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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

No one is a pure introvert or extrovert. However, every workplace has representatives of each personality type, and there are a few fundamental differences between the two that affect how they interact with their colleagues. Introverts tend to keep to themselves, preferring one-on-one conversations and solo work. Extroverts enjoy group projects, talking through their thoughts and connecting with others throughout the day. These behaviors often lead to unfair assumptions and judgments about both groups, which may cause tension within the team.

"Typically, extroverts see introverts as unsocial, inadequate, shy, secretive and aloof non-contributors," said Jim Lew, a diversity trainer and organizational development expert. "Introverts describe extroverts as aggressive, egotistical, unaware, rude and socially needy. While there may be a kernel of truth to these generalizations, the tone is angry and accusatory, rather than appreciative."

Organizational psychologists and career experts shared some tips for employees and their bosses to help introverts and extroverts succeed in the workplace. [Employee Satisfaction Means Acknowledging Different Needs]

How to work with an introvert

"Pause and take a breath before switching subjects. Play to the introvert's preference for preparation by giving them meeting agendas ahead of time." Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of "Quiet Influence: The Introvert's Guide to Making a Difference" (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013)

"When discussing projects [with] introverts, you are not going to get lots of verbal feedback. 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. You'll get the most out of an introverted employee by giving them clear expectations and a lot of space. As long as goals and deadlines are understood, there's no need to hover over their shoulders and micromanage." – Tim Backes, career adviser at Resume Genius

"For busy workplaces that default to group meetings to save time, the one-to-one communications get sacrificed and so do the introverts. Go electronic [with idea-sharing]. 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." – Jim Lew

"Introverts are more reserved, making them more difficult to get to know. [This] doesn't mean they do not like people or are not friendly. They typically prefer a few good friends over many acquaintances. In addition, extroverts need to understand that introverts have incredibly valuable input, but they need to be given air time as they typically will not demand it." – Lisa Tesvich, organizational psychologist and consultant

How to work with an extrovert

"Introverts need to know that their extroverted colleagues have an essential need to speak, and that they have important things to say. However, [introverts] must respect themselves and the contributions they can inevitably add to the decision-making process. They must learn to assert themselves, breaking out of their 'quiet' posture to speak up about the insights that have been percolating in their brains while the extroverts have been speaking." – Marc Miller, president of MLM Coaching and Consulting

"With an extrovert, you may want to test what you hear them say by asking questions. Introverts can believe that since the extrovert spoke that it might be a well-honed thought, which may not be true at all. 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 come from them may be all part of working through their thinking." – Dorothy Tannahill-Moran, founder of The Introvert Whisperer blog

"Plan to give the extroverts some face time, since they need to talk out their ideas and bounce things off [others]. Also, put extroverts in roles where they can connect with people." – Jennifer Kahnweiler

How to manage a team with different personality types

"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. You don't want to ask a talented yet scatterbrained extrovert to take lead on a project that requires an extreme attention to details." – Tim Backes

"An employer would do well to actively facilitate conversations from introverts and limit extroverts' talking so they don't dominate any group action. Extroverts can easily annoy an introvert by noise and too much talk, although you may never outwardly know when that has taken place." – Dorothy Tannahill-Moran

Where do you fall?

If you're curious about where you are on the introvert-extrovert spectrum, this informal quiz, excerpted from "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" (Crown, 2012) by Susan Cain, can help you get a general idea. The questions were formulated based on characteristics of introversion accepted by contemporary psychologists and researchers. Answer "true" or "false" to each of these 10 questions, choosing the answer that applies to you most often.

1. I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities.
2. I often prefer to express myself in writing.
3. I enjoy solitude.
4. I dislike small talk, but I enjoy talking in depth about topics that matter to me.
5. I enjoy work that allows me to "dive in" with few interruptions.
6. I prefer not to show or discuss my work with others until it's finished.
7. I do my best work on my own.
8. I tend to think before I speak.
9. I feel drained after being out and about, even if I've enjoyed myself.
10. I'd prefer a weekend with absolutely nothing to do to one with too many things scheduled.

The more often you answered 'true,' the more introverted you probably are. However, Cain noted that even if you answered every single question as an introvert or extrovert, your behavior isn't predictable across all circumstances.

"We can't say that every introvert is a bookworm or every extrovert wears lampshades at parties any more than we can say that every woman is a natural consensus-builder and every man loves contact sports," Cain wrote.

No matter which side you tend toward, try to be considerate and understanding of others' viewpoints and natural behaviors when you're put in a group with other personality types.

"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."

Originally published on Business News Daily on Apr. 8, 2012. Updated Oct. 31, 2014.

Nicole Fallon

Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the managing editor. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.

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