This post is, at least in part, triggered by a guest post on Vicky Beeching’s cybersoul blog: Introverts, extroverts, and why Twitter is like Narnia. The post is by Tanya Marlow, and she brings a unique perspective to the issue. It resonated with a couple of posts written here back in 2008, so it seems like a good time to  revisit them. If you want a bit of background on how personality sorters work, and what we mean by introversion and extraversion, do have a read of them:

They go into a lot of the theoretical background, but people have told me they’ve been helpful in understanding things like Myers-Briggs / MBTI, 16-PF and the myriad  of other tools in use. Tanya’s post, in that first link, was inspired by Susan Cain’s “The power of introverts” TED talk:

[Susan] argues that although introverts make up approximately 33-50% of the population, modern society discriminates strongly in favour of extroverts. Fifty years ago, our classrooms had individual desks, all in rows, and you worked by yourself. Now our classrooms are arranged around circular tables and you work in groups.

And, of course, there is the parallel in the work place, with open plan offices, huddle spaces, and a focus on teamwork and social interaction:

Currently, our work-places and schools make it easier for extroverts to excel because they are set up to focus on team work and discussion, with little time for silence or reflection. Our society values the extroverts, and the introverts have felt sidelined.

Understanding the Difference

In can be hard for Extraverts to understand that Introverts need time to recharge. Extroverts are energised by social interaction, introverts are drained by it. The mirror of that, is the ability of introverts to be energised by long periods of time spent alone digesting information, something that many extroverts find draining and demotivating. Hopefully the need for a mixture of personality types in any environment is clear – if it isn’t, then try spending a few hours in an environment that is dominated by one or the other!

Susan makes three calls to action at the end of her talk:

  1.  Stop the ‘madness’ for constant group work.
  2. Go to the wilderness – unplug a little more often.
  3. Introverts and extroverts, value each other and understand your differences.
She’s not calling for an abolition of team work, but the restoration of a balance in training people to be able to work alone. I have had several conversations this week with hiring managers who have all had exactly the same problem with recent graduate hires: A difficulty in working alone. Now, that may or may not be related, and it make be down to management style, but there are some specific actionable things that can be done here.

What’s Social Media got to do with it?

Many people view social media as a neutral tool. It really isn’t. Twitter (and almost any microblogging platform) is a very interesting lens for communication. It strips away the visual aspects, de-emphasises the emotion, and depersonalises the communication. It lets people communicate together, while remaining alone. I find it  interesting that often times Yammer is widely adopted in IT departments, but much more slowly in other groups. Guess where there’s a high concentration of introverts in the organisation? Is the reason for the adoption pattern perhaps more to do with personality types than technical affinity?

Tanya observes:

My friends who were quiet and withdrawn in ‘real life’, on Twitter were chattering away or SHOUTING REALLY LOUDLY. It was bizarre.

I decided to investigate further. I discovered (from my admittedly modest survey among mine and Vicky Beeching’s followers) that roughly 75% of Twitter users were introverts, and 25% of Twitter users extroverts.  Introverts outnumber extroverts on Twitter by 3:1.

That matches the original MBTI Twitter study I carried out a few years ago, which found that introverts were massively over represented on Twitter (that’s a good thing by the way ;) ).

Put in the social platforms

Put platforms in place in the business that enable the introverts to have an equal voice. If you are only getting interaction from a subset of your team, you are missing out on valuable knowledge and feedback.

Let people be alone, but don’t let them be lost.

If you make heavy use of on-line tools for communication, be sure to strike a balance between letting people work independently, and helping them out when they become stuck, but are too shy to say so. Even with the best tools and platforms in place, home/remote working can be a lonely experience for some, especially if they are used to working closely with a them.

 Shut the Lid, Stop the Crisis

Lastly, make space. Even in the middle of a crisis. The biggest mistakes I’ve seen this year have not been from being too slow to react, they have been from reacting too quickly. The constant barrage of information that we face daily makes everything feel like a crisis. Take a lid out of the introvert’s book: Shut the laptop lid(s). Turn off the phone for a few minutes. Breathe. Reflect. Think about what you know, and come up with a better set of solutions than you would have done otherwise.