Introverts bring many strengths to the workplace and should be valued just as much as their extroverted colleagues.
I’ve spent a big chunk of my life wishing I were an extrovert.
I would be amazed at how my extroverted colleagues were always ready to share their point of view on something, comfortable in the spotlight, and more sociable. I, on the other hand, would usually be the quieter one in a meeting and needed some extra time to solidify my thoughts before I felt comfortable sharing them. Plus, my social batteries drain much faster to the point where my colleagues thought I was unsociable.
When I shared my experiences with fellow introverted colleagues, I realized that I wasn’t alone in having wished I were more extroverted — after all, society favors those who display more extroverted traits. But then I learned about the “Extrovert Ideal” described by Susan Cain in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking — and how it is a myth. Even if Western culture favors extroverts, many of the most creative people and leaders are introverts, including several U.S. presidents.
While reading Cain’s book, I had an ah-ha moment and embraced my introversion for the asset it is. Just because I didn’t have certain extroverted traits (such as a love of public speaking) didn’t mean there was something “wrong” with me. Instead, I saw my introverted traits — like deep thinking, active listening, and thoughtful communication — in a new light.
In The Genius of Opposites: How Introverts and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results Together by Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D., she explains why it’s important to have both introverts and extroverts on a team. After all, we have our different superpowers that complement each other. Here are five reasons why.
Why Introverts Are Just as Important as Extroverts on Teams
1. Introverts and extroverts are the perfect “tag team” — one can write up research for a presentation and the other can do the presentation.
Introverts and extroverts can lean on each other and “tag team” by passing the baton to one another. This way, they both use their varied strengths and are stronger together. For instance, take Google founders Larry Page (an introvert) and Sergey Brin (an extrovert), opposites who achieved greatness.
Similarly, I know that I can rely on my extroverted colleagues to bring high-energy enthusiasm when presenting our project to others. And they know they can rely on me to make sure that we’ve nailed all the research, details, and process.
Now, this doesn’t mean that either of us are “bad” at the other’s tasks or that we can’t (or shouldn’t) “stretch our personalities,” as Cain says in her book. She continues: “We might call this the ‘rubber band theory’ of personality. We are like rubber bands at rest. We are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so much.”
Instead, we’re aware of our own, and others’, strengths and hone in on them. Now, instead of focusing on and fretting over the things I think I’m bad at or not comfortable doing, I focus on my strengths and advocate that introverts have their superpowers, too!
2. As they say, “introverts think to speak, extroverts speak to think.”
You may be familiar with the phrase, “Introverts think to speak, extroverts speak to think,” and I think it’s true.
I always thought the reason I struggled to share well-formed thoughts on the spot in a meeting was because I was slow or unintelligent. Why couldn’t I be more like my fast-talking/thinking-aloud extrovert colleagues?
But it helped me immensely to learn that our internal processes are just different — we introverts prefer to think more before speaking whereas extroverts often speak to help collect their thoughts. Neither is right and neither is wrong.
Having both personality types on the team is necessary: In meetings, I can continue to observe, listen, and come back with my thoughts after the meeting whereas my extroverted colleague can take us along, audibly, on their thought process journey. Their live brain dumps help me see things from others’ perspectives and give me food for thought, which is a win-win!
3. While extroverts “just do it,” introverts “watch and wait.”
Whereas introverts tend to “watch and wait” while extroverts “just do it,” this is another way we work well as a team.
We introverts are perceptive listeners and observers, and our thorough approach means that we usually prefer to do more in-depth analysis before launching a project or making an important decision. So, rest-assured, my output will be very well thought through.
My extrovert teammate, on the other hand, prefers “action over contemplation,” as Cain says, and may care more about getting it done faster than getting it perfect. This is where I can take the reins and make sure it’s perfect before we turn it in (though my extroverted coworker can make sure I don’t overthink things so we do actually turn it in on time).
So adding introverts to your team helps strike a perfect balance.
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4. Introverts inspire extroverts to slow down and listen.
It’s no secret that introverts aren’t fans of small talk, although we watch how our extroverted colleagues still manage to connect meaningfully through it. I like observing their techniques, especially at the start of a meeting — they’re so good at making people feel at ease — and they can also do presentations with such enthusiasm (even on the most boring of topics).
Working closely with extrovert teammates is also helpful in other ways. For instance, they often remind me to zoom out and see the bigger picture. If I feel like I’ve messed up a big presentation just because of a tiny thing I may have done wrong, they’ll help me get out of my head (something we introverts excel at!) and realize it wasn’t so bad after all.
Meanwhile, I’ve seen some of my colleagues tap into their more introverted side — they are inspired by the way we actively listen to others and protect our time for solitary thinking, reflecting, and creating.
In so many scenarios, I appreciate having a mix of introverts and extroverts on team projects — we can inspire each other to flex our muscles in other areas which don’t come naturally to us, and it helps us all see new ways of thinking and doing things.
5. When they feel valued, introverts have a lot to contribute in terms of creativity and new ideas.
If introverts don’t feel valued and heard in the workplace, we’re missing out on all their creativity and ideas. The sooner we realize that introverts and extroverts need each other to achieve success, the sooner we can reap the benefits of diverse teams and celebrate each others’ natural skill sets and styles.
And this begins with understanding each other; it’s a great foundation for a successful team. So, encourage an open conversation with your team on how everyone prefers to work and collaborate.
For example, team members could create an “‘About Me’ User Manual” to share with each other, which covers their preferences (like if you prefer sharing ideas in a document or while brainstorming in person).
Being open about my preferences has given me permission to be myself, and I feel more understood than ever at work. It also gives me peace of mind knowing that my manager knows that if I’m quiet in a meeting, it doesn’t mean I’m disengaged or that I don’t care. Instead, he knows I’m mulling everything over and will come back with my thoughts afterwards (I’m known for sending great follow-up summary emails afterwards with all the action items).
So if you’re ever feeling like you’re not a part of the team as much as your extroverted counterparts, think again! Staying true to ourselves and embracing our introverted superpowers will only help us achieve success as a team made up of introverts and extroverts alike.
You might like:
- 4 Reasons Introverts and Extroverts Go Well Together
- A Guide for Extroverts Living or Working with an Introvert
- If You Relate to These 10 Signs, You’re Probably an ‘Extroverted’ Introvert
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