Personality diversity: understanding introverts and extroverts

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with my GCS colleagues on a topic that is close to my heart and has shaped me into the person I am today: personality diversity, with a particular focus on introverts and extroverts. 

The easiest way to explain what makes someone an introvert or extrovert is how one gains or drains energy. Prefer to express feelings in writing rather than talking? You’re probably an introvert. Enjoy group work, especially brainstorming? You’re likely an extrovert.

Photo of Richard Etienne, author of the blog post, smiling.
Richard Etienne

There’s nothing more liberating than being re-introduced to yourself. This moment happened in my late 20s after reading a book by author Susan Cain on introversion called ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’. It let me know that it was okay to be the person who wasn’t centre of attention or spoke the most in meetings or social gatherings. What I had lacked in those extrovert qualities, I excelled in communicating with insight, loyalty and authenticity – values shared by our community of more than 4,500 communications professionals, serving the public across the United Kingdom. 

On the positive side, extroverts are often described as talkative, sociable, action-oriented, enthusiastic, friendly, and out-going. Likewise, positive introvert qualities include analytical thought, empathy and reliability. 

We are all different and our differences should be embraced to create a working environment where diversity of thought and personality is championed. Only by doing this can we break down the ‘us versus them’ mentality regarding introverts and extroverts.

How can we bring out those positive qualities in the workplace?

Here are 6 ways…

Focus on strengths not weaknesses

Focus on the things introvert personality types are good at. An introvert employee may hate public speaking more than most, and by forcing them to do it you could be creating further panic and anxiety. Instead, their strengths could be better aligned with other tasks such as planning and research

Praise often

Remember to praise your extroverts – as extroverts are more social creatures, they respond better to public praise and celebrations. By doing so they will feel more motivated, happier and more productive.

Seek balance

Ensure extroverts don’t steal the limelight – in meetings or brainstorms make sure you don’t let extroverts talk over everyone else. As long as you have given your introvert employees opportunities to prepare by scheduling these sessions in good time, all should be happy to be called upon to share their views.

Re-frame conflicting ideas

Another way to encourage diversity in your team is to re-frame the way people see debate. It’s often natural to shy away from conflict, but if you make it clear that, as a manager, you encourage differing opinions and want to hear as many new ideas as possible, you’ll encourage everyone in your team to start speaking up. It will no longer be seen as disagreement, but instead as discussions.

Make space for quiet thought…

Reorganising the working space. Open plan offices are great for creating a sense of unity, but they can be a nightmare for introverts as they are notorious for being noisy. Be sure to provide a quiet space in the virtual and physical office that can allow introverts the space to think without interruption. Encourage use of ‘do not disturb’ statuses on instant messaging platforms that allow for it. This acts as a sign to give colleagues the quiet space they need to get on with their work. 

…And for loud ideas

Likewise, consider also giving space for physical or virtual drop-in sessions for your team where there is a no-obligation opportunity for extroverts to connect, hold brainstorming sessions, without interrupting others.

Next steps

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