Patrick Cournoyer: Today we are discussing introverts and extroverts with Scott Dust.
Scott is the assistant professor of management at Miami University where he researches and teaches leadership, teams, and organizational behavior. Scott’s goal is to bridge the gap between science and practice for all things human capital. Today, we are diving into the topic of introverts and extroverts. We’ll explore the difference between the two, how the topic is not as linear as one may think, and dive into what organizations should consider as we build plans to return to the workplace. Scott, thank you so much for joining the conversation today.
Scott: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to chat.
Patrick: We are going to have what I feel is going to be a very interesting conversation for the audience because, today, we’re going to focus, as I said earlier in the introduction, on introverts and extroverts. Particularly, the experience in the workplace for introverts and extroverts, and also, what organizations really need to be considering with the two. First off, let’s start with a question to you, Scott. Would you say that you are an introvert or an extrovert?
Scott: I will definitely say that I am an introvert, but there’s also an interesting story behind understanding that I am an introvert. I’ll even preface that by also reminding the audience that it’s a continuous variable, not a dichotomous variable. A lot of times, people categorize themselves as an introvert or an extrovert, then, sometimes, they recognize that they’re somewhere in the middle and will call themselves an ambivert. In reality, it’s a continuous construct. If I’m going to be really specific, I would say, I’m probably more in the low moderate range, somewhere in between introvert and ambivert.
That makes a difference in how those introverted tendencies manifest on a day-to-day basis. Also, recognizing that the situation can dictate whether or not my introvert side comes out or my ambivert side comes out or even some behaviors that are related to extroversion. Anyway, that’s the long answer to the fact that yes, I do categorize myself as an introvert. It actually took a while to figure out that I was an introvert. I feel like there’s a lot of people out there that really don’t peel back the layers to understand the degree to which they might be introverted or extroverted.
Patrick: How does somebody know? Everybody in the audience right now probably has a thought or, maybe, a perception of, “Well, if somebody asked me that question directly, I would have said or I would say I’m an extrovert.” How would somebody listening know what they are?
Scott: I’ll start with what I think people tend to gravitate towards, which is part of it, but incomplete. That’s the degree to which they are sociable or interested in interacting with other people. That’s part of it. That’s the behavioral manifestation of introversion to extroversion, but you, also, can peel back the layers and start to say, “Why might I be more interested in interacting with other people?” Bring it down to a neurological level.
Where that really goes is recognizing that all of us have different sensory experiences. Some of us experience our senses stronger than other people. When people talk about, “Does interacting with others drain your battery?” or, “Does interacting with others recharge your battery?” What they’re really getting at is this level of energy that we feel based upon how much our senses are triggered.
Introverts, anytime they have sensory experiences, particularly talking with somebody one-on-one or in groups, and hearing lots of noises going on at the same time, and being in new environments, and not, maybe, having everything under control, those are all components of what it’s like to get out there and interact with others. Introverts experience those more strongly than what extroverts do. It is a bigger drain on their battery, where, on the opposite end, extroverts are rejuvenated by that type of experience. I think that’s part of it as well. It’s not just social ability. It’s why we might be more or less sociable. It gets down to the neurological level about our sensory experiences.
Patrick: That resonates with me quite a bit, because, I think if you were to ask my colleagues or my friends, they would say, “Oh, Patrick’s an extrovert,” because my role, in so many ways, has been very external. I speak at a lot of events, I obviously host this podcast, I interact with a lot of people but I, also, would classify myself as an introvert. I get my energy and I recharge my energy from inside, from quiet time, from solitary time, in a lot of ways.
It took me quite some time to figure that out because, yes, I like being around people and, from a social aspect, I do enjoy that, but the social ability or social interaction is not the core of what has allowed me to understand what I am or where I get my energy from, particularly, where I get my energy from. I’m curious. How did your passion start to focus in this area? What drove you to do this work?
Scott: That’s a great question. Actually, I can speak to what you were referencing, this idea of self-awareness and coming to grips with what am I? How does that make me similar or different from others? And what does that mean for me at life and work? Also, other awareness and how others see us. Those are two really important components. I have a personal story for each. I grew up in a family of extroverts. I grew up in a family of salespeople, entrepreneurs, presenters, talkers and I always thought that is how you earned your stripes at work and that is how you proved yourself.
In the business that I was in, it was important to understand your customer and your clients by getting out there on the front lines and selling something. When I first graduated, I was, very much, in that mode. I, actually, for nine months, was getting on a plane Monday morning, and trying to sell and recruit people to sell in another state, and I’d come home Friday afternoon. I knew, in the back of my mind, in my subconscious, this wasn’t being my authentic self. This really wasn’t natural for me, but I couldn’t put a peg on it. I didn’t really understand it.
After nine months, I remember coming home. There was some problem with the condo where I was living while I was gone. A family member met me when I came back on a Friday. I was very stressed, and I was just exhausted and tired, and I broke down. A grown man in tears. Like, “I can’t do this anymore.” At the time, I didn’t have a language for it, but now, years later, I went back and got my PhD in Organizational Behavior and really studied organizational psychology, I realized, “That’s it. I’m an introvert in a position that’s very sociable and very sensory strong.” It was really challenging for me.
Fast forward years and years later, I have a six-year-old daughter. She is definitely introverted and definitely very high on the sensory processing scale. My wife and I are also introverts, but we also live in this very extroverted work environment that has just been normalized as what you have to do to survive and thrive. In the back of our mind, when we were watching her be categorized as an observer by her teacher and being the one that is cautious, and waiting, and needing her quiet time, and going off on her own, we started to say, “Oh no. Maybe something’s wrong.”
I remember having a conversation at the check-in meeting with the teacher and the guidance counselor. The guidance counselor recommended a book. She recommended Susan Cain’s book, Quiet. I thought what she was recommending was a way to fix this issue and make her more sociable. As I read the book, I quickly understood that she wasn’t trying to fix my daughter, she was trying to fix me. She was trying to fix my mindset. I study this stuff for a living and I still didn’t get it. What the realization was is, “No, there’s just different ways that people operate and live in the world.”
Even though I was feeling that way years earlier in my sales position, and eventually realizing, “No, I needed to be more of a scientist that can have introspective moments and deep reflections and deep thinking,” I was projecting the same problem on my own daughter years and years later of she’s supposed to operate a certain way. We are conditioned to think this is the right way to operate. The more that we can recognize that we’re all unique and that we have to be able to appreciate those components of other people, and maybe not try to fix people, like I was trying to think, but accommodate and come up with ways that ensure that they can be fulfilled.
Patrick: That is a great foundation for this next part of the conversation because, as you know, this episode is in a season of episodes of Be More that is focused on well-being, and well-being in the workplace, and this concept around extroverts and introverts. I’m even going to say versus introvert because a lot of positioning around this topic is extrovert versus introvert. I don’t think that’s the right way to position it, because I don’t think it’s this or that, personally.
With extroverts and introverts, you previously stated that about 80% of managers or leaders in the workplace, particularly senior leaders in the workplace, are extroverted or tend toward the extroversion side. Really, only about half of the population would be categorized as extroverts. Thinking about that in the workplace, how do you feel the workplace and work, in general, has evolved to either favor, maybe, or hopefully, support both? Maybe the former. Maybe favor either or both of these types.
Scott: Great question. I do think that, over time, over decades and decades of moving from the manufacturing era to the service economy, there was, certainly, a surge in interest in making sure that we were talking to others, and interacting with others, and influencing others. That was the rise of some popular constructs like charismatic leadership and transformational leadership. You had a lot of, even, social influence from the media. There was a lot of spotlight put on the interesting, flamboyant, exciting characters that were leading organizations.
That does start to enter people’s psyche of what a leader’s supposed to look like or what good employees are supposed to look like. There’s been lots of research that, actually, evaluates this. There was one really popular study done 30 years ago that, essentially, associated our assumption of leaders or who should be the leader with things like confidence, dominance, and social ability. They also evaluated all sorts of effectiveness, objective metrics. They were no more effective at being a leader or being a team member, but they just looked like they were supposed to be.
That’s always in the back of our head. That’s, potentially, problematic, especially for those that prefer to engage in activities that are more [inaudible 00:13:12], deep thinking, internal problem solving, slow tasks. That is a challenge forever in terms of why people start to move up the organizational ranks because we assume that those that are more sociable, and dominant, et cetera, should be the leaders.
What happens over time, is that now, we have those that are in management and leadership positions that are, primarily, extroverted. Part of it is that they don’t mind that. They don’t take a hit to their energy levels the same way that introverts do. Part of it makes sense, naturally, from what they enjoy doing. The other part of it is the cognitive bias that comes with it. You have two factors working against you, which makes sense as to why now there’s 80% that are extroverted or above average in terms of introversion and extroversion.
Herein lies the challenge for introverts. “What do I do in this environment that is geared this way?” One of the most salient conversations right now is this back-to-work issue because a lot of organizations want employees to come back to work face-to-face. They think that it will help with interaction, collaboration, communication, and culture building. Essentially, they’re decision makers.
Then, you have a lot of the introverts who were working from home, and maybe, creating their own space, and having their own time, and having a little bit more control over their distractions and the like, and they tend to like it. You’re seeing there’s a conflict. There’s a conflict brewing, where more people want to stay from home because it does help with their well-being.
It’s clearly illustrated in the research, whether it’s well-being related to energy levels, well-being related to psychological health, from a clinical perspective, et cetera. People feel as if they can increase their well-being by having more flexibility and working from home. More options is better. On the other hand, again, those organizations want people to be accountable and be present. There’s a conflict there, and it has to be reconciled somehow because we’re at a standstill. That’s a big conversation point right now.
Patrick: 100% agree. That is, absolutely, a topic that is on everybody’s mind right now. As we think about returning to the workplace, every organization is thinking about that. “How is the workplace going to feel? How do we continue to support our employees’ well-being?” You, recently, authored an article in March in Fast Company that really talks, specifically, about returning to the workplace and how it could work for introverts, thinking about it, very specifically, from the perspective of an introvert.
As you said, many introverts that have been able to work remotely for the past year, year and a half, have, potentially, had a really positive experience, had a positive ability to be in an environment that, maybe, is more comfortable for them. As we start thinking about returning to the workplace, what can organizations think about to consider when they’re building their plans?
Scott: Great question. There’s a few different things they can do. The first step is, basically, take a pulse. Try and figure out what people are thinking. For the most part, organizations are doing this. This is relatively simple, in that, you can ask, as long as you’re asking the right question, “What do you prefer?” and, “Why?” You have to make sure that you’re communicating as well, “We need the big picture. We’re trying to understand what’s in the best interest of the organization as well as you as the individual because it’s reciprocal. If you’re doing well, the organization’s doing well, and vice versa.”
Framing that appropriately. Like, “We’re trying to really seek out and understand why, and what’s going on, and where people fall on that preference continuum.” The next step is to increase awareness between all parties and recognize that everybody has a different situation. Some people want to work from home because they have domestic responsibilities that make it way more convenient and conducive to taking care of everything they need to do, and it makes them more productive.
Others, it’s because they’re introverts, and they really appreciate that quiet time, and they’re just very distracted. Others might want the opposite because it’s easier for them to maintain relationships when they can visually see somebody and pick up on these emotional cues and things like that because it is harder to do a lot of those team building initiatives remotely as opposed to face to face. Everybody’s different. Everybody has different rationales.
Helping people appreciate the awareness of the other party, and why, and engage in some perspective-taking, that’s the second part. Also, engaging in some targeted training initiatives to help people understand why people are interacting the way they are and how to make it work. There’s a lot of differences between how people manage conflict, good conflict and bad conflict, when face to face versus hybrid versus remote and getting a handle on how those are different and the different types of interventions that we need to undergo to get there.
Then, even going so far as to try to set up, maybe, an internal community. That was one of the examples that I offered in that Fast Company write-up. Kroger runs a data analysis arm, 84.51°, based in Cincinnati. They have a community that is called ITOPiA. It is a community that is all about helping people understand introversion and its differences, its challenges in the workplace, and helping increase awareness for all parties. Interestingly, it was started by an extroverted manager who heard an introvert, one of the employees, speak up and talk about how challenging it was to be in a certain situation. It really snowballed.
Now, 10% of this 1,000+ entity is part of this internal community. I wrote the article with Meagan Connley, who’s one of the co-chairs. She is working really hard to try and understand, “What can we do to help introverts that are in these scenarios where they might not feel comfortable? There’s all sorts of different things you can do. Number one, creating physical space to ensure that everybody feels comfortable, whether it’s toning down certain sensory experiences, distractions, noise, even light. Creating space for people to have their own defined area so that they can work without distractions.
Also, even going so far as to change policy, I think, is fascinating. They actually had a ‘flip the script’ initiative, where they made sure that bias didn’t creep into performance evaluations that were geared towards, “This person’s not speaking up enough,” or, “This person’s not present enough during meetings.” A lot of these things are just driven by our social expectations. It has nothing to do with the quality of their work. I thought that was amazing. You’re not just bringing in support and structure for those that are different in their psychographics, but also making sure it doesn’t creep into performance management. That’s an important part of overall fairness and equity throughout the workplace.
Patrick: That’s a very interesting concept because I would think that there absolutely is the potential for that unconscious bias to be in some of the classic ways that we have looked at evaluating performance at organizations based off of behaviors that, maybe, have been classically associated with an extrovert tendency. I think it’s a great idea and initiative to take a look at that and– We’re focused also so much right now, and in such positive ways, around inclusion and belonging in the workplace. These steps to start thinking about how people are in the workplace, it’s very inspiring in a lot of ways.
I’ve been thinking a lot about doing these episodes. We’ve been doing the podcast throughout the pandemic. It’s very interesting to see how the conversations have progressed over the past year. I believe that there are so many positive outcomes of the environment that we have all been forced into over the past year and a half with the pandemic. Really looking at our experience for employees, how we provide a diverse, inclusive experience for employees and steps like this, I would say, probably, this is a guess, but I would think, probably, the majority of organizations have not specifically focused on understanding if their population tends toward introversion or extroversion.
Scott: I love the call-out and the framing of that conundrum. Here’s what I think is really important. Diversity, equity, and inclusion clearly are important, not just in terms of fairness, but in terms of performance. It’s clear. We have to have that for both of those reasons. A lot of times when we focus on diversity, it’s based upon what academics would call surface-level diversity. That is important. Gender, race, et cetera, but there’s a second type of diversity. That’s deep-level diversity. That’s more about psychographic characteristics.
When individuals understand each other from a more deep-level psychographic perspective, it does help with inclusion. When I understand how someone else shows up to work, and their needs, and their preferences, and how they operate, I can take advantage of that to ensure that we’re working well together, and respecting each other, and engaging in a whole nother level of perspective on how the work is completed.
Here’s the biggest challenge of those that are focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Diversity doesn’t work unless you have inclusion. Diversity is the different colored puzzle pieces and inclusion is putting them all together and creating a beautiful picture. Focusing on psychographic differences, I actually think, can supplement in a really important way, the whole picture of diversity, equity, and inclusion, because number one, when people feel more inclusive, they’re more likely to capitalize on some of the surface-level diversity.
Number two, it changes the focus to say, “We’re not interested in what you look like. We’re interested in who you are.” It’s just as important to talk about the psychographic differences as well as the surface-level differences. It doesn’t have the same saliency in terms of the background and the challenges. No one’s been prejudiced against introverts over the years. That’s a different conversation. What we can do is remind everybody to start working together and focus on who we are as people. I think that that can start to carry over into what we recognize when we are working with another person. We need the whole person regardless of what they act like and what they look like.
Patrick: I have a question for you and, also, I pose this question to the audience as well. Do you feel that organizations group extroverts or introverts together in work function or work roles at organizations today?
Scott: Yes, I definitely think they do. That’s our assumption a lot of times. Here’s a classic example. The sales team and the outward-facing personnel are the extroverts and the internal-facing folks, whether it be operations or the engineers or the more tech-savvy folks, are the introverts that are doing the coding and everything else. There might be some correlations between those two. My guess is that it’s relatively low. I think a lot of times people fall into different roles because they’re passionate about it, excited about it. Maybe that becomes harder for some people.
Interestingly, there’s some great research out there, for example, that suggests that ambiverted sales reps are more successful than extroverted or introverted sales reps. Here’s why. Being in sales, it’s not just about talking. It’s about listening as well, and then really reflecting on what this person needs, and being able to offer some deep, rich insight. We also have a lot of assumptions about the behaviors of introverts and extroverts.
Introverts are those quiet and shy folks that are afraid to share. The extroverts are always talking and overly chatty. All of those are overgeneralizations. It really is more about where they get their energy. Certainly, there might be some overlaps, but we all need to be cautious to not, necessarily, go too far when we’re making these assumptions about people. Anytime you do that, it’s going to be unsanctioned and can actually lead to some challenges.
Patrick: Scott, we are coming to the end of the conversation. I could definitely talk about this for quite some time, because I am very passionate about this idea of introverts and extroverts, how they interact with each other in the workplace. I’m very excited about this conversation because I think it will help people to really think about how they can understand this in their own team, in their organization, and about themselves as well.
As you said, we started the conversation with really understanding where you’re at individually, and then how you’re able to interact with your peers, and then, ultimately, how that rolls up into the overall work experience. On the flip side, organizations are able to take the time to think about, “I should really understand my workforce,” and how I can create a positive, productive environment for extroverts and introverts with the same level of focus.
Scott: I’m interested both from a research perspective and a practical perspective. In terms of research, a lot of times we’re looking at one part of the equation. We’re only looking at, “You’re introverted or you’re extroverted or wherever in between, and here’s your likely behavior because of that.” That’s only one part of the situation. Most of my research uses a person-environment fit perspective which, essentially, says you have to look at both sides of the equation and look at the joint effects of the two.
If I’m extroverted and you, Patrick, are introverted and you put us together in a specific context, what is the outcome? Then you can really start to get pretty meta with this conversation of saying, “What happens if we’re both low or introverts? What happens if we’re both high as extroverts? What happens if we’re both moderate? What happens if you’re moderate and I’m low?” There’s all sorts of different scenarios that you can start to evaluate. That is fascinating because, depending upon the characteristic, you can have all sorts of good outcomes or bad outcomes or anywhere in between.
For example, one research study that I did recently for Personnel Psychology, I looked at risk orientation. I do a lot of leader employee or leader-followers, is what they call it in the literature research on this. Risk orientation, typically, is associated with creativity. They’d take risks and think big. What we found is that it didn’t matter whether the leader or employee was high on risk orientation. What really mattered is whether they were different. If the leader was high and the employee was low or vice-versa, that then created intellectual stimulation, which then led to higher levels of creativity. It’s not about one. It’s about the two. It’s about the dyad and how they interact.
From a research perspective, what I’m doing a lot of is understanding how people show up given the relationship with another person or within a team and what is that mix of everybody within that team? I think that one part of it is that we need to understand ourselves better. If we take all of these assessments, and we then get coaching insights about yourself, and these coaching insights are delivered in the flow of work, and we’re getting nudges that are context-specific, and that’s really helpful, but it, also, allows you to learn more about the other party. You’re getting these coaching insights about other people and in the flow of your work.
Just say, “Hey, I’m getting ready to go into a meeting with Patrick. I act this way. He acts this way.” “Here’s the three things you need to think about when you’re getting ready to work together.” That’s why I’m excited about what we’re doing practically, because that’s all this research that I’ve been interested in on what happens given the scenario, given the dyad, or given the group. It’s really important that we start thinking beyond one person at a time and start to understand the context that we are within. Once we start to appreciate everybody’s differences and capitalize on those, that’s going to be able to take our ability to work better with others to the next level.
Patrick: Scott, thank you, first, for your passion and dedication to this research and bringing this to the world. Also, thank you very much for spending time with us and sharing your thoughts and perspectives in the conversation. How can people find more information about you?
Scott: Sure. They can find all that information at scottdust.com.
Patrick: Perfect. Sounds good. Scott, again, thank you very much. I really enjoyed the conversation today. I think the audience is definitely enjoying it as well. We will speak in the future to see how, hopefully, this evolves as we return to the workplace because that is imminent for all of us.
Scott: That’s right. Thank you. This conversation did not drain me at all, so thank you. This was energizing even as an introvert. Thanks, Patrick.
Patrick: I feel the same. Perfect. Thank you very much, Scott.