Introverts and extroverts

RedBalloon For Business

How to recognise and get the most out of both introverts and extroverts.

Whether people are ‘loud and proud’, or relatively withdrawn, they each need to be truly seen and understood in order to reach their individual potential at work.

The saying ‘It takes all kinds’ is never truer than in a busy workplace, where a range of personalities come together hopefully in pursuit of a common goal. Humanity being the wonderful melange that it is, this creates colour, but it can also lead to conflict if not managed well.

At diametrically-opposed ends of the personality spectrum sit our introverts and extroverts. We all know what these personality traits fundamentally mean. Carl Jung described extroverts as preferring to engage with the outside world of objects, sensory perception, and action. Introverts, he claimed, are more focused on the internal world of reflection and are thoughtful and insightful. pretty much nailed it when they said: “Introverts get their energy by being alone, while extroverts get their energy by being around others.”*

But it’s not always easy to tell who leans more to which side. After all, people can be quite adept at hiding their real selves… at least for a while. So how do we identify introverts and extroverts at work? More importantly – how do we then motivate and engage them?

Spotting the different styles

Anyone who’s spent a lot of time on Teams or Zoom calls, or in a boardroom, knows that generally a couple of people tend to dominate the conversation. It can be hard for the less effusive participants to get a word in – even though those words may have just as much or more merit as their more outspoken counterpart’s.

To gain a deeper understanding of how to recognise the disparate personality types at work, we spoke to the CEO of Relationships Australia, Elisabeth Shaw. “Extroverts can be much more likely to accommodate longer meetings, can sustain and even thirst for collaborative work, are less likely to have issue with open plan, and can seem energised after big project consultations,” she explained. “Introverts will book the quiet rooms, duck out for a coffee alone, could be more likely to ask for work at home opportunities, or not always attend group drinks if it has already been an intense ‘people’ day.”

She also noted research has shown it can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between the two types, because workplaces demand relational performance; so introverts learn to push past their natural preferences even though it can cost them to do so. It’s also untrue, Elisabeth said, to assume that extroverts need people all the time.

Good leadership will bring out the best in everyone

Public speaking, talking about their private lives beside the water-cooler, even brainstorming – these are anathema to an introvert. These staff can, however, be great at communicating via email where they have the space and time to process their thoughts. They literally hate being put on the spot. So, a generous and patient view is critical, because often a ‘slow boil’ response may hold more value than a rapid-fire one.

The more outgoing also require a steady managerial hand. An informative article in the AFR* found encouraging extroverts to actually listen is one of the best ways to promote workplace harmony: “Extroverts often bring enthusiasm and candour to meetings – and you want to encourage that…you want to acknowledge the good things they bring to the table, but ask them to consider ‘tweaking’ their behaviour to allow others to be heard. Challenge them to draw their more introverted colleagues out while still staying true to themselves.”

Elisabeth Shaw says good business practice will ensure all styles are accommodated, because that’s most beneficial for positive workplace culture. Things like ensuring no-one has back-to-back meetings, that there is a balance of team and autonomous work, that there are quiet spaces in the office design, and that people can have a break to get out of the office at lunch, are welcome.

Look for the shades of grey

Complicating matters is the existence of ambiverts and omniverts. According to Simply Psychology, an ambivert is someone who exhibits traits of both introversion and extroversion and can feel comfortable in social or solitary settings. An omnivert, on the other hand, fluctuates between introverted and extroverted behaviour depending on the situation or mood, displaying a wider range of adaptability.*

So effectively, ambiverts sit somewhere in the middle of the introvert-extrovert spectrum, but omniverts can flip easily to either side and actually take on the characteristics of either.

It comes down to a mixture of being observant and actually talking to staff to find out more about who they are and how they like to operate. Such thoughtfulness and interest will always be appreciated.

What’s the right way to reward?

Just as introverts and extroverts ‘show up’ differently in the office and beyond, so too must our recognition and reward systems adapt. Look at awards nights, for example. The extrovert can’t wait to leap up onto the stage. The introvert may be alongside them, but is inwardly cringing. There are definitely nuances around how each type of person likes to be acknowledged.

Extroverts adore being publicly lauded and heralded, whereas an introvert usually prefers a private, one-on-one conversation and a gentle word or gesture of thanks. However, it’s always worth questioning whether that introverted staff member might actually prefer to receive a more public acknowledgement. It all comes down to the individual.

Acknowledging and appreciating our differences is key

Taking time out, ensuring there are quiet spaces, leaning into individual communication styles and ensuring no one is put on the spot, too rushed or too isolated depending on personality – these things can all help accommodate various styles of worker.

Elisabeth Shaw says: “What is important is to recognise there are different styles and ensure that no one style is pathologized or judged for their choices. If you have a workplace culture where those that don’t go for lunch together are ‘anti-team’ for example, or that the work schedule is so intense that there are no room for healthy breaks, that won’t be good for either style, and will be more likely to lead to burnout.”

The truth is, not everyone is a ‘people person.’ But neither should anyone make the mistake of assuming that introverts are somehow lesser. They’re not – they’re just different. Neither type is right or wrong. Introverts and extroverts both have their admirable qualities and the gifts they each bring to a workplace, while markedly opposed, can ultimately complement each other well.

It’s all just a matter of understanding, emotional intelligence, taking the time to see people for who they really are, and adjusting working conditions and recognition models accordingly.


Making it work for everyone

The Harvard Business Review offers some compelling tips for how to manage different types of workers ‘day to day’:


-Balance social spaces with private ones

-Send the meeting agenda in advance so introverts have time to formulate their thoughts and summon the courage to share them

-Allow people to work the way they want to; extroverts should feel comfortable taking time to socialize, while introverts should have license to work remotely or take breaks from the team


-Assume you already know everything about introversion and extroversion.

-Overload your team with meetings; give people ample uninterrupted work time during the day

-Let a certain dominant personality do all the talking; encourage that person to reflect and listen.

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