by Sarah K. White

How understanding introverts can drive business success

Sep 02, 2015
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Introverts are dispelling the notion that they are quiet and shy. (Yes, there is such a thing as an outgoing introvert.) Businesses are realizing they can benefit by drawing on the strengths of introverts and extroverts, but nurturing opposite pairings in the workplace requires patience, understanding and even some training.

Introverts are experiencing a type of 21st century renaissance — that is, if you consider a bump in search traffic and some articles on Huffington Post and Forbes a renaissance. Either way, introverts are making headlines and the new attention is helping to dispel the idea that introverts are simply shy loners. In reality, the main difference between an introvert and an extrovert stems from how they get their energy, according to Myers Briggs.

An introvert might become easily tired or drained at a party, while an extrovert might leave feeling energized and recharged. It doesn’t mean the introvert didn’t like the party, but they just might need a day of quiet relaxation before doing it again, whereas an extrovert might be ready for another party the following night. This means you can have an outgoing introvert or a shy extrovert. It boils down to a person’s energy levels. You can’t tell just by looking at someone if he or she is introverted or extroverted, since each personality type can do a good job of mimicking the other.

Common misconceptions about introverts include stereotypes that they are quiet, have nothing to say or are slow and indecisive. These are dangerous assumptions in the workplace, since it might leave introverts overlooked when it comes time for promotions or collaboration. What a lot of people misunderstand is that introverts are more likely to think before speaking, whereas extroverts talk while they think to sort out their ideas. And to the untrained eye, it might appear that the extroverts are more confident and in charge, while introverts are quiet and withdrawn. However, that couldn’t be further from the case.

[ Related: 9 networking tips for introverts ]

Just ask Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, author of “The Genius of Opposites: How Introverts and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results Together.” She is a self-proclaimed extroverted expert on introverts and has written two additional books on the subject, “The Introverted Leader” and “Quiet Influence.” She focuses on helping introverts and extroverts better understand one another and leverage their strengths to create strong teams in the workplace.

The rise of the introvert

After evaluating more than 40 “successful opposites,” as Kahnweiler calls them, meaning introverted and extroverted pairings, she examined how these individuals influenced the organizations they worked for by drawing on their strengths. “A lot of those people were telling me — introverts in particular — that ‘we’re starting to own who we are and there’s a rise of the introvert. I understand my strengths and I’m using them but I’m still coming up into problems when I try to communicate with extroverted team members’,” says Kahnweiler.

In her work to understand introverts, Kahnweiler noticed that the two personalities seemed to have difficulties communicating with one another in the workplace, which led to frustration, whether between clients, colleagues or customers. While she found introverts were widely misunderstood in the modern workplace, she also found that once the two personalities grew to understand one another, they complemented each other.

[ Related: A Shout Out for the Introverts ]

Kahnweiler says that when looking at the role of introversion in the workplace, especially in leadership, it’s important “not to exclude people from hiring opportunities or promotions because they’re quieter and you sort of pass over them, because you’re not taking the time to really understand what they have to give.” To build that bridge and foster understanding, there are five key steps that she suggests introverts and extroverts take to improve communication and create successful partnerships.

The first step is to “accept the alien,” or in other words, understand that you can’t change someone and once you accept that, it becomes easier to work together without stressing over how different they are compared to yourself. The second step is to “bring on the battle,” and accept conflict and understand that it is natural when different personalities come together.

For the third step, she suggests “casting the character,” which means understanding the introvert’s role and the extrovert’s role by nailing down the strengths of each personality type. The fourth step is to “destroy the dislike,” which means establishing friendship and working to have amicable relationships in the workplace, no matter how different you are. And finally, the fifth step is to remember “each can’t offer everything,” which means an introvert can bring traits to the table that an extrovert can’t, and vice versa. And that’s a good thing.

Own your personality type

These steps not only lead to better communication, but it can create a balance where each party plays off the other’s strengths. For instance, there are tasks that might be better suited to introverts, behind the scenes and not client-facing, while an extrovert might perform best in front of clients. Of course, this is a generalization, and there are certainly introverts who love being client facing and extroverts who might prefer to be behind the scenes. The main point is, as an employee, you need to own your personality type in order for others to understand it. Be vocal about being an introvert, or an extrovert, so you can help others better understand you and, in turn, better understand them.

[ Related: Attention introverts! ]

When it comes to implementing change, Kahnweiler notes that HR isn’t the only driving force behind helping companies recognize introverted talent. “I’ve seen it done by a CIO who really recognized how their own introversion has been an asset for them and also a challenge. I think that leaders can really demonstrate, particularly at the highest level of information technology, and also other C-level positions, that they can really model and demonstrate and model and embrace introversion as a positive thing, not something to be ashamed of,” she says.

Since embarking on a journey to help bridge the gap between introverts and extroverts, Kahnweiler has found that more companies are implementing training around personality types. Companies are understanding the value of both personality types and what they can bring to the table. By leveraging these strengths, it can only make a company more successful and its employees happier to work for a business that understands them.

“When we stop focusing on our differences, but look at what our desired results are, that’s when we have success,” says Kahnweiler. “And these partnerships in opposites don’t just happen, they do take nurturing. It’s a delicate balance but it’s so worth it because the results are exponential in terms of what you get.”