Everybody knows it from their school days: The loud, active children receive concentrated attention from the teachers, while the quiet, calm children remain unnoticed in the background. This pattern can be observed in working life and beyond. Especially in a society characterized by constant change, those who know how to stand out, sell themselves, and be remembered to make progress. That can give extroverted people a significant advantage over introverted people when it comes to making a career. But where do these differences come from? What are the prejudices, and is there a personality type that is more successful in professional life?
Extraversion vs. introversion
In scientific jargon, a distinction is made between introversion and extraversion as personality traits, originally from the founder of analytical psychology Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961). However, it often makes little sense to label people strictly extroverted or introverted. No one is exclusively extroverted or introverted. Most people are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.
If you think of extroverted people, they are often associated with being communicative and active, like being the center of attention and open. The attitude of these people is somewhat outward-looking. Extroverts seek out stimulating situations, while for people at the other end of the spectrum, these may lead to a sensory overload and a feeling of being overwhelmed.
Typically introverted people, on the other hand, are perceived as calm, quiet, and reserved. They are more likely to perceive strong external stimuli as very intense and tend to seek quiet retreats when their energy stores become empty. These different reactions to the personality types' stimuli are different excitabilities of specific brain areas (Kagan & Snidman, 2009; psychologists). As a result, uninhibited children become happy, open-minded teenagers, and inhibited children tend to be calmer and more introverted later on.
Of course, how these characteristics are expressed is as different and individual as the people themselves. Not every introvert is shy, as can be observed in one of the world's richest men, Bill Gates. Also, some extroverts are very shy. Depending on the situation and mood, people who fluctuate between extroverted and introverted are also called ambivalent. If extraversion or introversion are particularly pronounced, personality disorders such as narcissism in extroverted and social phobias in introverted people can even occur at both ends of the scale.
Extroverted = successful?
Because extroverted people feel comfortable in the spotlight and seek it out more actively, these personality types are also more often seen in leadership positions. They are less shy to approach people and expand their networks. That can give them a decisive advantage over more introverted people in their private lives and the professional world. Often loud, conspicuous and open people are more likely to be remembered. When it comes to filling a new management position, these people tend to stand out more (in part independently of any qualifications relevant to the job).
A study published in 2018 by Spark and colleagues found a similar reason for the often observed increase in extroverted people in leadership positions. Introverted people tend to be less interested in leadership positions because they see the associated extroverted behavior as unpleasant.
But does this also mean that extroverted people are better leaders? Both types can be very successful under the right conditions. According to Grant and colleagues (2011), this depends strongly on the employees' personality types. If they are passive, they can benefit from extroverted leaders. Conversely, proactive employees achieve better performance under more introverted leadership.
The underestimated underdogs
The fact that many companies are currently switching to home offices brings significant advantages for many introverts. Without constant background noise, small talk, and distractions, these people find it easier to delve into topics and perform tasks in a concentrated manner. They are often regarded as popular discussion partners, as they usually prefer to listen and can also keep things well to themselves. Presentations and speeches are more likely to be left to extroverted colleagues, which often makes them stand out. However, with digital change, more and more face-to-face interactions are being replaced by digital and virtual contacts, which increasingly highlights introverted people's strengths.
That begins with the job interview. People who are good at selling themselves but cheat on their CVs are quickly exposed through increasing digital networking and transparency. Many application processes now take place via social media and the Internet, at least in the first stage. As a result, the possibility of covering up missing skills with sympathy is also disappearing.
The best of both worlds
To promote the different strengths and weaknesses of different personality types, companies should create conditions in which people at both ends of the spectrum can get involved. In open-plan offices, some employees can blossom while others experience constant stimulus satiation. Introverts should be able to work without distractions and loud background noise if they prefer. Extroverts should also be able to satisfy their urge for stimulation and social interaction. Supervisors can help here by approaching employees and adapting working conditions to their individual needs as much as possible.
Although introverted people often prefer to work in the background, leaving the presentation to others and thus being less conspicuous, financial and social inequalities should be eliminated. If people feel that they are being mistreated because of their personality type, companies will harm their employees and themselves in the long term. For example, Google shows that it is possible to do justice to different types of employees within an organization. Despite the many open-plan offices, attempts are being made to create flexible workplace models and take individual preferences into account. It is ultimately up to the employees themselves to demand the respective optimal working atmosphere from their superiors.
Conclusion on introverts in the job
Despite their differences, extroverted and introverted people can complement each other well in their private and professional lives if they accept and respect others' characteristics. Businesses can benefit from both types of character, from the extroverts' open temperament and the serene calm of the introverts. Behind the drawers "extroverted" and "introverted" are always real people who want to be respected and encouraged in all their similarities and differences.
Strength strengths, forget weaknesses.
by Petra Ahrendt, employee at zweikern
Grant, A. M., Gino, F., & Hofmann, D. A. (2011). Reversing the extraverted leadership advantage: The role of employee proactivity. Academy of management journal, 54(3), 528-550.
Kagan, J., & Snidman, N. (2009). The long shadow of temperament. Harvard University Press.
Spark, A., Stansmore, T., & O'Connor, P. (2018). The failure of introverts to emerge as leaders: The role of forecasted affect. Personality and Individual Differences, 121, 84-88.