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The Battle Between Introverts and Extroverts: Who Wins at Work?

extroverts vs. introverts at work

In our workplaces, it often seems that there is a battle between introverts and extroverts, particularly concerning the work we like to do and how we prefer to work with (or without) others. Some people at work are more comfortable and more productive working alone, deliberately focusing inwardly on their thoughts; others, it seems, thrive on group interaction and excel when they have to stand in front of clients or coworkers to present ideas or sell a product. This type of work, to many of their colleagues, may seem like a horrible experience, creating anxiety and discomfort. But do extroverts actually perform better in the workplace, are they more adept at modern work “tasks”—and is the typical workplace in America set up to help both introverts and extroverts succeed?

Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, first introduced the notions of introversion and extroversion (extraversion) in 1921, to describe what he saw as a sort of personality polarity.  Jung suggested that if you gather energy from being the center of attention, if you love to talk, and you enjoy socializing, you are a classic extrovert. On the other hand, if you are not a fan of small talk, you are a good listener, and you prefer solitary, thoughtful activities, you are a classic introvert. Extroverts may more easily find satisfaction in the world of people and accomplishments, while introverts may more easily find meaning in their inner world.

So how do introversion and extroversion play out in the workplace?

Extroverts and Introverts in the Workplace

In Western society, extroversion is often viewed as a social norm, though anywhere from 25-50 percent of Americans may identify as introverts. We feel social pressure to be outgoing and socially comfortable; we work in groups in school, and we give presentations in front of classes, all suggesting some broader need (or expectation) to be extroverted. While in some Asian cultures, introversion is revered and seen as the social standard, Western workplaces seem to value gregarious, extroverted people. Many jobs require out-going personalities and comfort with group interaction. However, with the growing appreciation of self-awareness, mindfulness and meditation in the workplace, introversion is gaining newfound esteem.

In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain cautions, “Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured.” Today we use other concepts to describe personality types, as well, focusing on the degree to which an individual is spontaneous, organized, analytical, or empathetic. Each of these four basic personality types may be introverted or extroverted. Indeed, like most parts of our personalities and selves, the degree to which we are introverted and extroverted is fluid and depends on situation, mood, and need. The key for us as workers, coworkers, and managers, is to be able to identify these characteristics in personalities and be able to bring them together for greater productivity.

Often, the key to success for introverts and extroverts is to match the right people with the right positions and circumstances. Extroverts tend to focus outward, move around physically, and think aloud to express their thoughts. Introverts process information internally, prefer to interact with fewer people, and do their best work alone. Extroverts who are assertive, cheerful, talkative, and attention-seeking are successful when they occupy positions with routines that differ day by day. They often mingle with co-workers at will. They may not be suited to sedentary, solitary positions, like working as data entry clerks, but they are likely to do well in fluid, more-active careers, like working in public relations. Introverts, on the other hand, are typically highly self-aware, analytical, and detail-oriented. They are more comfortable working alone or in a small group setting where they can focus on problem-solving without distractions. Many people who work as software engineers, accountants, and in other positions that require careful, deliberate thought identify as introverts.

When Everybody Wins

Certainly, both introverts and extroverts can find success in the workplace—and they can work together effectively—when the culture makes it possible for diverse personalities to function at a peak level. That means allowing for personal preferences and accommodating diverse needs. It is important for managers to learn the vastly different approaches introverts and extroverts take to complete their tasks—and that every colleague and employee exists on a sliding scale, one that determines their sense of introversion and extroversion on a particular day, working on a specific project, and in a particular group. Becoming aware of individual differences helps identify the extroverted team members who are comfortable with tasks at hand.

Identifying these personality differences is not always easy. Adam Grant, of the Wharton School of Business, at the University of Pennsylvania, looked at the large sales force at a software company and found interesting results. It turns out that strong introverts were not very effective as salespeople, but surprisingly, strong extroverts were not much better. By far the most effective salespeople were those in the middle, the team members who were a little of both. Many people, depending on the circumstance, are “ambiverts,” a combination of both introversion and extroversion.

Working with Different Personalities

A balanced team has the advantage of both personality types, introverts and extroverts, a definite plus in the workplace. Effective management of a team requires an understanding of these personality characteristics. Leaders who know their team members’ strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes can create a balance in their workplaces that will help to ensure better outcomes. Too much extroversion can create a situation where egos clash, while a team with too much introversion may lack a cohesive dynamic. Leaders can help accommodate teams with introverts and extroverts by taking steps like balancing social spaces with private spaces, asking for written feedback after meetings to allow introverts time to formulate their responses, and giving team members the flexibility to work in the way they are the most productive—essentially allowing their team members to work as ambiverts.

Introversion and extroversion are just one part of our multifaceted personalities. True Colors drives positive change in organizations around the world by encouraging leaders and staff to embrace individual personality differences. With True Colors, organizations create a culture of success where every employee feels understood and empowered. Through identifying and learning how to address individuals’ color inventory, True Colors helps teams understand the unique blend of qualities that make up their personalities and work settings. Our personality tests, based on proven temperament theory, teach leaders and co-workers personal awareness for improved communication, engagement, collaboration, and productivity. When teams understand the full color spectrum of each member and learn how best to utilize their personality characteristics, they can see an immediate improvement in communication and team productivity.

When you partner with True Colors, an experienced Master Trainer will help evaluate your needs and set realistic, achievable goals. True Colors training will help your organization thrive by implementing programs that meet challenges in leadership, team building, and conflict navigation. Our customized programs include online personality testing, consulting sessions, workshops, live events, and keynote speaking engagements.