Introverts in the workplace. We’re here, and we have a ton to offer – if you get us and if you know how to approach us.
I am an introvert. My name is Laura Aman, a unit claims coordinator at Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance, and I am approaching nearly 35 years at this company. (insert the big round eyes emoji). Even though I’m an introvert, and though I’m not as outspoken as my extroverted colleagues, I still have a ton to offer and enjoy working with a wide variety of people who work in different ways than me.
Introverts and extroverts in the workplace can work differently than each other. It is important to understand the differences between introverts and extroverts, and how they collaborate in the workplace.
I’ve found during my nearly 35 years at Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance that I am an introvert for sure. However, I’m not necessarily shy. I can be, but not typically. Does that sound like a contradiction to you? Continue reading this article to learn about what being an introvert or an extravert actually means. Here’s a hint: It’s not about how enthusiastic you are, or how much noise you make.
What is an introvert?
In short, an introvert, like me, is a person that gains or loses energy directly proportional to the amount of external activity and interaction around them. Introverted people regain lost energy levels by being alone. They can more effectively recharge and regroup by themselves. However, in the workplace this can be a challenge. If an introvert feels overwhelmed or over stimulated, they can’t just walk off the job to recharge. So, when that’s not possible, introverts charge through and recharge later or create mental breaks within the workday.
Stereotypically, introverted people have been perceived as shy, withdrawn, unmotivated or awkward. None of these opinions are necessarily correct though.
An introverted co-worker, employee or leader may need more time to reflect, consider and process within their happy space of quiet and internal inner workings. Before introverted people put their thoughts and ideas out for mass consumption, they need the space to work through the aspects of projects or ideas. Introverted workers are typically very reasoned and thorough in their processes, given the time and consideration to work through.
What is an extrovert?
An extrovert, on the other hand, is different in how they approach thoughts, ideas and interactions. An extrovert gains or loses energy directly proportional to the amount of external energy and interaction around them. Whereas an introvert gathers energy from time alone to recharge, an extrovert often gathers energy from external sources, such as other people.
They like to have multiple, unique experiences. Extroverts can have an easier time expressing what’s on their mind and can find silence uncomfortable.
Extroverted people may be perceived as talkative, attention seeking, bossy or dominating. Again, these descriptors aren’t necessarily true or absolute. Extroverted people tend to need external activity to reason out, talk and think through ideas and processes. They receive energy and joy from working with others and collaborating with others.
Introverts in the workplace
Unlike people who are painfully shy or struggle with social anxiety, introverts don’t fear social interaction like some may assume—they just don’t react to it in the same way that extroverts do.
How can you best work with and honor what introverts bring to the workplace? Here are a few thoughts: Respect their privacy and downtime. It is important for introverts to take time out of their day to recharge in calm, low-stimulating environments. For example, your introverted colleague might put on headphones at their desk, sit alone at lunch, go for a walk or take solo breaks.
Spending time alone doesn't mean an introvert is unhappy. In fact, it’s quite the opposite—they’re practicing self-care. By taking time out of their day to be alone, they’re giving themselves what they need to feel happy and calm at work.
Extroverts in the workplace
Extroverts mean well when they push introverts to be more social. An extrovert simply wants an introvert to have a great time with people, just like they do.
Extroverts often have expressive personalities and say their thoughts out loud. This is unlike introverts who process things in their minds and keep information to themselves. To understand better, extroverts need introverts to be direct and straightforward while communicating. This is because extroverts often have a more challenging time picking up subtle signs and cues. It is easier for extroverts when they are communicated to in a clear, honest and direct manner.
Silence can be uncomfortable for extroverts, and they would like introverts to understand that. Extroverts will usually fill the space with some topic, any topic, in order to be comfortable. They are not trying to annoy introverts or disrupt their peace of mind. It’s just that pauses and silence can be hard for extroverts.
Of course, when it comes to being introverted and extroverted not all these qualities or situations may apply to everyone. There are many people who believe they are mostly introverted or mostly extroverted who can still have opposite tendencies of what they identify as. And, especially in the workplace, extroverts can have introverted tendencies and vice versa.
Understand if you are an introvert or extrovert
If you don’t know which category you fall under here are qualities that may help you determine if you are an extrovert or an introvert.
You may be an extrovert if:
You like crowds, parties and other gatherings with lots of new people
You need to spend time with others to help you recharge
You're outgoing, talkative and enjoy attention
You prefer talking out answers to problems and bouncing ideas off colleagues
You may be an introvert if:
You enjoy spending time alone
You prefer quality time with one or two people rather than bigger groups of friends
You need alone time to rest and recharge after a busy workday or period of activity
You need time to process and think through problems, challenges and ideas before sharing your thoughts
Typically, introverts tend to enjoy more time to themselves, are very aware of their internal thoughts and recharge more in solitude. Extroverts can be just the opposite. Extroverts are often more outspoken, outgoing and absolutely love being around other people.
Why it matters
While everyone is different, working on understanding the differences between introverted and extroverted tendencies can be a helpful tool when it comes to better understanding yourself and others around you. Being more self-aware can help when things feel off and aren't going as well in your life as you think they should. Knowing our tendencies can help us find a better equilibrium when we feel off-center.
In the workplace, it is useful to understand that your coworkers may not react to things the same as you. A spontaneous suggestion may be met with silence while introverts process what it means. A brainstorming session may seem to exclude the introverts because they don’t usually speak up as fast as their extroverted colleagues. Being aware of these differences helps both sides understand and make room for each other in discussions.
The same goes for when conflict arises in relationships. If you know that your best friend is more introverted, you may not be shocked when she turns down your offer to go to a loud, crowded concert over the weekend, and instead opts for a movie and popcorn night at home. Having this knowledge can help avoid taking the rejection personally since you know it's not about you, but more about what that friend needs to feel their best.
Introversion/Extroversion - Neither is a matter or question of personal preference. Introverts’ and extroverts’ brains are different in how they’re built and how they behave. The science is out there through many studies using MRIs and other methodology that identifies differences between the two types of brains.
At the end of the day, it boils down to what successful interpersonal relations boil down to —respect. Respect and getting to know and understand your introverted and extroverted peers. We all bring many life experiences, viewpoints and discussion points to the table; take advantage of it all!
*The information in this article was compiled from a variety of sources and is intended to provide helpful tips only.