How introverts and extroverts can find harmony in the workplace

The two personality camps can get on the same page—and work together to do great things

If you’re an extrovert, you know it—and so does everyone else around you. On the most basic level, extroverts get a buzz from other people and dynamic situations, contributing and receiving energy with enthusiasm. By contrast, when introverts participate in such scenarios, they need to follow it up with solitude, spending time alone to recharge and regain equilibrium.

Both personality types are needed in the world and the workplace—but these differences can sometimes spell trouble at work. In their book No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotion at Work, authors Mollie West Duffy and Liz Fosslien provide insight as to how introverts and extroverts can work together and flourish side by side.

“The workplace is often an emotional minefield,” says Fosslien, who is also the book’s illustrator. To help others disarm potential land mines, the pair led a workshop at the WeWork 401 Park Ave South in New York that prompted attendees to be honest about their own quirks, triggers, and habits, and to become more cognizant of others’. These are their best tips for how we can all learn to get along with other personality types to produce our best work.

Schedule time to decompress. Back-to-back meetings and events and offsites and happy hours are every introvert’s recurring nightmare. Fosslien says she has learned to “avoid [the] introvert hangovers” that come from over-committing by blocking off evenings on her calendar for downtime. “I’ll put on my calendar, ‘Do not say yes to anything else!’” she says. It’s a great tip for introverts—and a good reminder for extroverts to schedule space between mandatory events.  

Break into small groups. One of Fosslien’s book illustrations depicts an introvert in a meeting thinking: I have a thought… Should I say something? But by the time she gets the courage to raise her hand, the loudest members of the group chime in, the leader says, “Great meeting! See you next week!” and everyone departs.

For a more inclusive—and, ultimately, productive—way to brainstorm, Fosslien and West Duffy suggest that managers ask people to split up into pairs, talk one-on-one, and then report back to the larger group. This way, multiple contribution styles are accommodated rather than the most bombastic ones by default.

Send out agendas before meetings. Agendas play to both introverts’ and extroverts’ strengths and weaknesses. Introverts, who tend to shrink from a fray, can prepare their thoughts, questions, and comments in advance and feel more comfortable speaking up. And extroverts, “who benefit from having a little extra time to think through what they’re going to say as opposed to just saying it in the moment,” Fosslien says, can stay on track.

Conduct pre- and postmortem check-ins. West Duffy says her team meets before, during, and after every project to have a conversation about how they want to work together. The discussions are facilitated by someone who isn’t directly involved in the project and include considerations such as: Are you an introvert or an extrovert? What time do you want to get to work in the morning? What are your nonnegotiables—for example, do you have to leave by a certain time to pick up kids? How do you like to give and receive feedback?

“So often, we want to get straight into doing the work, but it’s actually more efficient in the long-term to take the time to do [this exercise],” she says. “If you don’t understand what’s going on and what people’s preferences are, [these issues will] still come out and you’re going to have conflict.”

Don’t hover. Fosslien urges managers to “limit MBWA—management by wandering around”—which can throw good employees off their game.

“I had an extroverted boss who, if he didn’t have meetings on his calendar, was guaranteed to be strolling around, looking over everyone’s shoulder, and asking, ‘What are you working on? How’s the day going?’” she says. “When you ask more stressful questions like, ‘That thing you’re working on, what’s the status of it?’ introverts often don’t give great answers because they need more time to process.”

If you insist on wandering because that is your own way of expelling extra energy, curb the instinct to quiz staff, and let them know any off-the-cuff questions can be answered over email later on.

Consider how you give feedback. One pervasive stereotype about millennials in the workplace is that they need constant feedback. While employees of all generations and personality types would likely appreciate acknowledgement that they’re doing good work—or details on what needs to be improved—leaders shouldn’t assume a bullhorn is the best way to go.

“We [sometimes] assume, Oh, who wouldn’t want to be celebrated in public?” West Duffy says. “Well, I don’t want to be celebrated in public. That’s super embarrassing for me. I prefer to receive negative—but especially positive—feedback privately.”

Ask those who report to you where and/or how they would like to be given critiques or acclaim, she says. You don’t have to hold back on your assessment—but you can control its delivery.

Read more from Fosslien and West Duffy about how to keep conflict at work constructive and the importance of emotional intelligence for women at work.

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