Managing an introvert vs. extrovert in the workplace can be one of a manager’s most difficult challenges. It’s something Leaders’ Head of Evergreen Content, PJ Howland, an award-winning digital marketing manager, has personal experience with. As PJ explains, “During one of my first manager jobs I took over a team of marketers with classically introverted traits. Each member was a high performer, so the stress of getting the best of my people was low, but I struggled to build social capital with my team. Eventually, we made traction, and all thrived together. So well, in fact, that one of my direct reports ended up taking over the team as I transitioned to running a larger team . . . of primarily extroverted people. Initially, I was excited to be working with fellow extroverts! Yet, while the team had a great connection, the ball was also often getting dropped. This team required a lot of quality checking and coaching. No two teams are the same. Good managers adjust to people’s needs and traits, including the differences between introverts and extroverts.”
As PJ discusses, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work when managing extroverts and introverts. Both sides of this equation respond and react differently. Great managers practice Situational Leadership®, changing their leadership as needed. For example, they might shift from coaching to delegating depending on who they’re dealing with, the circumstances, and other unique factors like time, place, setting, experience level, and more. If you want to get good results from your team, you’ll need to learn this leadership style to become an effective manager for introverts and extroverts alike.
In this article, you’ll learn more about the introvert and extrovert personality types along with how to lead them so they improve themselves and the organization.
Who Developed the Concept of Introvert vs. Extrovert?
The idea behind the extrovert and introvert personality types originate from the theories of Carl Jung, a prominent Swiss psychiatrist who published his works in the first half of the 20th century. Jung wrote that introverts tend to direct their feelings and thoughts inwardly. Conversely, extroverts liked to direct their thoughts and feelings outwardly, usually to the people around them. He described introverts as shy people who tend to be more reserved in their actions while struggling in a social environment. Extroverts, on the other hand, were far more outgoing and aggressive. They were people who thrive in social situations.
This concept would evolve over time, but it didn’t become more mainstream until it was used in Myers-Briggs tests. In 1943, Isabel Briggs Myers developed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which asks almost 100 questions to establish a person’s personality type. That type was determined based on several opposite elements, one of which was introversion and extroversion.
Today, many employers have their team take tests to identify traits such as how introverted or extroverted a person is. They do this as a way to know how their employees function in the workplace. In a sense, this helps managers better understand who their employees are and how to guide them to success.
What Is an Introvert?
An introvert is someone who, more often than not, prefers to spend time on their own. That doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy social interactions, but they often find that they need time to recharge their energy after being in a social situation. They also tend to spend time deep in thought. When they do get out and interact with others, they enjoy spending time with their closest family and friends. Most introverts prefer to keep a close circle of people they trust near them over a large group of acquaintances. The best jobs for introverts tend to be ones where there is limited socialization during the workday.
Top traits of an introvert:
- Spends a lot of time alone
- Likes to analyze situations in their minds
- Plans ahead for important events and occasions
- Feels cautious when approaching people they don’t know
- Prefers to work independently most of the time
- Says little when around a lot of other people
Pros of being an introvert:
- They have very analytical minds
- One of their priorities is to plan ahead and be prepared
- Maintaining a structured and organized workspace comes naturally to them
- They have no problem working independently to get things done
- They’re fiercely loyal to people who are in their inner circle
- Introverts tend to show caution, allowing themselves to think things through before acting
- They listen closely when other people are talking
Cons of being an introvert:
- Introverts can sometimes fail to act due to overanalyzing things
- Their frequent silence can send the wrong message, especially when dealing with extroverts
- Independent work can clash with those who prefer a more team-based approach
- They can keep their ideas to themselves due to feeling uncomfortable
- Flexibility is usually not one of their strong suits
- They can have difficulty making a personal connection with coworkers
How to recognize an introvert in the workplace:
- They don’t fully participate in conversations among the team
- Isolating themselves to get their work done becomes a common tactic
- Their answers during one-on-ones are usually short and to the point
- They rarely speak up in meetings
- When they do talk, their responses usually carry a good deal of depth and thought behind them
- They won’t make it a priority to socialize with team members outside of work
- Introverts love to focus on the details
- They tend to follow rules and policies to the smallest degree
Example of an introvert at work:
Scott is a dedicated worker who always comes into the office on time and even shows up five minutes early for every meeting. His desk is clean and well organized, but most of the day he mainly sits there working quietly and intently. Scott doesn’t pay a lot of attention to the conversations around him, only occasionally commenting. Scott’s work is of excellent quality, especially in the details. When the company holds optional after-hours activities and events, he’ll show up only some of the time. His workers like him because he always gives well-reasoned analysis when called upon.
What Is an Extrovert?
An extrovert is someone who loves being around others. They thrive in social situations, often chatting up other people with enthusiasm. Most extroverts know how to be charismatic. They find that social settings are a great way to recharge their batteries. Extroverts tend to be more impulsive, and while they can think deeply about issues, too, they usually prefer to talk things through with others. As long as there are other people around, they will feel in their element. Unlike introverts, they normally have a large group of family and friends they love spending most of their free time with.
Top traits of an extrovert:
- Highly social almost all of the time
- Captures people’s attention when in a large group
- Loves to jump right into problems
- Enjoys being more spontaneous at work and in their personal lives
- A cooperative team player
- Drives the conversation no matter the topic
Pros of being an extrovert:
- Social situations don’t faze them—if anything they love them
- Can get along great with other personality types, especially other extroverts
- Extroverts don’t feel like they have to get to know people in order to form a bond with them
- They can become an integral part of any team
- They love to take charge, leading many to think they are naturally gifted with team leadership
- Their attitude is that limits should never hold them back
- Opinions flow freely whenever they’re around
Cons of being an extrovert:
- They can come across as overbearing to some people
- Problems could arise when they don’t have an “off” switch
- They may find it difficult to work on their own
- Their job may become particularly challenging if they work with other remote workers
- Social situations may distract them from focusing on what really matters
- Their desire to share their opinions may create conflict
How to recognize an extrovert in the workplace:
- They love to initiate conversations with their coworkers
- Rarely does a meeting go by without them voicing their opinions and ideas
- They’re the first to suggest doing something as a team after work
- When they hear about a new challenge, they’re always game
- Extroverts are a bit looser with rules and policies
- Their best work gets done when they can work with other people
Example of an extrovert at work:
Alice is a beloved member of her team, partly because she always gets everyone involved in projects. She’s quick to strike up a conversation and loves to welcome new team members with enthusiasm. Alice is eager to speak up during team meetings, often to the point where she ends up leading them most of the time. Many people view Alice as a natural leader due to her charisma and energetic personality. She will also make plans to get people together for fun activities and parties after business hours.
Tips for Managing Introverts vs. Extroverts
You’ll most likely have a combination of introverts and extroverts on your team, so managing these personality types can become a challenge. Here are some general rules for managing people given a unique personality trait.
- Change your leadership style: As a manager, you need to adapt your style to what works best. You can’t expect your employees to change for you. Because of this, you must learn how to bring out their best abilities.
- Get educated: Part of being a manager is learning how to lead different types of people. With this in mind, educate yourself on introvert and extrovert qualities. One of the best starting points is to read books like Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
- Play to people’s strengths: This is part of practicing strengths-based leadership. Extroverts and introverts have varying strengths in different areas, and those can be different for each person. Don’t stereotype people based on personality types. Get to know them, and put them in roles where they can utilize their strengths to produce excellent work.
The above general guidelines serve as an effective foundation. Now let’s look at other managing tips for both introverts and extroverts.
- Encourage them: Many introverts will likely prefer to sit back and let others talk around them. Encourage them to speak up. Explain that you value their feedback and want to take their opinion into account. As Professor of Harvard Business School Francesca Gino says, introverts need to “feel comfortable enough to contribute.”
- Don’t rely on praise: Introverts don’t always respond to praise as a motivating factor. While praise is good to dish out, find other ways to portray a job well done. For example, show introverts the impact of their work on the business.
- Set clear expectations: Many introverts just want to get their work done. So, a manager needs to be very clear about setting expectations. Establish the right systems, and use clarity at all times.
- Make space for them in the company: The traditional business structure seems to value extroverted behaviors over introverted ones. Introverts, however, have powerful, analytical minds, making them great leaders in organizations. Susan Cain writes as just one example, “Because of their inclination to listen to others and lack of interest in dominating social situations, introverts are more likely to hear and implement suggestions.”
- Establish a rapport: Not every conversation you have with an introvert will be lengthy and deep. But you should still work hard to establish a rapport early on. When hard times come, you’ll want that rapport so you can have an open and honest conversation.
- Give praise: An extrovert’s personality type usually means they love receiving praise for their work. Make sure you give it when they do a good job.
- Keep things conversational: As you can expect, extroverts like to talk. When you need to get down to business, keep it conversational. That includes providing critical feedback. A one-sided conversation isn’t very effective in getting through to them.
- Prioritize interactions: You should take time out of your day to interact with extroverts. This is especially true when in a remote work environment. Schedule time with one-on-ones, video calls, and check-ins.
How to Handle Other Personality Types in the Workplace
It’s important to remember that an introverted person can still display some extroverted traits and vice-versa. Everyone is different. A person may be an extroverted introvert or an introverted extrovert. Beth Buelow of The Introvert Entrepreneur explains, “To be clear, introverts need people, and extroverts need solitude; it’s a matter of which one you prefer and gain the most energy from when you need it.”
Another way to look at this is through the personality types of ambivert and omnivert. These types usually incorporate elements of both introversion and extroversion. An ambivert is able to balance those two sides at the same time, while an omnivert flips between the two extremes frequently.
Learn about the differences between an ambivert and an omnivert so you can manage your team better.
Also, find out the answer to the question, “Are leaders born or made?”