Every day we’re busy–responding to requirements, change, or even crises. This is our on-the-job “noise.”
So why do some of us feel energized by the swirl of things and others wearied by them at the end of the day?
The answer lies in our temperaments.
Introvert or extrovert
If you’ve ever taken the Myers-Briggs personality test (I’m an INFP, if you’re interested) or read Carl Jung’s book, Psychological Types, you’re familiar with clinical definitions of introvert and extrovert.
In her fascinating, best-selling book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain recaps Jung’s findings:
Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them: extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.
Simply put, introverts are drained of energy when engaging with people while extroverts are energized.
…today’s psychologists tend to agree…that introverts and extroverts differ in the level of outside stimulation that they need to function well. Introverts feel ‘just right’ with less stimulation….Extroverts enjoy the extra bang that comes from activities like meeting new people….
If given a choice between attending a large cocktail party on a Friday night after a tough day at the office or spending the evening curled up on the sofa with book, most introverts would prefer the book.
Introversion and extroversion are temperament descriptors that, like most human behaviors, fall on a continuum (including ambivert, someone who aligns with both) and are often situational. Cain explains how we evolve in those temperaments and adjust them as needed.
What’s interesting is how our degree of introversion or extroversion comes to play in our jobs.
Many psychologists would…agree that introverts and extroverts work differently. Extroverts tend to tackle assignments quickly. They make fast (sometimes rash) decisions.
Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration.
Cain points out that introverts face unique challenges and discomforts, especially when the workplace seems to respond more positively to its extroverts.
She researched both history and scientific studies, illuminating and validating the styles and contributions of introverts. For me, as an introvert, she put the awkwardness, self-questioning, and anxieties that were part of my work life into a perspective that was something of a relief.
Introverts on the job
Being introverted does not mean being shy. It’s about needing quiet time, away from interactions with others, to refuel oneself.
Because a workplace is often an intense “people place,” it doesn’t always fit the ways introverts prefer to operate.
Here are some examples of introvert challenges, raised and validated by the studies that Cain covers:
Brainstorming exercises: Introverts formulate more and higher quality ideas, innovations, and new perspectives on their own than in rapid-fire group discussions where the loudest, fastest voices usually prevail.
Public speaking: Introverts are more comfortable in public speaking situations when they’ve been able to prepare fully. They tend to be highly sensitive to the reactions of the audience, continually scanning it while speaking, so they can adjust.
Participating at meetings: Introverts tend first to assimilate the content of meeting discussion before framing their input. They tend to say less, but concisely, not always commanding the full attention of others.
Leadership charisma: Although introverts make effective leaders, there may be a culture of charisma in a company that rewards leadership positions more often to those with “big personas” rather than a solid vision and effective decision making.
The value of quiet
The workplace is made richer by the diversity of temperaments. So it’s important to make sure that the value inherent in both introverts and extroverts is cultivated.
Cain reminds us:
Without introverts, the world would be devoid of:
- the theory of gravity
- Chopin’s nocturnes
- The Cat in the Hat
So please make space for a bit more quiet among the noise.