introverts vs extroverts…and implications

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Introverts vs Extroverts…and implications

There has been a lot of debate, discussion, attention on this subject of late in the various HR circles I follow – and wider (further reading links below). It’s prompted me to throw my two cents’ into the ring.

First up the test…posted online by the Guardian (link here: http://www.theguardian.com/science/quiz/2012/mar/13/quiz-are-you-an-introvert). I scored 6/20. Extrovert. In fact the average score is 14/20. However, my results had something of a justification:

You have a tendency towards being extrovert. The lower your score, the more extrovert you probably are. The nearer to 10 your score is, the nearer to being an ambivert you are (yes, there really is such a word). But even if you answered every single question as an introvert or extrovert, that doesn’t mean that your behaviour is predictable across all circumstances. We can’t say that every introvert is a bookworm or every extrovert wears lampshades at parties any more than we can say that every woman is a natural consensus-builder and every man loves contact sports. As Jung felicitously put it, “There is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.”

So I’m an extrovert, slightly tending towards an ambivert. Cool. What does this mean? Wikipedia defines Extroverts as:

Extroversion is “the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with obtaining gratification from what is outside the self”.[4] Extroverts tend to enjoy human interactions and to be enthusiastictalkativeassertive, and gregarious. Extroverts are energized and thrive off of being around other people. They take pleasure in activities that involve large social gatherings, such as parties, community activities, public demonstrations, and business or political groups. An extroverted person is likely to enjoy time spent with people and find less reward in time spent alone. They tend to be energized when around other people, and they are more prone to boredom when they are by themselves.

This quality of being outgoing can be taken advantage of in situations such as at a workplace or social gathering. Teachers, politicians, salespersons and different types of management fields are all examples of work types that favour an individual who is considered to be an extrovert. They have the ability to act naturally with people in a way that will make them much more successful than an introvert because these are the types of the requirements of the job.

For all intents and purposes this fits pretty well. I love people. I love socialising. I love interaction with others in general. However I have a couple of issues with both the test and the definition.

1.)    Some of the questions in the test (agreeing with @RakshaHR) lean towards introversion, or depend on how you read them. Q2: I often prefer to express myself in writing. I answered NO; but sometimes the answer is yes – it depends on the situation. Q3. I enjoy solitude. I love my own company, but only to a limited point, then I drive myself mad and crave interaction with others. However short and regular bursts of solitude are necessary = answered NO. Q5.I dislike small talk, but I enjoy talking in depth about topics that matter to me. I’m female. I love talking shoes, shopping, men etc = small talk. However I relish an in depth and insightful conversation relating to anything progressive in business = answered YES. You get where I’m going with this. I know I’m more extrovert than introvert, but the questions definitely leave room for movement.

2.)    According to the definition above certain fields of work are more prone to success for either introverts or extroverts. However, I have first-hand experience to the contrary; my boss is a clear introvert, yet one of the most respected leaders I’ve ever come across. One of my closest friends, a social sciences teacher (yes she teaches sex ed) is an introvert; yet students relate to her to such a degree after two years in teaching she was dean of a form/year. Similarly, my cousin, an accomplished artist and another introvert, who’s spent time living in a tree house in rural Japan to focus on her painting, is probably the best presenter I’ve seen in action… a contradiction in terms? Maybe…but again, you see my point.

So perhaps there are extreme extroverts and introverts, but as the definition suggests given the situation, people may swing further one way or another. And as the test concurs, the two are not cut and dried, introducing the term ambivert for those in the middle ground.

So what does all this mean for the workplace? Most individuals will know which way they tend towards and here again I agree with @RakshaHR, be honest with yourself in this. Then be honest with your manager and your team. A good leader will adjust their management style / skills to you. Great leadership inspires the best in all they lead; allowing each individual to excel through their own individual style, while at the same time encouraging the group to work in such a way that allows all their tendencies to shine. And your team, potentially spanning a spectrum of introversion – extroversion, is not void of empathy. Be honest with them also, and they in turn will be considerate of you.

At work, in finding the right role you will find the place you fit best is my belief. Personally I don’t think I worked well in group situations at university, for a whole host of reasons I ended up doing 99% of the work through my slightly controlling / extrovert tendencies and I can look back and reflect that I probably overrode the introverts in the group. I’ve learnt from this experience and now value the opinions of all in the group and I know full well now that I work best with the support, knowledge and varying ideas / suggestions of my team. They’re very tolerate of mine and the other extroverts’ random and sometimes boisterous ideas / suggestions. By the same token we’re equally appreciative and supportive of their ideas / suggestions and take the time to properly listen and hear what they have to say….or debate it straight up – depends on the person!

My advice? Explore yourself. Push your boundaries. Try things that scare you. Know how you work best and be mindful of how others work best. Learn what works for you in any given situation, then develop strategies for coping if these don’t eventuate – as let’s face it, nothing goes our own way 100% of the time. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Enjoy your introversion and/or extroversion tendencies – you’re not alone in either; and give the other a try every now and then – you might find it works for you or isn’t as scary as you thought, or that it’s about finding the right company, conversation, work, group or otherwise for you.

Reading / Mentions in the blog:



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