How Introverts or Extroverts Impact Your Business.
I have always been an introvert and I have often wondered if this was a product of my upbringing, a hereditary predisposition, a cultural bias, or whether it is simply a choice I made at some stage of my childhood. Looking to friends and acquaintances that I would classify as extroverts, I have had similar questions in my mind about them. This recently prompted me to read a book by Susan Cain, entitled Quiet, which delves into the two aforementioned personality types. It is a well-researched book that takes both a practical and an academic view of personality types and how they can seriously impact our behaviors, our view of the world, our careers and our businesses.
What is an Introvert?
According to Jung, introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling. Some common traits they share include:
- Needing to recharge their batteries by being alone.
- Feeling just right without the need for stimulation
- Working more slowly and deliberately
- Preferring to work on a single task at a time
- A relative immunity to wealth and fame
- Preferring to devote their energies to close friends, colleagues and family
- Preferring to listen rather than talk
- Often preferring to express themselves in writing rather than in conversation
- Having a tendency to dislike small talk or conflict but to enjoy deep discussions
- Hating the necessity to make presentations or being the center of attention
What is an Extrovert?
According to Jung, extroverts are drawn to the external life of people and activities. Some common traits they share include:
- Needing to recharge their batteries by socializing more.
- Feeling just right when they are surrounded by other people and activities
- Making quick decisions and risk-taking (even if they often get it wrong)
- Preferring to multi-task
- Enjoying money and status and the thrill of the chase
- Being assertive, dominant and in need of company
- Preferring talking to listening
- Embracing every opportunity to be the life and soul of a party
- Having a tendency to dislike solitude but are comfortable with conflict
- Loving the opportunity to get on a stage and making presentations
Culturally, there would appear to be a preference for extroversion in the workplace, and this has been the case in North America and in western societies for about a century. This is completely different in Eastern societies where quiet respect is the norm. This presents a major challenge to second generation Asian-American kids who remain influenced by the culture of their parents.
In 1913, Dale Carnegie published his first book entitled “Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business”. Carnegie taught people to become performers and to project themselves and their strong personalities. Self assured confidence became the new business norm. Introverted people tended not to get promoted as often or at all. The culture of personality demands that we show confidence, project ourselves positively, sell ourselves endlessly and hide any anxiety we may be feeling inside. Toastmasters was established in 1924 to allow members to practice public speaking and to perfect the art. It now has 12,500 chapters in 113 countries and continues to thrive today.
Education and Introverts
Surprisingly, even today, you are unlikely to get accepted into a Harvard MBA business course unless you are overtly an extrovert, according to Susan Cain. Grades and social status are predicated on extroversion in Harvard. The top business leaders in many industries in the United States have passed through Harvard Business School. They are perceived as confident, bright, quick thinking, and rapid at making decisions. They are extroverts who enjoy being to the front and center. There is no room for introverts who are perceived as thinkers and procrastinators – they simply take too long to make decisions, even if the decisions they take are often found to be superior to those taken by the quick-thinking extroverts. Harvard promotes a leadership style that values quick and assertive answers over quiet, slow decision-making.
Nature or Nurture
Cain reports that several intricate studies indicate that 40 to 50% of introversion/ extroversion is inherited from our parental genes. This means that we have a predisposition to be either an introvert or extrovert before social and other conditioning kicks in. In fact, between one third and one half of all people in western cultures are introverted and prefer cerebral stimulation to social stimulation. Being quiet and reflective is perfectly normal for a large part of society. In any event, few of us tend to be on the extremes of either temperament. Introverts can also enjoy social interactions and extroverts can enjoy some quiet time to relax and reflect.
So why do some of us grow up feeling inadequate or shy because of our tendency to be introverted? Often it can be the demands of our teachers and workplaces, which places the burden on us to be more like the extroverts that surround us. It is perfectly okay to prefer to meet small groups of friends and to have deep discussions on issues that are of interest to you as opposed to trying to outshout your extroverted peers in a noisy environment where perhaps trivia reigns supreme.
Hiring Employees and Choosing Preferred Personality Traits
It is a mistake to hire clones that all display the same personality and character traits as the business owners or managers. Diversity is important and a mix of extroverts and introverts will ensure that you cover all the bases. It is hard to imagine a sales leader in your business that is introverted by nature or a company accountant that is a complete extrovert. Yes, these personality types do exist in non-typical roles for them, but it is not the norm. The type of job a person does, will normally be dictated by their personality type and the way in which they like to work.
According to Cain, introverts tend to:
- Think more carefully than extroverts
- Think before they act
- Digest information thoroughly
- Stay on task longer
- Give up less easily
- Work more accurately
- See “what if” as opposed to “what is”
- Like quiet enclosed environments where they have the opportunity to think clearly
And extroverts tend to:
- Take a quick and dirty approach to problem solving
- Trade accuracy for speed
- Make increasing numbers of mistakes as they proceed
- Abandon ship altogether when the problem seems too difficult or frustrating
- See “what is” as opposed to see “what if”
- Like open plan environments where they can experience and contribute to the buzz
Pushing different personality types outside of their comfort zones can have severe repercussions for your business. Respect employees’ individual strengths and allow each of them to succeed at tasks where they are supremely good and find someone else to do the tasks they are not good at. A team made up of different personality types, all working in their high performance zone, will always outperform a team of common personalities doing a mix of tasks they love with other tasks they hate.
And if you have a personality type that does not square with your career or job, it may be a mistake to try to work counter-intuitively and force yourself to be like everybody else. Perhaps a change of job or career might offer you a better path to self-fulfillment.