"You're such an introvert I was surprised to see you at the office party yesterday."
"Oh, is that why all those people were disturbing me while I was trying to read?"
Whether the above joke describes you, let's start with a simple assertion: While there are tangible differences between introverts and extroverts, both have unique skills that can prove invaluable in the workplace.
Despite this, introverts may well be at a slight disadvantage in the workplace due to the sheer number of misconceptions that surround them. Without understanding the introverted mindset and the way in which it manifests itself, there is a danger that some individuals may be considered as being shy, unemotional and even lacking in empathy.
According to the Myers-Briggs organization, an estimated 50% of the population can be identified as introverted. Numerous scientific studies have explored the depths of the introverted mind, addressing some common misunderstandings, and offering insight into how introverts think.
By studying the introvert approach, it has shed some light on the key productivity secrets of introverts, and the unique attributes that can make them invaluable to an employer.
Here are a few debunked perceptions about introverts, and reasons why these personality types make your office better:
Outstanding Creative Thinkers
They may not be the first to throw a suggestion into the brainstorming ring, but introverts are excellent at synthesizing information and forming creative solutions.
Back in 2012, Randy Barker of Harvard University discovered that introverts tended to have larger and thicker masses of grey matter in the prefrontal cortex. This is the area of the brain that drives abstract thinking and decision making, which is in turn crucial to the process of generating creative ideas and making informed judgements.
So while introverts may be more inclined to develop their ideas and streamline them internally before interacting with others, they often deliver a quality and clarity of thought that can underpin any creative campaign.
If you want to conduct efficient and productive brainstorming sessions, introverts should be empowered to participate regularly in these formats.
Not Easily Distracted
Everyone finds a loud office environment distracting, but some people may be wired to better tune out the noise.
The aforementioned Myers-Briggs organization has long since asserted that while extroverts draw their energy from social interaction, introverts channel theirs from within. This has been backed by various research projects, which seem to suggest that introverts and extroverts react differently to alternative stimuli and have diverse reward and pleasure systems.
With introverts less easily distracted by others and capable of drawing their energy from within, they are adept at focusing on single tasks and working until their individual goals have been accomplished.
In fact, the introverted brain is more inclined to actively avoid workflow interruptions, making it ideally suited to thriving in pressurized situations and tight time constraints.
Can Thrive Without Supervision
Putting your head down and monotasking has proven to be one of the most effective ways to increase productivity. This ability may come more natural for some than others.
The introverted mind was the subject of numerous studies back in the 1960's, including one conducted by Hans Eysenck in which he concluded that introverts were easily over-stimulated in group situations, and as well by the prospect of taking even calculated risks.
These findings have significant connotations in the workplace, as they earmark introverts as being ideally suited to working alone and without supervision. Their risk-averse nature also makes them more likely to adhere to specific instructions, meaning that employers can rely on the consistency of the work that they are likely to receive.
Not Motivated By Traditional Rewards
There is a dangerous misconception that introverts as a whole are not motivated personality types. Instead of thinking in such binary terms, consider this: Introverts and extroverts are simply motivated by different rewards.
While introverts channel their energy from within, they are not completely introspective in their outlook. Instead, they are more likely to be less motivated and energized by the traditional rewards that exist within the workplace, such as career progression and remuneration.
This topic has been explored in a research paper written by Dr. Colin DeYoung, and it explains the perceived lack of ambition that is often falsely attributed to introverts in the workplace.
Rather than lacking ambition, introverts are simply more motivated by the satisfaction of completing tasks to a high standard. This means that they are predisposed to managing their workload to optimize productivity and quality, rather than aggressively pursuing promotion or higher earnings.
With recent research from the UK suggesting that there is a clear salary tipping point where the demands and stress of a role begin to impact productivity and work-life balance, this type of outlook is clearly beneficial to businesses in the long-term.
Contrary To Perception, They Build Excellent Rapport
Perhaps the greatest misconception surrounding introverts is that they are unsuited to outgoing job roles that require significant social interaction. This is far from the case, however, as introversion simply influences the type of relationships and interactions that it looks to form. In fact, introverts crave depth and intimacy in their social interactions with others, preferring to deal with people one-on-one rather than in group settings.
This has much to do with dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that controls the brain's reward and pleasure systems and determines the type of interaction that is appealing to introverts.
Interestingly, this makes this demographic entirely suited to sales roles, as they have a desire and an ability to build rapport with clients and cultivate strong commercial relationships for your business.
They Make Great Leaders (And Sales People!)
On a similar note, there have also been studies in which introverts outperform extroverts in typically outgoing sales positions. This is not only due to an innate willingness and desire to develop rapport with others, however, but also because introverts are outstanding listeners who are capable of understanding their client's and customer's needs before proposing their own, unique solutions.
Karl Moore, who is a professor at the Desautels Faculty at McGill University, has also explored the introverted mind while running advanced leadership programs for his students. He has concluded that the ability to listen to customers and employees is also integral to good leadership, even suggesting that extroverted leaders learn and adopt these traits of the introverted mind in order to become more approachable.
With this in mind, it is clear that the listening skills of introverts make them extremely productive when dealing directly with clients, managing internal relationships and completing complex, detail-orientated tasks.
The Last Word
The online world is well-populated with articles on introversion and extroversion, although many tend to exalt one demographic, while marginalizing the other. This is counter-productive, as it is far better to instead consider the merits of both introverts and extroverts and empower each to fulfil their potential in the workplace. After all, introversion and extroversion are not labels, but merely representative of different points on a psychological spectrum.
In support of this, there are even people who fall in the middle of this spectrum and are described as ambiverts as they tend to exhibit qualities from both extremes. With this in mind, it is crucial that employers strive to understand these unique personality traits and utilise them to optimise individual and collective productivity.
In the case of introverts, this often means casting aside stereotypical misconceptions and rethinking everything that you know about this demographic.
Editor’s note: This article does not imply that extroverts do not possess these qualities, or that all introverts are reflected in these descriptions. The purpose of this post is merely to debunk common misconceptions about introverts in office environments, based on scientific research.
It’s important to remember that introversion and extroversion exist on a spectrum, and many people who identify as extroverted possess some or all of these qualities, and not all people who identify with introversion identify with these traits.