When it comes to personality types in the workplace, the model employee has always been the
When it comes to personality types in the workplace, the model employee has always been the extrovert – the ambitious, competitive go-getter who speaks up, can self-promote and network easily, and who is the picture of workplace success.
However, on the other end of the personality spectrum is the introvert. These quiet, shy individuals make up between one-third and one-half of the American population, yet they frequently fall by the wayside in the workplace. They're expected to either feign extroversion in order to thrive in a talkative, bustling office – or remain overlooked and left behind.
According to experts in industrial-organizational psychology, introverts can be just as productive and valuable to an organization as extroverts. And lately, researchers have been taking a closer look at these workplace wallflowers. They've found ways to identify them, ways to help them develop, and ways for managers to better allocate their talents and turn them into workplace assets.
Identifying Introverts in the Workplace
There's a misconception that introverts and extroverts speak completely different languages and are unable to work well together. And of course, while there are exceptions to every rule, this is generally untrue – introverts and extroverts can actually work very well together in the workplace.
Extroverts are naturally social, talkative people who go out and acquire experience and information, and then pass it along to others, who can then implement those findings in creative and effective ways. Introverts will take a role more similar to that of an interviewer – they ask a lot of questions as a way of gaining knowledge. It may look like they’re avoiding having to speak, but it’s actually just a different means of absorbing lots of information. In this way, introverts and extroverts have a symbiotic relationship in the workplace, each an equally important part of the equation.
Think of extroverts as the “action” people and introverts as the “idea” people. You can tell them apart by the way they work throughout the day. Extroverts tend to like to share their achievements with their coworkers, and they’ll find ways to be social throughout the day. Introverts will appear much more focused and solitary (although it’s true that some are better at putting on displays of extroversion than others and may therefore be harder to identify).
By nature, introverts tend to become overstimulated and overwhelmed by noisy environments, which can feel chaotic to them. You may see introverts trying to distance themselves from situations that involve large groups of people, especially when there's lots of simultaneous chattering going on. It’s safe to say that introverts tend to avoid the water cooler (or whatever the 21st century equivalent is), while extroverts flock to it.
Why Introverts Are Assets
The popular phrase “It takes all kinds” applies here. While there are certain benefits to hiring extroverts, there are definite unique benefits to hiring introverts, too. The best workplaces have a symbiotic, productive mix of both.
Introverts are excellent listeners. Before forming their own opinions, they tend to carefully listen to each side of an issue, making them informed resources and great decision makers. They can be especially great interviewers, too, as they tend to ask strategic, useful questions. Additionally, they're often incredibly organized, prepared, and great at managing their time. These qualities are ideal for making schedules, planning budgets, managing a human resources department or even leadership roles.
Although they may not speak up very often, introverts are usually very capable, effective writers. Tasks that involve written communication – such as writing press releases, newsletters, or being part of a social media or marketing team – are ideal for introverts, who are great at translating even abstract thoughts and concepts into writing.
Surprisingly, sales is another area in which introverts are especially well-suited. Many consider extroverts to be ideal salespeople, since they tend to be more aggressive, competitive, and charismatic. However, introverts are great salespeople because they’re great listeners. They really listen to their customers, which makes the customer feel that their needs were top priority.
Despite the societal premium that’s been placed on being outgoing and extroverted, introverts are just as important – both within the workplace and outside it. Though it's important to have individuals who are competitive and motivated, don't discount the importance of your workplace wallflowers. These are the people who will surprise you with outside-the-box problem-solving, excellent written communication skills, an inquisitive nature, and a predilection for productivity.