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Build Your Career Office Life

Introverts vs. Extroverts: How to Get Along at Work

Introverts vs. Extroverts: How to Get Along at Work
Credit: ArtFamily/Shutterstock

During work hours, the office is a temporary home to employees of various personalities. Some might be talkative while others keep to themselves. However, it's not always the case that everyone gets along, especially when workers are at opposite ends of the social spectrum.

"Typically, extroverts see introverts as unsocial, inadequate, shy, secretive and aloof noncontributors," said Jim Lew, a diversity trainer and organizational development expert. "Introverts describe extroverts as aggressive, egotistical, unaware, rude and socially needy."

This disconnect can cause issues and miscommunications among the two groups. However, it's important for colleagues to get along. Introverts and extroverts, despite their differences, can still establish a supportive, healthy work relationship. Here's how to work with and manage both types of people.

Introverts like organization and preparation. Sometimes all it takes is giving advance notice for events and projects, and sticking with a schedule to ease their anxiety.

For instance, if there's a meeting or event, send details ahead of time so they aren't going in blind, said Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of "Quiet Influence: The Introvert's Guide to Making a Difference" (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013). They'll feel more comfortable and appreciate your consideration.

Because introverts prefer one-on-one conversations over group meetings, it's beneficial to host some chats online to avoid unnecessary stress.

"Go electronic [with idea-sharing]," said Lew. "Recently, we have seen a spike in crowdsourcing. This type of idea-sharing allows for introverts to provide their thoughts in a setting that is suited for their social abilities. Organizations have seen significant and meaningful contributions through this method."

Don't expect introverts to jump out of their comfort zone to share their ideas right off the bat. It takes time for them to articulate their thoughts and warm up to the group.

"When discussing projects [with] introverts, you are not going to get lots of verbal feedback," said Tim Backes, chief editor of Source Resume. "That doesn't mean they aren't listening or that they have nothing to say. An introvert prefers to take some time to process information and respond in a way that's most comfortable for them, such as via a well-written email."

Be patient and understanding. Sometimes, the best ideas are born independently over time.

"You'll get the most out of an introverted employee by giving them clear expectations and a lot of space," Backes added. "As long as goals and deadlines are understood, there's no need to hover over their shoulders and micromanage."

Once ready, introverts need a chance to speak, and since they likely won't ask for it, you might need to take action, said Lisa Tesvich, organizational psychologist and consultant.

Reach out to them in private or follow up individually after meetings. Provide them with an opportunity to share their ideas without forcing them to present to the entire team.

Don't dull an extrovert's sparkle – support it. Provide them with tasks and roles that match their personality and allow them to connect with people. Let them have their platform to share their thoughts and ideas, because, odds are, they have plenty of them.

"Plan to give the extroverts some face time, since they need to talk out their ideas and bounce things off [others]," said Kahnweiler.

While it's okay for extroverts to occupy more time than others, make sure they don't steal all the limelight. You should still get a word in when needed, and sometimes that means being firm.

Marc Miller, president of MLM Coaching and Consulting, said that workers must learn to speak up among chatty employees. It's important that everyone has their chance to share, and sometimes extroverts don't even notice how much they're talking. Don't be afraid to politely interrupt or direct the conversation away from them and their proposals.

Unlike introverts, extroverts tend to talk before sorting through their thoughts. Just because they're voicing an idea doesn't mean it's a complete one.

"With an extrovert, you may want to test what you hear them say by asking questions," said Dorothy Tannahill-Moran, founder of The Introvert Whisperer blog. "An extrovert tends to think out loud by talking [and] gains energy both by talking as well as by [interacting] with others. This means that some of what you hear from them may be all part of working through their thinking."

Introverts would be great candidates for this – they listen, absorb information, think it through and then ask a simple question to steer the conversation on track. It's a win-win for the entire team.

Everyone is different, even those that fall in the same social category. A diverse team needs a flexible, unique management style.

"The manager needs to recognize each team member's personality type and delegate tasks in such a way as to highlight employees' strengths and mitigate their weaknesses," said Backes.

For instance, don't ask a shy employee to make a presentation at a company meeting, and don't make an extrovert lead a detail-oriented project. Give each employee tasks that leverage their personal skills or character traits.

"Sometimes as an employee or manager, you have to work with someone who has a completely opposite personality than your own," Backes said. "As long as you properly acknowledge your personality type relative to your colleague's, you should be able to find a happy medium."

Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't working as a Purch B2B staff writer, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. The only time Sammi doesn't play it safe is when she's writing. Reach her by email, or check out her blog at sammisays.org.