The Power of Introverts at Work
Are you an extrovert? An introvert?
While this question may seem highly personal, your answer provides clues about how you lead, work in teams and engage with others. For years, many have believed that extroverts have the edge in the workplace. After all, extroverted individuals appear more outgoing, talkative and energetic, while introverts seem more reserved, reflective and less social. However, psychologists have been looking more closely at this preconception and theorizing that the introvert’s quiet way may just be a misunderstood superpower.
The Added Brain Power of Introverts
So, what are introverts doing while they are quiet? They’re thinking. Introverts, known for their intuition and powers of perception, have also been shown to have thicker gray matter than extroverts. Gray matter makes up 40% of the human brain and is associated with a person’s ability to process information, learn, think and reason. Other studies have shown that even while resting, introverted brains are more active.
Work often requires individuals to put in hours of solitary work, which can be tough on extroverts who find energy in the company of others. Introverts, on the other hand, have a life-long discipline of spending time alone and may surpass their extroverted peers in focus and productivity, according to neuroscientist Friederike Fabritius.
Introversion and Leadership
Perhaps it’s not surprising that introverts are more focused and productive at work. But what about the work of leading others or building client-facing relationships?
This question is the focus of a Harvard Business Review article called “Can Introverts Thrive in Extraverted Careers?” Karl Moore and William Li, the article’s authors, found that while introverts need to develop skills around certain social behaviors like speaking up and meeting new people, their natural strengths in listening, empathy and the ability to make deep connections are valuable assets that make introverts especially effective at work.
Although we often find assertive extroverts impressive, Moore and Li report that you don’t need a big personality to make a positive impression. In a study of more than 900 CEOs, it was the introverted personalities that impressed investors most. While extroverts land high-paying jobs at a rate of 25% higher than introverts, introverts are often considered the better leaders, according to Moore and Li.
Introverts Perform Best at Work When Expectations Are Flexible
While it may seem anti-social, it’s both normal and positive for people to spend breaks and lunches alone. Since introverts often feel drained after social activity, alone time allows them to recharge—which is good for them and everyone else.
Introverts may also thrive when given the option to communicate in writing instead of in person or on the phone. This practice is also true for giving introverts more time to think through questions and respond later in follow-ups. Some experts even suggest that group brainstorming is an outdated exercise because an introvert's best ideas may show up with reflection not in chaotic group settings. And since introverts are known for their keen observational and analytical skills, teams should do what they can to ensure they don’t miss their prized ideas.
When it comes to hiring, recruiters encourage employers to look out for introverted types who may not be as loud as their extroverted counterparts. By ensuring a quiet, private space, planning extra questions and allowing for silence, hiring managers can ensure that high-quality introverts have the time and place to shine.