Do you tend to think out loud or prefer to reflect and consider your response before speaking? Do you sometimes wish you’d not spoken so quickly, or do you regret not speaking up? Would you rather communicate face-to-face, or in writing? Are you eager to put ideas into action, or would you rather have time to deliberate first? When you come into work on Monday mornings, do you like to greet your coworkers and inquire about their weekends, or do you like to get down to work and tune out the distractions? Are you more likely to be energized by people and things outside yourself, or by looking within?
Your answers to these questions reveal a great deal about you and your preferred style. Most individuals exhibit a preference for either extraversion or introversion. Individuals will display both extraverted and introverted behaviors at different times, but most will find that one of these is more natural, effortless, and energizing for them. Some have a stronger natural preference for their type, but generally, everyone has a preference, and that preference is innate.
The concept of extraversion and introversion was popularized by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which is based on research by the Swiss psychiatrist, C.G. Jung. Extraversion and introversion are the first pair of psychological preferences on the MBTI. The MBTI consists of a total of four scales of two opposite preferences each.
Extraversion and introversion describe two different ways that individuals get and use energy and where they direct their attention—outwardly or inwardly. Extraverts tend to do their best work when interacting with the world outside themselves. Introverts tend to be more reflective in approach and are at their best when focused internally, on their inner world of thoughts, feelings, and impressions.
An understanding and appreciation of the differences can help us better understand ourselves and enhance our workplace interactions. For example, while the extraverts in a meeting may feel comfortable discussing a problem for the first time and making a decision about its resolution on the spot, introverts generally do their best work and feel more comfortable if they have some time to reflect—sometimes deeply—before committing to a resolution. This may make it appear that extraverts are more engaged and enthusiastic, but that would be a mistaken assumption. When introverts are engaged, it doesn’t necessarily show outwardly; they may give few, if any, nonverbal cues.
Meetings are one example of an environment that will generally appeal to extraverts because of the opportunity to connect with others and to talk about ideas. To encourage introverts’ involvement, send out an agenda in advance and defer making decisions until after the meeting, unless an emergency demands otherwise. If this is the case, notify everyone beforehand that they need to come prepared to discuss the topic and arrive at a decision in the meeting.
Whether you are the team leader or a team member, you can create opportunities for everyone to contribute in meetings. According to a 2013 Business Insider article by Max Nisen, “In a typical eight-person group, three people do 70 percent of the talking.” Apparently, the problem tends to increase with the size of the group. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that all meeting participants have an opportunity to contribute. One tactic is to provide time for participants to jot down their ideas in writing before anyone speaks. Another is to have participants type their ideas into a central discussion board.
Introverts need to appreciate extraverts’ need to talk things through. Extraverts need to appreciate introverts’ need for “quiet time” to think things through. Both may get their needs met by scheduling times to meet and to talk.
You do not have to know what each person’s preference is to create a more inclusive work environment. You simply have to realize that in any given work group, both types are likely to be present. So, you want to create a work environment that encourages all employees, regardless of style, to do their best work. And, managers can and should inquire into what contributes to their employees’ best work and what inhibits it. Each of us has a responsibility, too, to ask for what we need.
If you are interested in learning more about the differences between introversion and extraversion, there are many books available on the topic (e.g., Work Types, by J.M. Kummerow, N.J. Barger & L.K. Kirby, 1997), as well as resources available online, including by The Myers & Briggs Foundation. MSEC offers three public classes on the topic, which also are available as customized on-sites.