Do you consider yourself to be an introvert or an extravert? Jon Atkins ruminates.
You’re probably already aware of which of the two categories you fall into. It’s the backbone of many personality tests, a favourite small talk topic and a simple way in which we can classify both ourselves and others.
But, when we look at these two types of personality from a work perspective, things become different. These two classifications have a huge effect on the way we interact with our colleagues and the challenges we face. Thus, it becomes an important thing to consider when creating cohesive and diverse workforces.
More about introversion and extraversion
When we examine the ways in which introversion and extraversion manifest in people, it’s best to develop a base understanding of what the two mean. This can be achieved by classifying each personality type in terms of where the introvert or extrovert draws their energy from.
…when it comes to the competency frameworks and assessment processes that we use to assess employees, there tends to be a cultural bias which favours the extravert over the introvert.
Introverts, for example, gain energy from ideas and their internal world – they favour observation and introspective thought, and can sometimes find social situations difficult and draining.
Extraverts represent the opposite and source their energy from the outside world. They gain energy from people, activities and things. Although it’s possible to say some employees will be ambiverts (who have a mix of introverted and extraverted traits), each of us usually has a tendency to lean towards one extreme or the other.
This means that if we wish to look at things in a simplistic manner, we can usually split people into one of the two groups. The labels of course come with implied baggage, especially when it is considered that we live in a word which favours extraversion.
However, when we look at this from the context of the working world, we can recognise that both introverts and extraverts are capable of bringing varied and unique skillsets to the table: and that we must begin to give them equal amounts of recognition and favour to succeed.
Introversion vs extraversion at work
When we discuss introversion and extraversion at work, we are talking about our preferred way of working and interacting with our colleagues.
In a workplace environment, we often use questionnaires to get a better picture of employees and potential candidates’ personality: and many of the traits we examine will fall under the categories of introverted or extraverted.
However, this comes with a risk: these results can end up giving a poor assessment of introverts, as it often skews results to make it seem as if they cannot complete a job. This is because, when it comes to the competency frameworks and assessment processes that we use to assess employees, there tends to be a cultural bias which favours the extravert over the introvert.
A competency framework is what we, as employers, use to represent and examine what behaviours and traits are required to feed success in a certain role. It often puts priority on various things such as teamwork, interpersonal skills and an ability to present or step forward with ideas. These end up being presented as the most desirable behavioural characteristics for most roles.
Unfortunately, these frameworks end up placing favour on extraverts due to the nature of the characteristics they highlight: risk takers, quick decision makers and people who build strong relationships at high speeds are often framed as desirable candidates, as they favour action-orientation behaviours.
The way we currently frame effective behaviour at work is biased to push preference towards extraverts. When we consider this logically, we can see that it might become a problem: as it puts people who lean towards the introverted side of the scale at an immediate disadvantage.
If competency frameworks underpin everything from development programmes to assessment situations and even who we choose to hire, we must recognise that they have a huge impact on who we award certain roles and responsibilities to – which in turn can create a breeding ground for bias.
Where so we go from here?
This isn’t a call to start placing introverts in roles instead of extraverts, or an attempt to overthrow people around the globe who source their internal energy from external sources. Nor should this article uproot our ideas of what we think is important from a new colleague: whether someone is introverted or extraverted should not affect their ability to meet deadlines or be a good team member.
Still, looking for people with ‘huge personalities’ or ‘strong presentational skills’ without considering qualities more commonly associated with introversion can limit the range of people one hires into the workplace.
If we want to create diverse workforces which allow for creativity, progression and innovation, we need to make sure the personalities of our staff members are as diverse as their backgrounds.
To do this, we must consider changing the way in which we approach competency frameworks and the assessment techniques we use to compliment them: to foster a wide range of talent that can bring a variety of skillsets to the table.
About the author
Jon Atkins is a senior psychologist at Pearn Kandola