Training consultant Jasmine Gartner Consulting
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Is employee engagement the same for introverts as it is for extroverts?

11th Apr 2016
Training consultant Jasmine Gartner Consulting
Columnist
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Introverted person
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Jasmine is concerned with practical, tactical ways to bolster employee engagement, diversity and ultimately improve organisational cultures. She gives actionable advice to help HR professionals improve their organisations one step at a time and is known as a trainer, consultant and public speaker. Prior to moving to London in 2008, she was a professor teaching international business majors at the State University of New York. Her clients include PepsiCo, CBI, HarperCollins and Prudential. Jasmine's book, 'Employee Engagement: a little book of Big Ideas,' is available to buy.

Recently, I met a fellow trainer at a networking event for trainers, and he told me how he was by nature quite introverted.

“To do what I do as a trainer and businessman,” he said, “I had to learn the behaviour of extroverts.”

That made me think about my sister. My sister was probably the best educated two year old you’d ever meet.

Why?

Well, when I started primary school, I would watch and listen intently to everything that happened during the day.

I’d then go home, sit her down in front of the chalkboard our parents had put up in our room, and teach her what I’d learned. In class, though, I wasn’t so active.

Every report card would come back with the same gentle criticism comment: “very clever, does not participate.”

My sister was probably the best educated two year old you’d ever meet.

In fact, years later, my mother came out to visit me at grad school, and we went out to lunch with my PhD chair, who said to her, “Jasmine’s got such good ideas. I wish she’d participate!”

So imagine how I felt when I got my first job as a professor. I completely failed. I went home and cried.

And then, I said to myself, “I’m never failing in that particular way again.”

The day I learnt the behaviour of extroverts

It was the day that I began to learn the behaviour of extroverts. And, by the way, I really enjoy it – it just didn’t come naturally.

Some people define as introversion and extroversion as a continuum of personality traits (see Jung, for example) – turning inwards or outwards for gratification – whilst others define it in terms of how a person reacts to outside stimuli.

By that latter definition, my husband who is the life of the party and a great storyteller, is an introvert – he cannot work unless there is absolute quiet.

On the other hand, I would qualify as an extrovert – normally, I’m quiet and prefer to be reading my book, but without a whole load of outside stimulation, I cannot work – normally, I’ve got at least two radios playing, preferably in different languages.

I can work in a café; he can’t.

I completely failed. I went home and cried.

Susan Cain suggests that Western culture seems to prize extroversion as a reaction to industrialisation: before industrialisation, everyone lived in small groups and knew each other – character (our inner self) was enough.

But as people moved to cities, and lived amongst strangers, the people who were successful were the ones who could draw attention to themselves, who could literally stand out in a crowd: extroverts. (According to Cain’s personality test, I’m an ambivert.)

Do we reward the behaviour of extroversion?

So, right now, it seems that there is an emphasis on rewarding the behaviour of extroversion – for example, noisy open plan offices and risk-taking (not to mention table tennis).

And yet, introverts are a brilliant counterbalance to extroverts – for every risk-taking extrovert, there will be an introvert who can think about whether the risk is worth taking.

Thinking things through alone can mean less susceptibility to group think. Equally, collaboration gets people places that thinking alone might never do. Social skills and teamwork are essential to getting things done.

The best traits of introversion and extroversion go hand-in-hand, and they also balance out each other’s worst traits.

How does this relate to employee engagement?

It seems that quite a few engagement strategies are directed at extroverts – having fun, team-related activities, being go-getting, brainstorming, open-space offices, and so on.

So here are a few tips to engage your introverts:

  • Create physical space for reflection – a space that’s quiet and secluded, away from the open plan office
  • Create mental space for reflection – for example, apparently at Amazon, meetings begin with 30 minutes of silent reading
  • Understand that an engaged extrovert might look different to an engaged introvert – think about how their behaviours might differ
  • Finally, think about ways that you can bring the two types together and improve their understanding of each other so they can work together effectively

What’s your experience? What misunderstandings have you had when you’ve interacted with someone who is opposite to you in terms of extroversion and introversion? What have you learned from these experiences?

Replies (4)

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Shonette new
By Shonette
19th Apr 2016 12:53

From Elena in our LinkedIn group:
"Introverts don't appreciate information overload. Keep it simple & to the point, give them time to process information. Generally speaking, they prefer facts, rather than marketing speak. Needless to say, they shy away from large crowds, including online crowds. Find a topic that speaks to their analytical nature and they'll participate in discussions. Give them "fluff" & they'll bolt. The key difference between introverts and extroverts is that the former require topics/tasks that speak to their talents/interests, thus empowering them to be useful in some way. This calls for tweaking communications so that they can clearly see their role in achieving intended objectives. Introverts tend to be cautious (analytical) and unlike extroverts, will ponder before taking the next step. One can be a combination of both, as in my case (I'm an introvert who has no difficulty in addressing large audiences). Bottom line: know your audience, e.g. tech people are unlikely to be extroverts."

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Replying to Shonette:
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By Jasmine Gartner
20th Apr 2016 09:45

Thanks, Shonette, for sharing! I'll get over to the LI group...

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By DParsons
27th Apr 2016 12:26

I am an off-the-scale extrovert and believe me I have had to learn introverted behaviours in some circumstances.

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Replying to DParsons:
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By Jasmine Gartner
11th May 2016 17:55

Interesting - can you give an example?

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