There seems to be an unending amount of online conversation about personality types. There’s a whole extrovert vs introvert battle raging, pitting the personality traits of the two against each other.
Everywhere you turn, there is another quiz or listicle that will let you know if you’re an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert (i.e. somewhere in between). Then there’s the more in-depth personality test known as the Myers-Brigg type indicator. This doesn’t just assess whether you tend to be more introverted or tend to be more extroverted. The Myers-Brigg type test asks you a series of questions that identifies your introversion and extroversion on a scale, while also assesses your shyness, your actions in social gatherings and social situations, you preferences when it comes to solitary activity, and other personality traits.
And even though it might seem silly to some, being able to understand what kind of personality you have can help in personal, social and professional situations. It’s important to recognize the differences between introvert and extrovert in order to improve workplace communication and to make yourself feel more comfortable in the process.
First, let’s acknowledge the fact that in the extrovert vs. introvert debate, no one is strictly an introvert or extrovert. Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who made the dual concept popular, once said, “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.” These terms are two extremes and most of us fall somewhere on the scale. The term "ambivert" describes people who fall into one camp on some occasions and the other at other times, but really, everyone is an ambivert. However, knowing which side you’re closer to can be very helpful in your personal life and your career.
In fact, Jung actually used the words differently than we do today. According to the Myers-Briggs Foundation, Jung “used the words to describe the preferred focus of one's energy on either the outer or the inner world. Extraverts orient their energy to the outer world, while Introverts orient their energy to the inner world.” (Even the original spelling — “extravert” — is rarely used today.)
The dictionary definition of the word “introvert” is “a shy, reticent person.” Introverts are generally said to enjoy their alone time, get their best ideas while they are by themselves, find some social interactions draining, and hesitate to speak up in large groups. “Extrovert,” on the other hand, is defined as “an outgoing, overtly expressive person.” Extroverts are usually described as being outspoken, friendly, social, and talkative. They enjoy getting attention and are not big fans of being alone. Or, put more simply, introverts need alone time to recharge and extroverts get energy boosts from socializing. But that doesn’t mean there is no such thing as a shy extrovert or an introverted leader. As stated before, extroversion and introversion are present in all personalities, and some traits can be found from one to the other.
Understanding your personality type allows you to understand under which conditions you work best. Extroverts thrive on rewards, need to be encouraged when they are excited about a new project, appreciate public compliments, love to try new things, and like being able to weigh their options. They also occasionally need social gatherings and active social situations in order to feel engaged at work.
Introverts do best when they are given time to think things over alone. They need to be both taught new things and criticized in private, and they can be thrown off by sudden changes. Another major point to understand about introverts in this world of networking mixers and team-building exercises: they need to be allowed time to make one, good friend. Forcing an introvert to try to make a ton of new friends at once will only serve to drain them. Spending time in large group settings can often be uncomfortable for introverts. It’s important for them to work in an environment where the fact that they are introverted is accepted, not looked at as a problem that needs to be fixed.
Of course, there are benefits and downsides to each and they have pretty easy-to-spot effects in the workplace. Although their ideas and opinions are usually very well thought out, an introvert’s shyness can sometimes be read as rudeness or unwillingness to engage with co-workers, and prevent them from doing some valuable networking. Failure to speak up and offer ideas during group meetings or projects can result in being overlooked by some bosses, or worse the lack of vocal input can be misunderstood as a lack of ideas.
Meanwhile, extroverts can come off as attention seekers, their talkativeness can be deemed distracting, and their need for social interaction can come off as, well, needy. Plus, due to the sheer volume of socializing that they do, they are often in danger of having “foot in mouth” syndrome, which is not the best feeling to have when you’re busy trying to make positive connections with people, says me, a self-described extrovert.
You are who you are, of course, but as one of my wisest friends always says, “speak to be understood,” which in this case means, behave in such a way that people at work are able to “get” you. This doesn’t mean that a generally reserved person should try to force themselves to suddenly become the workplace jokester or that someone outgoing should painstakingly count the number of times they’ve spoken up in any given meeting to avoid having talked too much. The goal is to generally find a happy medium, especially when you’re at work.
For an introvert, that might mean striving to speak up at least once in every in-person meeting, making an effort to make small talk with an approachable co-worker, one-on-one, or it could mean making an effort to speak with two new people at a work event, and then going directly home afterward to recharge. Extroverts, on the other hand, might need to refocus on their listening habits — i.e. when someone else is speaking, are you listening or waiting on your chance to talk? Or they may need to look inward for approval and encouragement, instead of relying so strongly on recognition from others.
Knowing the differences between introversion and extroversion can help you better navigate the professional world and elevate your abilities to communicate and work effectively in the workplace. And while these traits aren’t set in stone, they offer an understanding into how you work, think and feel. Use this knowledge to your advantage. Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, take your strengths and magnify them. And turn your weaknesses onto their sides to turn them into strengths as well. Understanding your personality type and the strengths and weaknesses that come with it can help change your outlook and perspective. It can change how you look at like and your professional career. And it could help you uncover what it truly takes for you to succeed.
Lauren McEwen is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and the social media manager for "Hermione Granger and the Quarter Life Crisis."