Central to human personality theory and popularised by Carl Jung in the early 20th century, the terms introversion and extroversion are commonly used to describe the ways in which people interact with one another.
Contrary to popular belief, however, the psychological preference scale relates to far more than simply how sociable or outgoing people are.
The Myers & Briggs Foundation describes introversion and extroversion as being reflective of where we direct our attention and get our energy.
They suggest that extroverted people “like to spend time in the outer world of people and things”. On the other hand, introverts energise by spending time in their “inner world of ideas and images”.
Most people sit somewhere on the scale between the two extremes of introversion and extroversion.
As Carl Jung said, “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum”.
Everyone has both an extroverted side and an introverted side, with one being more dominant than the other.
Managing our energy
While each of is unique, and the things that energise or drain us vary, the introversion/extroversion scale provide a useful insight into how people typically act.
More introverted people normally recharge by spending time alone. They often find it draining to be with other people for long periods of time. This is especially true when introverts spend time in large crowds.
Extroverts, on the other hand, gain energy from other people. Typically sapped of energy when they spend too much time alone, extroverts tend to look for social opportunities to recharge.
According to psychologist Dr Hans Eysenck, the fundamental difference between introverts and extroverts is varying arousal levels. That is, the different extents to which our minds and bodies are alert and responsive to stimulation.
Dr Eysenck proposed that extroverts have a lower basic rate of arousal, resulting in a need to work harder to arouse their minds and bodies compared with introverts.
Extroverted people therefore have a heightened need for novelty, adventure or the company of others in order to be at their best. Conversely, introverts can be overwhelmed by what their extroverted colleagues consider energising.
More sensitive to external stimulation, introverts need and prefer time alone, one-on-one conversations and predictability.
5 tips for managing introverts
1. Take time to understand them
Getting to know the introverted people on your team can be challenging, quite simply because they typically communicate less. This does not necessarily mean they are resistant to doing so.
Spend time engaging in one-on-one conversations, exploring their preferences and ambitions. Ask questions that allow you to better understand what is important to them and what gets the best from them at work.
2. Enable inclusion
Introverts prefer to think things through before speaking or acting. Therefore it may sometimes seem difficult to get their input during team meetings or group discussions.
Don’t assume they have nothing to contribute; they may be considering their views or how they will articulate them.
Encourage introverts to join discussions by giving them information in advance, asking questions or inviting them to speak on key points – later in the meeting. Remember to give them time to reflect first.
3. Convene purposeful meetings
Introverts prefer not to meet regularly with others; therefore it is essential that you make the meetings you ask them to attend valuable.
Set clearly defined meeting agendas and ensure discussions stay on track. Send written information before any meetings, to allow introverts time to reflect in advance on what they need or want to contribute.
4. Allow focused activity
Allow room for introverts to think, reflect and plan.
Introverts prefer to concentrate on a few tasks at a time and dislike unanticipated interruptions. Avoid ‘dropping in’ unexpectedly or taking them by surprise. Where practical, use memos or email to communicate what you need in advance.
5. Respect space and solitude
If you work in an open-plan environment, take reasonable steps to create quiet space for introverts to retreat to when they need to recharge.
Keep in mind that, while teamwork is essential to any organisation’s success, introverts are more likely to thrive when given the opportunity to work independently. Allow them to work without constant interruption, and to work on solitary tasks for at least part of the time.
5 tips for managing extroverts
1. Encourage discussion
Extroverts think things out by talking them through, so give them airtime. Allow them to share their ideas, even if they are still being formed, and explore their ideas with them, allowing time to discuss and ponder.
While it’s important to ensure extroverts don’t dominate team conversations, it matters as much that they are able to share their insights and think things through with the group.
2. Enable interaction
Extroverts enjoy meeting other people and will typically seek out social gatherings. They are unlikely to sit at their desk for long if that means being isolated from other people.
It’s common to find extroverts discussing issues in the corridors and convening impromptu meetings. Provide workspaces in which extroverts can gather and work together.
3. Provide variety
Having a variety of tasks and activities to focus on is important to an extrovert’s ability to feel energised and engaged.
Unlike their introverted colleagues, extroverts are in fact stimulated by unanticipated interruptions. They prefer to multitask and are easily bored with routine work.
Energise extroverts by giving them work that will provide the diversity they crave.
4. Focus on the future
Extroverts are more likely to be engaged when working towards goals that enable the organisation’s future.
Build a clear line of sight between the role they play and the business’ immediate and longer-term vision.
Learn from, but avoid dwelling on, the past.
5. Lead with focus and discipline
Because extroverts talk a lot and focus on more than one thing at a time, it’s important to record important agreements in writing.
Clear, agreed-on plans and objectives are important to keeping discussions and energy focused on achieving results.
Lead extroverts to form a clear view of their priorities and keep to time commitments.
Karen Gately is a leadership and people-management specialist, author and a founder of Ryan Gately, an HR consultancy.