Do you just love a good networking ‘do’? Do you see it as an opportunity to make new friends?
Or does the thought of having to spend all day talking to lots of strangers sap your energy and leave you longing for your own space and some peace and quiet?
Extroversion and introversion are considered one of the major dimensions of personality and can be viewed on a continuum like this:
How well do you know yourself? Where would you place yourself on this continuum? And how does this affect your behaviour in work and at home?
Extroverts tend to be outgoing, sociable, active individuals who thrive and flourish in the company of other people. They love spending lots of time with lots of other people.
Extroverts enjoy working in teams – being surrounded by people energises them, especially having others with whom to talk about thoughts, feelings and opinions. They tend to have a wide circle of friends, easily making new friends to expand that circle. Talking through their issues and challenges, chatting about how their working day has been and their plans for the rest of the week creates energy for them.
To extroverts, attending a networking event is something they thrive on, an opportunity to recharge their batteries by mixing with other people. This doesn’t mean that extroverts can’t work alone, but left on their own for too long extroverts may crave busy-ness, the company of people and the buzz of an environment in which they can re-energise. Spending time with others, making new contacts and often just starting up conversations with complete strangers gives extroverts their energy force. Being an extrovert may have its challenges – extroverts may jump too quickly into an activity and don’t allow enough time to think it over.
Introverts, on the other hand, have a different approach in terms of where they get their energy. More inwardly-focused, introverts concentrate more on internal thoughts, moods and feelings, getting their energy from within. They have far less reliance on external energy stimulation.
Introverts expend energy in social situations – they’re more likely to come away from something like a networking event feeling worn out, needing to recharge by spending time alone or reflecting on the interactions of their day.
That doesn’t mean that introverts lock themselves away and avoid socialising – many introverts are happy spending time around others, but may prefer the company of a close circle of friends rather than a room full of strangers.
Introverts are often happy in their own company and enjoy solitary activities – reading a book, going for a walk on their own – and especially so if they’ve spent a full day in a busy social setting. Introverts equally have challenges – sometimes spending too much time reflecting and not moving into action quickly enough.
Introversion shouldn’t be mistaken for shyness though. The reserved and reflective nature of an introvert isn’t the same as shyness. Even though colloquially the two words are used interchangeably, their meanings are different from a psychological perspective. A person who is shy or has a fear of social situations is not the same as someone who simply prefers not to spend lots of time interacting with lots of other people.
Recognise yourself in either of those styles? Maybe you can see elements of both in yourself?
Let’s add one more option into the mix. Introverts and extroverts are often viewed as the two extremes of the continuum, but in reality we all spend some time extraverting and some time introverting. Many people therefore would place themselves somewhere in the middle of the continuum – in fact, if you find it difficult to see yourself as either an introvert or an extrovert, perhaps you need a third option? If you’re feeling you sit somewhere in the middle zone, flitting between the two behaviours, spending time with others and time alone as the situation and your needs require, then maybe you’re an ambivert – someone who tends to draw energy from both within and without.
Adding ambiverts into the mix, makes the continuum look like this:
Ambiverts essentially change their behaviour depending on the situation they find themselves in. They enjoy spending time with others, but also value spending time alone to recharge.
Ambiverts can adapt to different situations – they are good at communicating – both as listeners and speakers. They can be comfortable in both larger gatherings and more intimate circles; can work both independently and as part of a team.
Research by Adam Grant at the University of Pennsylvania suggests the ‘ambivert advantage’ is worth aspiring to and involves an ability to both inspire others and express enthusiasm as well as listen to others and maintain an assertive communication style. It’s possible to develop yourself as an ambivert – you’ll need to push yourself out of your comfort zone and focus on developing the skills of your opposite behaviour. So, if you’re more introverted, then it may help to practice more outgoing sociable interactions – start small talk, make yourself chat with others; for extroverts, it’s about practicing listening skills, maybe being quieter in social settings and letting others shine.
So where does this leave you?
Understanding yourself, your personality, your energisers and drivers – as well as stressors – is crucial for thriving in the workplace. Seek first to understand yourself; then others. Being aware of your own style, understanding when the situation may require a different approach and adapting accordingly will make you indispensable in the workplace. And the sooner you start stretching yourself out of your comfort zone, the sooner you’ll start growing as a person.