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Thinker or Talker? Getting the best of both worlds in the workplace

Ask The Experts | By | 15 Mar 2022 | 5 minute read

Put anyone in a group setting and they’ll tell you — more often than not, great minds don’t think alike. People process things differently, and that’s a gift. Workplaces are a medley of communication styles and personality types. It also means that communicating effectively is the bedrock of better ways of working. So whether you’re introverted, extroverted, or land somewhere in-between the two, the more we understand one another, the more we can build connections, express ideas and get the job done.

In summary, I believe:

  • Both introverts and extroverts can pursue the same career paths successfully
  • We all have a mix of introvert and extrovert tendencies, no one is all one or the other
  • We should understand other people’s tendencies and work with them
  • You can gain skills that help you work better with both introverts and extroverts
  • It is the responsibility of leadership to ensure that both introverts and extroverts are visible and engaged

Introvert, extrovert, it’s about where we get our energy – where we feel most comfortable. 

Introverts vs Extroverts: How they’re different

Introvert or extrovert? It’s worth looking at what these terms mean. Being an introvert does not mean being shy and quiet, although they might be so. Being an extrovert does not mean being loud and social, although they might be so. These terms describe how we get our energy – how we recharge. 

How does an Introvert recharge?

An introvert recharges by being alone, or in a small group, with the company of their own thoughts. They need quiet time to recharge. After a period of time, they feel refreshed, energized and ready to take on the world. 

How does an extrovert recharge?

Extroverts derive their energy from mixing with people and social settings — human interaction. They feel more energized after social interactions and group activities.

None of us are all one or the other. We are all mixes of the two to varying degrees. It’s like being right or left-handed – we can all use both hands, but we have a preference. Some people have balanced introvert and extrovert tendencies – they are called ambiverts.

How does this matter for team members and leaders in general? 

Decision making for introverts and extroverts

We make decisions all the time. Sometimes these are decisions made by an individual in the privacy of their own thoughts – while editing code, for example. This is a state of mind that introverts can draw energy from, and are attracted to. It is why introverts are over-represented amongst software developers when compared to the general population. In this setting, the introvert excels, having to make decisions that mostly require their judgement alone – or that of a few peers. Introverted tendencies work well with this type of decision making. Extroverts can work here as well – it just isn’t as comfortable for them.  

Other types of decisions require input from a broader group, which is where extroverts start to draw their energy. Settings where we need to get a whole team together, or we need to include team members who are remote, are where an extrovert draws energy (and comfort). These group settings, and the decisions they make, are heavily influenced by the extroverts in the group – because they are feeling energized and comfortable. For the introverts, they can still participate, but it doesn’t come as naturally and saps their energy. The result is that on average extroverts engage with more energy and comfort than introverts, so their points of view will tend to dominate the decision-making process.

This is how we get the “introverts code and extroverts run meetings” picture. A silly generalization but we can see a grain of truth in it. The problem is, running meetings often (unintentionally) also means steering the decision to a preferred outcome. And these decisions are often the larger team level decisions. Extroverts have a tendency, unintentionally, to be over-represented in these decisions. And so, we see the beginnings of a bias built into the system.

Speaking up as an introvert

One of the most important things we can do is make sure that introverts are encouraged to speak up in group settings. This is not where they draw their energy from and so they will need encouragement, patience and support. It is our collective responsibility to do this because we need the best thinking of everybody in every team to make the best decisions.

If you’re a leader or an extrovert, we need you to pay extra attention to the introverts in the group and to make sure their voices are heard. This is a critical skill we expect of leaders – the ability to draw out the points of view of everyone in the decision, introverts included.

And it works in the other direction. We need introverts to reach out in a team setting and communicate with extroverts in ways that will engage them. They need the human to human interaction as part of communicating. We need our introverts to put the energy into making their points of view known and trust that our extroverts will meet them halfway – and essentially, to close the communication gap. This will not be easy at first, but with a small amount of practice, it can be done. It needs to be two way – introverts reaching out to extroverts and vice versa.

Introverts can make excellent leaders

When it comes to career progression, it’s easy to lose sight of introverts. They may not be as “loud” but their thinking matters equally. Whether they aspire to be individual contributors or people managers, we need to always look carefully at the skills possessed by an individual and remember all roles can be done by both introverts and extroverts. 

I have worked with talented extroverts and introverts. It is not true that leaders need to be extroverts, gregarious and outgoing (although some are). Introverted team leaders or tribe leaders can still be successful. We have a collective obligation to make sure we include everyone in our evaluation of the next generation of leaders, not just the outgoing people. In my experience, there is no correlation between talent and a person’s tendency to be introverted or extroverted. Talent is talent wherever you find it.

Visibility is key

However, there is a mutual obligation here. Part of advancing a career includes letting people know who you are and what you do. You need to be known by not only your immediate peers but also a group of people outside your peer group. You need to be visible. This requires networking. Just as introverts may have an edge in the coding environment, extroverts may have an edge in networking. But it is only an edge. It is not a constraint. With a small amount of effort, introverts can network successfully. It is the responsibility of leaders to help their team members network and make connections in the business – so introverts should expect support in doing this

Networking and visibility is a skill that can be learnt like any other technical skill. You only need to invest modest amounts of time to do this but you will need to venture into a place that isn’t your natural comfort zone. Ask your team or tribe leader to help you do this.

What do we get if we take these introverted and extroverted tendencies into account?

  • Better decisions because we have included more points of view in making them
  • Better leadership because we have included the quieter types in our selection process
  • Better development because more of our great people are “visible” in the business
  • Better working together because the extroverts & introverts are thinking of each other

When teammates can celebrate the different traits and communicate in a way that works for them, you’ll notice improved workflows, relationships, outputs and more. 

Wherever you sit on the introversion-extroversion scale, there is a place in SafetyCulture’s engineering team for you where there will be equal opportunity and support.

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