It’s no secret the corporate world favors Extraversion. In fact, 61% of senior managers in the US are extraverts, and only 39% prefer Introverts. The numbers are similar across all leadership levels – from middle managers to top executives.
As an Introverted type who’s struggled to speak up at meetings and steered clear of many networking events, it makes sense. In many ways, I’m grateful. It takes some pressure off us Introverts to know others can be the client-facing, talkative trailblazers they love to be. I prefer to blaze my own trail behind the scenes.
That said, there’s still a disconnect between the idea of Introversion and Extraversion in the workplace. Because Extraversion is seen as the more compelling personality preference, there’s often a push for everyone on a team to mirror extraverted behavior. But a truly engaged, successful teams need to include their Introverts too.
The other day, I watched a fascinating webinar in which John Hackston (Head of Thought Leadership at The Myers-Briggs Company) explained the power of Introversion for business – and how team leaders can help extraverts and introverts work together more effectively.
In the 45-minute webinar, John shared research, insights, and an actionable seven-step plan for leaders, managers, and executives who want to help everyone on their teams thrive.
Even if you’re an employee with no one reporting to you, this information is still valuable to know.
Because at the end of the day, it’s about unlocking potential so we can all live our best lives – personally and professionally.
Introverted types think things through. Extraverted types talk things through.
Before we dive into what John covered in the webinar, here’s a quick refresher on the differences between introversion and extraversion:
Introversion – Introverted types are energized by spending time alone in their own inner world. They often review ideas and possibilities in their head before sharing them out loud. People with a preference for Introversion tend to reflect before they take action.
Extraversion – Extraverted types are energized by an outer world of people and experiences. They often verbalize ideas right away because they’re enthusiastic about the possibilities they’ve come up with. People with a preference for extraversion tend to take action before they think.
During the webinar, John made it clear that the essence of Introversion vs. Extraversion is about energy. Neither one is better than the other, and it’s not about dominance or confidence – although many leaders approach it as such. In fact, 92% of people we polled have felt pressure to behave in an Extraverted way at work.
Some of that is just par for the course.
Introverts can’t expect to contribute to a team without speaking up every now and then. But we also need to be given ample time and space to do so.
Just like it’s useful to have extraverts on your team, it’s also useful to have introverts. Think about it in terms of diversity. There’s evidence that gender and racial diversity lead to better business performance because there’s a broader scope of thought and experience. When it comes to personality type, values, experiences and mindset, we call that diversity of thought.
Along those same lines, both Introversion and Extraversion can bring a wide range of perspective to the table. And did you know we all have an Extraverted side and an Introverted side depending on what function we’re using? These are the kinds of complexities that are important for innovation. John talks more about this in the webinar replay, starting at 29:32.
“This meeting could have been an email” and other things Introverted types think
If leaders want to help Introverted employees reach their full potential (and if Introverts want to make their mark at work) there must be a plan in place to make that happen.
Without a plan, Introverted people are less likely be engaged at work. Here is an example of a meeting scenario where introverted employees are less likely to thrive. Let’s set the scene:
Angie (the manager and prefers Extraversion) calls an impromptu meeting to go over an exciting new project. Five minutes later, the team of four gathers into the conference room.
Jamal (with Introverted preferences) meets Angie there. Angie asks Jamal if he’s excited about the project. She doesn’t wait for his answer. Instead, she explains why she’s excited and begins explaining her vision. Jamal listens intently. He’s excited for the project too, and he’s thinking about all that needs to get done and what will be expected of him. As he gathers his thoughts, the next person arrives.
Brian (also with Extraverted preferences) arrives and immediately jumps into conversation with Angie. Jamal tries to think of something to say because he feels obligated to contribute verbally in some way. Unfortunately, as he’s thinking of what of the many points he wants to add, the conversation has already moved on and the good idea he wanted to suggest doesn't feel relevant now.
Josie (prefers Introversion) arrives and doesn’t say a word. To her, it seems clear that Angie and Brian are locked in conversation. Josie observes them in action. When Angie notices Josie has arrived, she asks her enthusiastically, “So, what are your thoughts?” Josie hesitates because she’s not sure what her thoughts are yet. She goes with a safe response: “I think it all sounds great. I’m excited to get started!”
Angie seems pleased with that answer, but Josie wishes she had said something more meaningful instead of the first thing that popped into her head.
Meanwhile, Jamal is still trying to bring the conversation back to the idea he had initially. But it’s too late. Angie and Brian are so jazzed about their plan that Angie announces that’s what they’re doing, full steam ahead.
Without enough time to prepare for the meeting, both Josie and Jamal felt like outsiders. It may have even perpetuated their internal dialogue that they have nothing valuable to contribute. The truth is, they do have good ideas. It’s just that the process to get there is different than their Extraverted colleagues, and space hasn't been made to include them. And they themselves don't know how to make that space with their Extraverted colleagues.
During the webinar, John mentioned that Introverts talk less, but when they do speak up, it’s usually the end of a long train of thought. And sometimes the ideas they come up with are gems. The danger is that what they say can get lost in a lively conversation among their Extraverted counterparts. John has some tips to help prevent this situation on your own team.
Seven steps to unleash the power of introversion on your team
1. Allow time for thinking. Consider giving people an agenda or rough outline of talking points before a meeting. Try to schedule meetings or calls with as much advance notice as possible.
2. Listen. Don’t dismiss or ignore. When asking an Introverted person a question, count to ten in your head to give them time to collect their thoughts before they answer. Awkward silence is OK.
3. Consider communication channels. Are meetings and calls the only times when brainstorming and strategy sessions occur? You may want to give Introverted types the option to contribute via email.
4. Avoid interruptions. Since Introverted types need time to gather their thoughts before verbalizing them, they don’t necessarily need a bunch of follow-up questions while they’re thinking.
5. Offer “me time” to recharge batteries. Introverted types get fatigued from what they perceive as too many meetings. They often like to be left alone to get their work done or just to recoup.
6. Understand personality complexities. We all have an Introverted side and an Extraverted side, depending on the context. You have to figure out what works for your unique team.
7. Think about the iceberg. Even though you only see/hear what someone preferring Introversion does/says, there’s so much more going on underneath the surface. To go deeper, it takes time and patience.
John's webinar presented some really valuable information. His insights and action steps are made even more impactful when you pair them with the full MBTIonline Teams experience.
MBTIonline Teams a self-directed, self-paced virtual team-building tool for groups of three to 30 people. And it’s a gamechanger.
Want to learn more about Introversion? Check out the World Introvert Day blog here.
How have other teams used MBTIonline Teams? Read the Freely in Hope case study.