Harnessing the Energy of Your "People People"
Steve Jobs, Boris Yeltsin, and Winston Churchill – these people were all larger-than-life figures who changed the world they lived in. They are all considered to have been extroverts.
People like this are typically outgoing, and they enjoy being around people. They're also more likely than average to be driven and competitive, and they're more likely to take risks. It can take finesse and strong leadership to harness their strengths – and to manage their weaknesses.
In this article, we'll look at what extroversion is, and we'll explore strategies that you can use to get the best from the extroverts on your team.
What Is Extroversion and Introversion?
Noted psychiatrist Carl Jung first popularized the terms "extroversion" (also spelled "extraversion") and "introversion" in the early 20th century.
These two words originally referred to people's personality traits, but it's often easier to think about them in terms of how people "draw energy" from their surroundings.
Introverts typically feel energized when they spend time alone or in a small group. By contrast, extroverts draw energy from the outside world: they feel energized when they've spent time with other people, especially when in large groups.
Our understanding of extroversion and introversion also comes from the work of Dr Hans Eysenck. He looked at the two personality types in terms of arousal:
- Introverts have a high level of arousal – this means that they take a great deal of information from the outside world, and are thus easily over-stimulated.
- Extroverts have a low level of arousal, which is why they seek sources of external stimulation such as being in crowds, participating in conversations, or engaging in adventurous activities, so that they can stay engaged and alert.
The majority of people fall somewhere in between the two extremes of extroversion and introversion. A person might be predominantly extroverted but have some introverted traits, and vice versa.
Many personality tests, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Big Five Personality Traits Model, measure introversion and extroversion; and, when you know whether someone else is introverted or extroverted, it can explain a lot of their behavior.
People's personalities are complex, and the introversion/extroversion axis is just one dimension of someone's personality.
Always treat people as individuals, and don’t stereotype anyone with a certain type of personality – people's behaviors often deviate from simple models.
Extroverts are often thought of as "people people," because they feel more energized when they spend time with others. This can make them likable and fun to be around.
Because they're comfortable with other people, extroverts are more likely to be able to "think on their feet" and thrive in high-pressure environments. They can use this trait to be successful public speakers, skilled negotiators, or empathic customer service reps.
They also often do well in roles that depend on teamwork, because they like to spend time communicating with others. This means that they're likely to be creative in a group setting – whereas introverts are likely to be creative when they work alone or in small teams.
In addition, studies have shown that extroverts are more likely than average to be highly motivated and driven, especially in a competitive environment. This can make them extremely effective in target-driven roles such as sales. (However, recent research shows that "ambiverts" – those who have both introvert and extrovert traits – are often the most effective salespeople. Not only do they enjoy being with other people, they listen carefully as well!)
Extroverts can also face a number of challenges in the workplace.
For instance, it can be hard for them to stay on task, especially when they work alone.
Another challenge is that extroverts are more likely to take risks, and, as a result, may make more bad decisions. They may also "jump first and ask questions later" in their excitement and desire to get started on a project.
Some extroverts may find it difficult to get a good balance between talking and listening – people who talk endlessly or interrupt conversations can damage relationships, and miss important opportunities and learning experiences.
How to Manage Extroverts
Use the strategies below to get the best from your extroverted team members.
Assign Group Work
Extroverts generally work best when they're around others. So, assign them group work whenever you can.
When you do this, bear in mind that extroverts like to "think out loud." So, give these team members the time and freedom they need to formulate their ideas verbally in meetings.
However, be prudent here. Although your extroverts might appreciate an open floor to discuss their ideas, make sure that they don't dominate the discussion so that other team members feel excluded. Remind your extroverts that other people might need time to think and reflect on ideas. Also, coach them to listen actively, so that they can see things from other people's perspectives.
Set Clear Goals and Manage Team Conflict
One key study found that extroverts are less effective when they don't have clear objectives, and when they don't have enough information about a task. It also found that extroverts struggle to work effectively when there are factions in a group.
To get the best from your extroverts, set clear task or project goals, and make sure that people have the support and resources they need to do their jobs effectively. Use a team charter, so that team members understand what's expected of them.
Work With Their Energy Levels
Extroverts often feel drained when they have to work alone. So, schedule group work or meetings after they've spent some time working solo. This will give them plenty of opportunities to "recharge."
Also, look at how their workspace affects their energy levels. Many extroverts will prefer to work in an open office environment rather than in a quiet, solitary workspace. A 2001 study even found that extroverts performed slightly better in a noisy environment than a quiet one.
Ask your extroverted team members whether their current workspace suits them. Let them work in an open office plan, or in a more stimulating environment, if they'd prefer.
If your team has a mixture of introverts and extroverts on it, you may want to have separate quiet spaces and noisy spaces, or, you may want to encourage non-extroverts to listen to music or white/grey noise, so that they can concentrate.
Provide Support on Decisions
Extroverts often like to get started on projects right away. This can be great when you're in a crisis or facing a challenging deadline. However, make sure that your extroverts don't jump in too quickly, at the expense of proper planning and preparation.
Coach your extroverted team members on how to use decision-making tools like The Ladder of Inference and Six Thinking Hats to check their reasoning before they make a decision. Also ensure that they have good project management skills, so that they can plan effectively. (Alternatively, connect them with people for whom this comes naturally.)
Help Them Avoid Multitasking
Extroverts often like to multitask, because they feel more stimulated when they're working on lots of different things at the same time. However, work quality often suffers when people multitask.
Make sure that extroverted team members understand the benefits of focusing on one task at a time. Work with them to minimize distractions, so that they can concentrate when they need to focus on their work.
Motivate With Challenges and Recognition
Extroverts often like a good challenge. One of the best ways to motivate them is to turn work into a friendly team competition. Think about the projects you have coming up: would any work as an informal competition between individuals or teams?
Next, think about how best to reward your extroverts for their hard work.
Pay attention to how they like to be recognized. Some extroverts (but not all) crave the spotlight: these people will appreciate praise and recognition in front of their colleagues. Others want to "win" – these team members would most value a team competition, with a party for the best performing group. Still others will be happiest with a bonus check.
Keep in mind, however, that everyone on your team is different: think carefully about how best to reward each team member's efforts.
Help Introverts and Extroverts Value One-Another
Introverts and extroverts like to work differently, which means that conflict and misunderstanding is common between these two groups. This is why it's important to encourage everyone on your team to be tolerant of other people's working styles.
Explain to introverted team members that extroverts don't dominate the discussion because they want to be the center of attention. In most cases, they're genuinely excited about working with others, and about the challenge of solving a problem.
Conversely, make sure that extroverted team members understand that introverts aren't shy, and that they do have something valuable to say – they just might prefer to say it one-on-one or in writing, rather than in a group setting.
The better you understand each personality type's strengths and weaknesses, the better equipped you'll be to bridge the gap between the two groups, so that everyone on your team can communicate and work together effectively.
Extroverts typically seek external stimulation in the form of other people, conversations, action, and adventure.
They can bring a number of valuable strengths to an organization: they can be excellent communicators, they love to network and connect with others, and they can be great team players.
To get the best from your extroverted team members, assign them to group work as much as possible. Let them work in an open office environment, and encourage them to slow down and listen to what others have to say.
You'll also improve relationships on your team by ensuring that introverts and extroverts learn to understand one another, and value the contribution that each group brings.
Apply This to Your Life
- Take the Big Five Personality Traits test and reflect on what it tells you about yourself.
- Think about the people on your team. Are they extroverts or introverts? What does this tell you about how you should manage them?