’re being put “on the spot.”
Neither introversion nor extroversion is “good or bad”—they are just different ways of perceiving and interacting with the world around us. Understanding the needs of both types preferences can help you ensure that you’re providing a supportive environment.