The trick is to create a work environment where everyone can work to their strengths. With some understanding and thought, and by implementing a few practical changes, this can be achieved more easily than you might think.
First, though, it’s important to understand what is really meant by “Extravert” and “Introvert”.
What Does “Extravert” and “Introvert” Mean?
When you hear the term “extravert”, you probably think of loud, outgoing, life-of-the-party type of people. And when you hear “introvert” you probably think of shy and quiet people.
Most people think of the terms "extravert" and "introvert" in terms of how people behave, but this is not really the correct usage of the words. The terms extravert and introvert refer more to how someone gains or loses energy rather than how they act around others. An extrovert gains energy from being around other people, while an introvert gains energy from being alone. Put another way, introverts are people who are simply drained by being in large social environments, such as parties, while extraverts similarly would feel drained by being in intimate one-on-one situations.
Extraversion and introversion are typically viewed as opposites – you are either one or the other. But Carl Jung, the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who introduced us to the concept of extraversion and introversion, suggested that everyone has both an extraverted side and an introverted side, with one being more dominant than the other.
In other words, extraverts and introverts are not two different species. In reality, extraversion and introversion exist on a continuum. The stronger the preference (outer edges of the continuum) the more dominant the traits will be and so more easy to observe. The weaker the preference (in the middle of the continuum) the less dominant the traits will be and so less easy to observe.
Strong extraverts feel energized by the company of others and thrive in social situations. They’re comfortable speaking up at meetings and other gatherings and are often the first to share their thoughts and ideas. In fact, as they think it they are saying it. Extraverts often work out their ideas by talking through/about them.
Strong introverts on the other hand feel more comfortable in smaller groups or even alone. Gatherings tend to rob them of energy, and they may feel the need to be alone afterwards to re-energise. They often feel uncomfortable speaking up, so their thoughts and ideas may go unspoken in front of others.
At first, it may seem that introverts don’t have as much to contribute to meetings and gatherings, but this simply isn’t true. In the workplace, if you fall into this trap and fail to tap into the insights of the introverts you work with, you will be depriving the company of valuable knowledge and experience.
Read more about the extravert-introvert continuum in my article: Understanding Extraverts and Introverts
One way to find out if you are a strong introvert or extravert, or perhaps somewhere in the middle, is to do a personality profile like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Feel free to contact me if you would like to do this.
Now that we understand what is really meant by the terms, extravert and introvert, we can look at what we need to do to get the best out of both personality types in our workforce.
Three Workplace Issues to Address to get the Best From Extraverts and Introverts
- Office Layout and Flexible Working Environments
Office Layout and Flexible Working Environments
A busy office environment is invigorating for extraverts, but not for introverts who prefer a calm, quiet environment to be able to focus.
An open floorplan is stimulating to the senses (there is plenty to see, hear and smell etc.) and encourages interruption and conversation, which can work well for the extraverts. However, introverts thrive on being alone and tend to do their best thinking and concentrating solo. They need a quiet space to concentrate and work without interruption. Introverts don’t like to be interrupted when they're doing something. Introverts are deep thinkers who are often very intense and get very into whatever it is they are thinking about, so when they get interrupted it’s often quite jarring.
Consider cubicles and private spaces to give introverts the privacy they so often crave. You can still provide open spaces for the extraverts to use when they want to interact with each other and for break times.
If it is at all possible, allow introverted employees to work from home as often as possible. This can help boost the productivity of introverted employees.
The hybrid work model of remote and in-person options for the office really does offer the opportunity for the best of both worlds. Extraverts can work in the office and get the social interaction they crave, while introverts can stay home and work solo, but come into the workplace to engage with the extraverts for meetings, strategy sessions etc. which will further energise the extraverts. As long as the in-person meetings, strategy sessions etc. are planned and conducted carefully (see under “Meetings” below) there is the opportunity to still get the best from both personality types.
One of the strengths that extroverts have is their ability to “wing it”. They can walk into a meeting or an interview with little to even no preparation and find a way to leave a good impression through the use of their outgoing personality. The social stimulation of engaging in person is really beneficial for extraverts who thrive in these settings. But this is not a strength that introverts have. In fact, going into a meeting or job interview unprepared will leave most introverts flustered and worried and they will not be able to perform at their best.
To get the most out of both personality types, implement the following:
Plan meetings in advance and circulate agendas beforehand
The expectation to think fast on their feet strikes fear into the heart of most introverts. Introverts tend to be thoughtful, preferring to plan out what they want to say. You can help your introverts contribute at meetings when you circulate the agenda ahead of time, giving them time to prepare their thoughts and ideas. If you are particularly wanting employees to share their own ideas, make it clear that you expect this and that you will be giving everyone the chance to contribute to the discussion.
Create space for introverts to speak, use their name but do not put them on the spot
The usual meeting free-for-all when attendees contribute to the discussion as and when they want, with interruptions, all talking at once etc. works very well for extraverts, but not at all for introverts.
Extraverts launch in without hesitation and because they are loud and enthusiastic they will make sure they are heard. Do give them a chance to talk, because extraverts work things out by talking. But be aware that extraverts often do not give the quieter introverts a chance to speak.
Introverts might have brilliant ideas to share, but unless they are specifically given the chance to share – a space in the discussion when no one else is talking or interrupting – they will happily say nothing. They do not have the ‘need’ to talk that extraverts have. This seems unbelievable to an extravert, but a really strong introvert may never share anything unless they are specifically invited to speak by name: e.g. “Jamie, what do you think?”
Going ‘round the circle’, speaking one at a time, in turn, is not a helpful meeting strategy either. The extraverts who want to speak right away just get frustrated waiting for their turn, especially if they are going to be one of the last to speak, and introverts who may not be ready to speak, panic as their turn comes closer and closer.
To get the best from both extraverts and introverts, the meeting chairman must ensure that everyone has a chance to contribute to the discussion, but in such a way that they do not stamp out the natural enthusiasm of an extravert or put an introvert on the spot. The best way to do this is to let everyone know that you expect to hear from them during the meeting (mentioned in the agenda) and that they must speak up as and when they are ready. The strong extraverts will launch in immediately and hog the floor, interrupting and talking all at once. Let it flow. Once the extraverts have had adequate time to contribute, stop them talking and give space to the ones who have not spoken yet to contribute. Allow for a few minutes of silence. When it is quiet, introverts will have a chance to contribute and many will do so if they are given the time. But some of the really strong introverts still won’t speak up, so at this point, you invite them to talk by name.
Allow for written documents after the meeting
Introverts prefer writing to talking, so inviting attendees to send emails or share cloud-based documents after the meeting works to an introvert’s strength. Any thoughts and ideas that were not raised in the meeting are still able to be shared for the benefit of all.
Hold Meetings in Various Ways
It’s traditional to hold in-person meetings. But these types of situations easily put introverts on edge. With technology, there are so many options such as conference calls or video calls. Try to hold meetings in a variety of ways (other than just in-person) to give your introverted employees who don’t prefer social situations a chance to breathe and feel more comfortable speaking up.
Ask for one-on-one meetings with introverts
Crowds and a lot of interaction drain introverts. Requesting one-on-one meetings ensures that the introverts won’t be over-stimulated and that they can give you their full attention. Of course, you need to invite them in advance so that they have the opportunity to prepare for the meeting.
Allow Days without meetings
Understand that a meeting isn’t just the hour you’ve scheduled it. For an introvert, it’s also the time beforehand to prepare and time afterwards to reboot. To help your introverts stay most productive, allow workdays where no meetings are allowed.
Extraverts prefer to communicate by talking and introverts prefer to communicate by writing, so to get the best out of both personality types, consider the following:
Give extraverts time to talk and let them know if you want to talk
Extroverts like to talk. So naturally, when you communicate with an extrovert, it’s best to have meetings and use the telephone. When they are talking, try not to cut them off. Give them the time to say what they want to say. Extraverts work things out by talking and they think on the fly, so brainstorming sessions can be exciting and produce some very creative results.
Extraverts may not give others a chance to talk. They assume that if you have something to say, you will jump in and say it, so don’t hesitate to politely let them know you’d like a chance to speak. Extroverts are excited by social interactions and they are actually interested in hearing what others have to say, too.
Don’t pressurise introverts to speak. Just be patient.
Introverts are quite comfortable with silence and usually don’t enjoy talking just to fill the silence. Introverts often think (quite a lot) before speaking, so it might take an introvert longer to say something or join a conversation. That’s ok. As unbelievable as it is to extraverts, they are quite happy. There is no need to pressurise them to speak. If an introvert really wants to speak, they usually will.
Use Alternate Communication Methods
Talking in person is one way to communicate, but it can be intimidating for an introvert. Many introverts prefer written communications (e.g. email). They enjoy referring to the text for accuracy and pondering what you have said. Written communication also gives an introvert the opportunity to get their thoughts down and really shine. So with introverts, use shared cloud documents, email or chat, and leave phone calls for last.
When it comes to decision making give introverts time to think and extraverts time to talk
Introverts are deep thinkers by nature. When presented with a task, they’ll closely examine every angle and have a plan of attack for any obstacles that arise along the way. Unfortunately, this often means they will struggle when an unexpected, on-the-spot decision is needed because they haven’t had a chance to properly analyse the situation and think it through. Give them time.
On-the-spot decisions are easy for extraverts, but if they are not sure, they will want to talk it through. Extraverts work things out by talking, so if you want a decision to be made, give extraverts the time to talk with many different people.
Extraverts can easily get excited about one direction and run at it with gusto, so the deep-thinking introverts (who are often able to problem solve on an advanced level due to their ability to consider multiple scenarios), can be very helpful at tempering some of these more impulsive traits commonly seen in extroverts.
The most well-rounded, innovative workplaces embrace a variety of different people with different personality preferences.
If you address the needs of extraverts and introverts you will be well on the way to providing an environment that enables both personality types to perform at their best and so create that winning work formula: greater harmony and greater productivity.
You can read more about extraverts and introverts in the following articles I have written: