Introverts and Extroverts: Understanding What they’re All About

Confirm what you THINK you know about introverts and extroverts in this blog!

Human capital
People Strategy

Christine Chartrand

VP Consulting Services

Monday, November 17, 2014


Introverts and extroverts are essential dimensions in human personality theories. Their meanings have been the subject of many studies, articles and conversations around the water cooler. But not everything you hear is true!

There’s this notion that one must be “versus” the other, when in reality, it’s not about competing, but understanding the strengths for each. In order to better manage your human capital, let’s clarify some things about introverts and extroverts.

What you might have read about introverts and extroverts

I’ve come across assumptions of extroverts being this image of power; like we live in “an extrovert’s world”, and how the poor little introverts have to survive in it. The Big 5 personality theory has a factor named “Extroversion”, and people obtain high or low scores on it, so an introverted is said to have “low scores” on the Extroversion factor. But if you feel like you botched this scale, think again!

At the same time, many articles give extroverts a bad rap for not taking the time to understand introverts or intimidating them in some way, or portray extroversion as a necessary trait for being a good leader. While we seem to be feeling sorry for introverts or constantly standing up for them, we also tend, at times, to view extroverts as the “bully” at the playground. So let’s clear the air and start over!

Chances are your workforce is comprised of both introverts and extroverts. But we need to start thinking of these traits not as separate entities, but on a spectrum. You may even encounter employees that are quite balanced between both extremes. Remember that many employees will fill up the grey area between both.

So be careful how you evaluate your human capital! There are aspects you need to know about the tendencies of introverts and extroverts in your organization.

Get to know extroverts: an easy task!

Yes, extroverts are more energized by being surrounded by a lot of people, and are more at ease establishing new contacts, sparking up a conversation with strangers, and being in the spotlight.

In fact, being the centre of attention can be quite invigorating, as is the opportunity to have an audience. Their need for socializing and thinking out loud helps them bounce ideas off other people and look for external inputs, as opposed to preferring solitude.

They are the ones that can enter a room and start chatting up someone they’ve never met, win over a client because of their relational side and appreciate expanding their network. They may unknowingly be a form of advertising for your company due to their natural capacity to make contacts and stand out in a crowd. Working from home or sitting at a desk alone all day typing on a computer may eventually be a source of demotivation for them.

Use an extrovert’s social-easiness to your company’s advantage

If you have conferences to attend, a kiosk at a convention, or even cold-calling, perhaps you want to consider your extroverted employees. Building business relationships, having to animate to a large group or attracting others towards your products or services are also interesting responsibilities to delegate to a more extroverted worker.

You will find that these tasks come very naturally to them, and this will boost productivity!

Know that confidence exists in both introverts and extroverts

Do not misinterpret the talkative and outgoing side of an extrovert as being more confident. Perhaps they are more confident in expressing, initiating contacts and being centre stage, but introverts and confidence are not mutually exclusive.

Yes, depending on what personality instrument you utilize, there may be some associations between assertiveness and extroversion, though this does not inevitably mean that extroverts are more confident overall. There are many factors that need to be considered to understand one’s level of confidence.

Society tends to interpret confidence as an “outward behaviour”, which, let’s face it, introverts sometimes lack, verbally and non-verbally. Yet, introverts don’t need as much external validation as extroverts. So who’s more confident now? Remember that just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there!

Understand the true introvert

The same way extroverts are energized by being surrounded by “a lot” of people, introverts are energized by being surrounded by “a few” people. They may appear more quiet and secretive, but if you’re their best friend, you might think otherwise.

They are a little more particular when it comes to choosing who they want to let into their internal world. If their presence is more discreet, especially in the beginning, it’s not because they are cold and/or distant, but because they appreciate the opportunity for listening, retaining and quiet concentration.

Do not underestimate an introvert’s ability to bring significant information to the table. But you may need to initiate the conversation!

Know that Introverts are not necessarily antisocial

Introverts are not antisocial: their way of socializing is just different. They mingle in smaller groups, usually with people they know. Sometimes, they don’t say much but when they do, their delivery is spot on!

You may have witnessed this firsthand in a meeting. Everyone is talking and battling for the spotlight when you finally ask the quieter colleague for his opinion. Already feeling a little uneasy because now all eyes are now on him, he delivers a very interesting point. Moral of the story: if you want feedback from an introvert, especially a co-worker you don’t know very well, you will find that going towards that person may be more effective than waiting for him to approach you.

Better yet, schedule a one-on-one meeting! Remember that introverts and extroverts get their energy from different places. One from very active social settings, the other from more isolated, less attention-seeking situations.

Do not assume that all introverts are shy

There has been many discussions around the assumption that introversion and shyness are interchangeable. I see shyness as more of an anxiety; a fear towards some form of social interaction. The author Sophia Dembling said it best:

Shyness is a behavior -– it’s being fearful in a social situation. Whereas introversion is a motivation. It’s how much you want and need to be in those interactions.

For example, let’s say you want to organize a social activity with your department. The introvert is likely to prefer sitting at her desk or flipping through files because she finds the idea of this type of gathering very draining. Whereas a shy employee will WANT to join the other co-workers, but may choose to remain at her desk because she is afraid. So put aside your assumptions and really get to know your employees on a whole new level.

Take into account other personality traits of introverts and extroverts

Remember that sociability is only part of the personality puzzle that comprises a person, but an important piece all the same! Introverts and extroverts have very unique tendencies, motivations and behaviours, yet you must also look at other personality traits that make up a whole person.

You might find that certain characteristics can amplify or mask certain natural reflexes. For example, an introvert who is assertive and results-oriented might “appear” less introverted because he has the drive and energy to go out and develop his clientele, as well as push a sale.

But be careful! He will probably be a lot more drained at the end of the day, require time alone in his office (he might even close his door!) and/or will isolate himself in his home for the rest of the evening. So, fully understand your employees by considering various dimensions that make up one’s true potential.

We need to stop looking at introverts and extroverts as “one versus the other”, and start seeing their unique qualities. An extrovert’s social easiness can be a very important strength to your organization, as does an introvert’s ability to listen and retain information. Forget about the misconceptions that all introverts are shy or that confidence only exists in extroverts.

Understand that your employees may fall somewhere in the middle on this sociability spectrum and that evaluating various personality traits, as well as their connections with one another, will help you get a better idea of the whole person.

Do you have a tool that can do all this?

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