Helping Introverts and Extroverts Work Together
During lunch with coworkers, Sara vented about her teammate Randy. “He’s so quiet and aloof. I never know what he’s thinking. And he rarely comes to lunch with us.”
Meanwhile, in the meeting room where Randy was hiding for a few minutes of silence, he mused, “Being with Sara wipes me out. She never stops talking, and she keeps changing her mind.”
Working with others can be tough for all sorts of reasons, but a major factor in this instance is that Sara is extroverted and Randy is introverted. Extroversion and introversion concern where people get their energy, and this is the key to understanding how people like Sara and Randy perceive—and sometimes misinterpret—each other’s behavior.
Extroverts are oriented to the outer world of people and things. They generally enjoy being with lots of people and tend to thrive on interaction, such as Sara’s lunch with coworkers. Introverts tend to be oriented to the inner world of ideas and thoughts. They’re typically reserved and reflective and tend to thrive on quiet time, as Randy does when he escapes to the meeting room.
Extroverts tend to think out loud and work through their ideas with others, which may give the impression that they’re constantly changing their minds. Introverts tend to process thoughts internally and then—sometimes—speak them. But if the conversation has moved on, they may not chime in, giving the impression that they’re not contributing.
It’s easy to see how Sara and Randy might misinterpret each other’s behavior.
Furthermore, extroverts tend to gain energy from interacting with others, so it makes sense that they seek opportunities to talk with their coworkers. For introverts, constant interaction can be fatiguing, even when they enjoy the people they’re with and the things they’re talking about.
But there are no absolutes here. Many people are more introverted in certain situations and more extroverted in others. These people would describe themselves as ambiverts, but it’s important to remember that we are multi-dimensional beings: Whatever our level of introversion or extroversion, it’s just one small aspect of who we are.
The behaviors associated with introversion and extroversion aren't meant to drive coworkers crazy, but that’s exactly what sometimes happens. If the introvert-extrovert dynamic poses challenges such as Sara and Randy have experienced, consider discussing these differences as a team. Describe what your introversion or extroversion is like for you, and seek to understand how other team members are similar or different. By doing so, you can identify what you need from each other so that together, you can do your best work.