Recently, we published an in-depth piece about introverts in the workplace and how they are often overlooked in favour of their more outgoing colleagues. It’s an interesting subject and one that has caused something of a stir, including plenty of debate surrounding the idea that the valuing the introvert is devaluing the extrovert.
With that in mind, and in order to maintain a balanced perspective, in this post we’ll be looking at how the two very different personality types can thrive together, rather than work against each other.
The research into the introverted personality at work has given introverts a voice. However, that voice should remain a positive one in order to be effective, so giving in to the temptation of extrovert bashing really isn’t very productive. This is supported by Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, who noticed that following the publication of her book there was “increasing hostility” from introverts towards their louder counterparts, some of whom went far enough to say that extroverts are “stupid and needy”.
A World of Equality in the Workplace
Clearly this isn’t the best standpoint for an introvert, or anyone fighting their corner, to take. At best it’s insulting and at worst it’s forcing a group of people into a labelled group where they are put down according to who they are. This flies directly in the face of any drive to find equality in the workplace and is something that should be actively discouraged. After all, isn’t the idea of empowering the introvert in the workplace all about looking to the needs of the individual?
To address this, Dembling put together her own “Board of Extroverts” made up of her friends and allowed them to give their opinions on the debate.
“I think one of the things I learned that really surprised me was that extroverts say when they don’t have enough interaction, they feel sad,” she says. “So, they assume that when someone else is quiet, they’re sad,” Dembling said.
This supports the idea that extroverts and introverts take their energy from different interactions. For the introvert, it’s quiet time and the chance for deep thought and introspection, whilst for the extrovert, it’s the chance to bounce off others and hear their thoughts out loud. This works best for the extroverted individual and of course, whilst it might allow them to push forward better in the workplace, it can also cause issues with other workers.
The Office Joker
For example, it’s commonly joked about that in every office there’s at least one person that can be labelled the office joker or clown. This is the person that can only sit still for a certain amount of time before they go off and find someone to tell a joke to or mess about with. For the introvert, this is intensely irritating whilst for the extrovert, it’s necessary for them to recharge, for want of a better term.
So how can this be overcome in an office environment? Well to start with, the trend towards open offices should be considered. Introverts need their quiet time and extroverts need others to refuel their energy, so how can an open office support both?
The ideal scenario is to create an environment that suits both and this is something that can be easily done with a little rearranging of the space, office pods and the intranet itself. Most modern offices still rely on Ethernet cabling to connect the intranet, so obviously this will have to be factored in, as it’s unlikely that many businesses will want to go to the expense of re-cabling.
However, when doing so, business leaders must factor in ROI and what they may gain by rearranging workspaces so that they suit both personality types as well as those that fall somewhere in the middle. This can be done with the use of work ‘zones’ and ‘breakout offices’ so that essentially, you have the best of both worlds. Think of it like a university library; invariably there will be areas where students collaborate, just as there are areas set aside for quiet learning – the same can be applied to the office.
Using the LMS for Training
Another additional approach is to teach people about different personality types using training via the intranet LMS. If you already have Equality and Diversity training modules on the LMS then it’s a simple matter to add another module, but what can be learned that will be helpful at work?
The first points to make would be those that set out the differences and that whilst yes, to the introvert that person they see as annoying can be to them, they are doing what they are doing (most likely interrupting in this case) for a very good reason. It’s how they are wired. The extrovert can’t help being the way he is just as the introvert can’t help wanting that all-important peace to work.
A further approach could be suggestions of how introverts and extroverts can complement each other, rather than butt heads and use their differences to make good working relationships that enhance the working environment, productivity, creativity and so on.
In romance, the idea that ‘opposites attract’ has been around for many years, so that surely means that they can in the workplace too. Take Ted and Suzanne as a romantic example whose story was set out in a Psychology Today article. Since the couple have different ways of dealing with life and the inevitable stress that it brings, Ted and Suzanne’s opposite personality types actually work well together. This is because if they were both extroverts, then they run the risk of “burning out without sufficient down-time for rest and reflection”.
The same could be said of the workplace. If it’s filled with extroverts, all talking over one another and sharing energy to the point where nothing actually gets decided or done. Now insert the introvert to calm things and point out what needs doing when there’s a lull in the high-energy levels that can’t be sustained. For the introvert, this is about quietly taking things in, having their own ideas and finding the right moment to allow this to be shared.
In other words, both personality types can be taught to see that rather than their opposites being the enemy, the differences in their personalities can actually be used to bounce off each other in a productive manner. For the extrovert, she would have to be taught that introverts have boundaries and prefer not to be disturbed by her when they are working quietly and to wait for a more appropriate time. For the introvert, he would have to understand that the very energy that annoys them at times, can be harnessed and help them to do their job.
With the use of a LMS, a rearrangement of the workspace to allow both types of people to thrive and an understanding of individuals at work both from leaders and employees, harmony should be achievable. It won’t take rebuilding the office to go back to closed doors for everyone, open offices have their advantages, it just takes a little training, tinkering with the layout and another big step to becoming a truly people-centric organisation.