Extroversion and introversion are concepts that have become more familiar in the working world…in fact sometimes they show in a relationship as early as the introductions. I met a new professional in my network last week and after introducing himself he apologized for seeming reticent because he was an introvert. I found this confession (for that is what it was based on his demeanor) fascinating. It is important to make the distinction between extrovert and introvert; an extrovert (among other things) gains energy from interaction with other people, conversely an introvert finds interaction with others will eventually (or maybe even quickly) drain his/her energy levels. Of note here is the distinction between introversion and shyness; being shy is the feeling of apprehension, a lack of comfort with the setting, or feelings of awkwardness and it can be present for both introverts and extroverts. Introversion is not shyness (my new colleague was likely experiencing shyness in addition to being introverted). I’ve met shy extroverts, know they exist.
So what does introversion and extroversion tell us about ourselves when it comes to the workplace and interpersonal relationships? The interesting thing is it may not be readily apparent if someone is an introvert or extrovert, although it has certainly become more socially acceptable to let people know which one you are as a way to help smooth along the process of learning to work together. However, it is import not to take your natural preference and wear it like a label, using it to excuse certain behaviors, like talking too much or not talking at all.
As someone who is a “raging extrovert” I recognized this had drawbacks. While I am comfortable speaking in public, mingling in groups and building comfortable one-on-one interactions with others, extroversion can have its drawbacks as well. I can take up a lot of “space” if I am not careful. I can provide too much information too fast for others to be able to digest and respond to. My body language is expressive, which adds to the information overload. If you watch a raging extrovert in the throws of unawareness you may actually (subtly) see the people around her/him physically shrink back (sit back in their seat, cross their arms, stop making eye contact, etc.). Extroverts can be very charismatic and it is easy to know where you stand when you are speaking/working/living with one, but it carries a measure of accountability with it. With great power comes great responsibility; manage it for all its benefits, but be aware there are disablers as well.
Similarly introverts can build capabilities that allow them to comfortably do many of the same things extroverts do, albeit with a measure of energy cost to them. They can speak powerfully in public (check out Susan Cain’s TEDTalk https://www.ted.com/speakers/susan_cain), introverts can “work a room” and build strong relationships. But some introverts may choose to opt out of being participative in meetings, being present but not really “there”. If you tell people enough times you are an introvert they will eventually stop calling for your opinion in meetings or engaging you in important discussions, which can also be a disabler to career and overall well being. Introverts are typically strong listeners, picking up on subtexts and nuances in meetings that others (who may be more directly engaged in debate) may not. However, this is only useful if, as an introvert, you can voice it in a meaningful way that helps the participants to see when they are speaking about exactly the same thing just in different ways (as an example). As with extroversion, introverts also need to be mindful that with great power comes great responsibility.
Introversion and extroversion are key components to self-expression that help us (and others) to understand how we may most comfortably express ourselves. Both can be powerful tools in fostering strong interpersonal relationships that enable others to see our authentic selves and build supportive relationships.
You can hear Carleen speak at the Institute of Professional Management Annual Conference in Ottawa on April 16th On “Women in the Workplace; Why Gender Diversity Program Fail To Meet Targets” (http://www.workplace.ca/events/event.php?id=164).