The power of introverts in the workplace

Introvert in workplace

By Kaitlin Louie, writer and editor for and

The thought of networking parties makes us cringe. Instead of a Friday night on the town, we prefer curling up in a chair and reading a book or watching a film. In work meetings we rarely speak up, but when we do, it’s after we’ve thought our entire contribution through. We are introverts, and for the longest time we have been encouraged to change our secluded nature, lest we flounder in the working world. In order to be visible, earn promotions and gain credibility in corporate America, selling yourself is invaluable — or so we’ve been told. Recent studies have cast new light on the value of an introverted disposition in the workplace.

In her recent book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts,” former lawyer and self-professed introvert Susan Cain explains how introverts, while initially less impressive to hiring managers than extroverts, often perform better in the workplace. “We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert ideal — the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight,” Cain says in the excerpt of her book that is available on her website. “But we make a grave mistake to embrace the Extrovert Ideal so unthinkingly. Some of our greatest ideas, art, and inventions — from the theory of evolution to van Gogh’s sunflowers to the personal computer — came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune in to their inner worlds and the treasures to be found there.”

“Quiet: The Power of Introverts” is not the only publication that advocates for increased appreciation of introverts in the workplace. In their study entitled “The Downfall of Introverts and the Rise of Neurotics,” Corinne Bendersky of UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and Neha Parikh Shah of Rutgers University studied the dynamics within study groups composed of MBA students. They found that, contrary to popular belief, work ethic and delivery on responsibilities took precedence over gregariousness when it came to an individual’s status in a group.

“Rather than a calculation of people’s status-valued attributes creating a stable hierarchy, we demonstrate that status allocation processes unfold more fluidly as peers revise their noisy initial expectations based on actual task experiences,” they wrote in their report, published in the Academy of Management Journal in April. In other words, their findings indicate that first impressions in the workplace might not have as powerful an effect long term as people think, because ultimately it is one’s actual contributions that determine one’s value in the eyes of one’s teammates.

According to Forbes’ explanation of the study, Bendersky and Shah classified the personalities of 229 MBA students as extroverted or neurotic based on their responses to a personality survey. They then placed these students into five-person study groups that would work together throughout the academic quarter. All students were subsequently asked to rate their teammates on how much they expected their peers to contribute to the group. Initial ratings showed that the more extroverted students garnered significantly higher status scores than did their neurotic peers.

Interestingly, as the academic quarter progressed, these ratings reversed themselves. Bendersky and Shah found that overall, the extroverts in the groups did not meet the expectations set for them by their teammates, and as a result, they lost status. Meanwhile, the neurotics within the study groups surpassed their peers’ initial expectations and contributed to their study group such that their status increased over time.

“Extroverts disappoint us over time when they’re part of a team,” Bendersky told USA Today, “On a team you’re expected to work hard and contribute a lot. But they’re often poor listeners, and they don’t collaborate.” In contrast, neurotics, by not selling themselves yet working consistently hard to contribute to their team, exceed expectations and earn the regard of their peers.

It should be noted that neurotics are distinct from introverts — while neuroticism refers to over-anxiousness, guilt and moodiness, introversion simply means that one derives more energy from being alone and often turns inward to reflect on life situations or creative projects. Yet Bendersky and Shah’s findings are relevant to , because neurotics and introverts share key attributes: neither enjoys being in the spotlight, and oftentimes they are not adept at selling themselves or arguing their points in large groups.

Anecdotal evidence also exists in favor of incorporating more introverts into the workplace. In NPR’s story, “The Quiet Strength of Introverts in the Workplace,” host John Donvan and journalist Anita Bruzzese heard from numerous callers who explained their experiences as introverts in the professional world. One introverted caller explained how her nurse manager colleagues appreciated her detail-oriented and focused nature, while another caller described how one of his extroverted co-worker’s attempts to sell herself actually backfired by making her seem self-centered.

One key point to keep in mind is that these studies are not placing extroverts and introverts in a kind of hierarchy or claiming one to be better than the other. In fact, they are an indication that both types of individuals have much to learn from each other: While extroverts could benefit from being more collaborative and contributing more to team goals, introverts may find more advancement opportunities if they learn how to advocate more strongly for their ideas and personal qualifications. Anita Bruzzese, who wrote a piece on the value of introverts for USA Today, told NPR, “Research will show, again and again, that the best workforces are diverse workforces. That means you need extroverts and introverts. You rely on their individual strengths to make a company successful.”

Management experts Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins, authors of “Own the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice to Master Your Leadership Presence,” agree with Bruzzese’s conclusions. In their book, they emphasize the importance of nurturing introverts’ and extroverts’ strengths, while encouraging both types of people to step out of their comfort zone and develop professionally. In an interview with USA Today, Su explained that introverts within teams “often have an approachable demeanor, which can make them exceptional mentors to more junior staff or particularly good sounding boards when you interact with them in one-on-one situations.” And while extroverts can be great at leading a group or initiating exciting projects, Wilkins explains that teaching extroverts how to listen better and be more attentive to their teammates’ needs will ultimately help them be more productive.

“Those who get out of auto-pilot recognize that their natural style is a strength and that adding a few more communication strategies in their repertoire won’t change who they are,” Wilkins explained to USA Today. “It will simply broaden their impact and get to the results they desire.”

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