It was World Introvert Day last month which reminded me of the myths about extraversion and introversion. I touch on these in my books How to Get On with Anyone and Motivation: The UItimate Guide to Leading your Team Here are some extracts from both books:

Personality at Home

One of the most noticeable differences between people is whether they have a more extraverted or more introverted style of communication.  These terms were created by Carl Jung and refer to where you get your energy from and where you focus your energy – either on the external world of people and things or on the internal world of your own thoughts and feelings.  We all need some time alone and some time with others, but the balance between the two varies from person to person.

In Western culture, extraversion as a personality characteristic is generally valued more highly than introversion. In the Big 5 personality model, introversion is regarded simply as an absence of extraversion, rather than as something that has positive elements in its own right. In popular culture, we may associate extraversion with positive descriptors such as being outgoing and fun, while introversion is sometimes associated with negative descriptors such as being reserved and a loner; however, extraversion can also imply arrogant and domineering while introversion can imply thoughtful and considerate.

Most of us show a mixture of both introverting behaviours (a focus on our own thoughts and feelings) and extraverting behaviours (a focus on the external world), though the balance between them might vary. Nobody could be totally either one or the other – if they were, they would be either a hermit or a perpetual party-goer. Neither is in itself good or bad – the important thing is to know yourself so you can manage your energy and how much interaction you have with others.

Tune up or tune down?

If you are hoping to meet new people and make new friends, you may need to ‘tune up’ if you are naturally more introverted, by making an effort to initiate conversation and contribute to discussions, so that people can get to know you. If you are more extraverted, you may need to ‘tune down’ your contributions to discussion, by asking questions and listening so that people feel you are interested in them.

Understanding this difference enables us to manage our expectations of others. For example, someone more extraverted might want to spend more time socialising than their more introverted partner.

The point is to be aware of how your natural preference impacts your behaviour and whether that is effective for you in all situations. Read more here.

Personality at Work

In meetings, the people who have a bias towards extraversion tend to speak as they are thinking and have a faster pace, while people with a bias towards introversion tend to think first before speaking and have a slower pace.  When there is a mix of people in a meeting, this can sometimes mean that the former may dominate the conversation and move on to other topics before the others have had a chance to share their thoughts and ideas.  When most people in a meeting have the extraversion bias, there may be a lot of talking over each other and not listening, making it impossible for quieter people to get in.  Conversely, if the participants mainly have the introversion bias, the meeting may be very quiet and lacking in energy, and anyone who is more extraverted may feel intimidated into silence.

Being aware of this difference means you can take some simple steps to ensure all views are heard and people are involved by adapting your own approach.

To help more extraverted colleagues you can:

  • Ask them for their opinions
  • Allow time for them to talk so they can clarify their thinking
  • Explain that others need some quiet time to think
  • Speak briskly and respond quickly
  • Project enthusiasm and be animated

To help more introverted colleagues you can:

  • Send out an agenda and any pre-reading in advance
  • Go round the room to ask for everyone’s views in turn
  • Take time out of the meeting to create some thinking time
  • Have a calm tone and body language
  • Don’t interrupt when they are speaking

What is your experience? Are you more extraverted or more introverted? How well do you manage your energy for interacting or for time alone?  How can you help your colleagues and family members manage theirs?