Who's More Productive, Introverts Or Extroverts?

Yes. Everyone's a little introverted. Everyone's a little extroverted. And everyone can work better by embracing both qualities.

"There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert," observed Carl Jung, the psychologist who popularized the terms. "Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum."

That may be true, but if you work with, are friends with, or are in a relationship with someone on the complementary (read: opposite) side of the introvert-extrovert spectrum, we can also feel as if they belong in the insane asylum.

Why? Because we're constantly projecting our experience upon others, imagining that they take in the world in the same way that we do—which is why, curiously, we tend to hire people who are just like us. So if we're going to really relate with the other -verts, we need to understand their axis.

Versions, intro- and extro-

As Belle Beth Cooper noted on Buffer (in a post we also published), introversion and extroversion don't fit our assumptions:

  • Extroversion is how outgoing you are.
  • Introversion is how shy you are.

Instead, she notes, your introversion-extroversion depends on where you get your energy:

  • Introverts (or those of us with introverted tendencies) tend to recharge by spending time alone. They lose energy from being around people for long periods of time, particularly large crowds.
  • Extroverts, on the other hand, gain energy from other people. Extroverts actually find their energy is sapped when they spend too much time alone. They recharge by being social.

Yet people aren't binary (isn't that confusing?!). Instead, we run along gradients. In the same way the Kinsey scale suggests that most people's sexuality lies along a spectrum, most of us are ambiverts.

Where you get your sensitivity—and productivity

As Susan Cain notes in Quiet, if you squeeze a lemon on the tongue of an introvert, he or she will salivate more than an extrovert would.

Since introverts are more sensitive to stimuli, they don't need to gather stimulation with the same fervor as extroverts. Too much stimuli—especially of the social variety—will leave them feeling drained of energy and ultimately unproductive.

As we've noted again and again, managing your productivity is really a matter of managing your energy levels, so figuring out your introversion-extroversion orientation lends specifics to the oft ambiguous art of the recharge.

Introversion, extroversion, and collaboration

As Kellogg professor Leigh Thompson argues in Creative Conspiracy, collaboration—that is, the idea-blooming, strategy-begetting kind—springs from a rhythm of individual and solo work.

So to have a more literate conversation about introversion and extroversion and how they relate to collaboration and productivity, we need to know how best to work with either. Similarly, we need to recognize that everybody has tendencies of introversion and extroversion, so we can take care of both in ourselves, too.

If we're on the introverted side, we can:

  • Give space: We should carve out negative space between meetings to recharge our social batteries.
  • Create focus: Similarly, we should sculpt the opportunities to put our heads down and dive deep into complex problems—and bring the solutions back to the team.
  • Attune: As Dan Pink notes in To Sell Is Human, introverts are great at attuning to another person in a one-on-one situation, which shows that introverts can have super high social intelligence.

And when we're feeling extroverted, we can:

  • Embrace the busy: The more extroverted among us crave high levels of stimulation, so let them go after it—even if it means their schedules will be packed.
  • Compliment extroverts: Extroverts love being social; they love to be validated socially even more. So give 'em the praise (that would embarrass an introvert).
  • Explore: As Steve Jobs argued long ago, the more experiences you've had, the more ideas you have to draw from in life, catalyzing your creativity.

How do you take care of the introverted and extroverted tendencies in yourself and others? Let us know in the comments.

Hat tip: Buffer

[Image: Flickr user Rod]

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  • Mantra

    Great article. Makes me a feel a little saner to see so clearly the introvert and the extrovert sides of me. Thanks.

  • Jayna Wallace

    It's interesting that this topic has hit such a critical mass in recent weeks – it's nice to finally see an article that attacks introversion and extroversion as a sliding scale, instead of an either/or, us against them. We've set out to tackle this in our SXSW panel for 2014: http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vo... -- seems particularly relevant, considering how much it's being talked about right now.

  • james pisano

    I think that "ambivert" word is misleading and pop-psychology, and am disappointed Fast Company would feature that idea. In Jung's "Psychological Types," which is volume 6 of his collected works, he indicates we all have a preference for one over the other. He also never used the word "ambivert." He would say that if you can't identify or self select one vs the other, that this would indicate a sickness or dis-ease that you should attend to and would benefit from working through. Handedness is really quite a good analogy for this and you can imagine there are very few, truly ambidextrous people and further, they have had to work through what hand to use for what, every time they encounter something new, and that this can be a source of some tension until they do. You don't want to encourage people to imagine they are neither, as this offers little value in terms of strategies to cope with stress and communications strategies, etc. Furthermore, if you want to determine which function you extravert, which helps you understand how you manage time and how you express yourself, you have no way of doing so, until you self select introversion or extraversion. Really, you guys crapped the bed on this one. :) oh well.

  • Wally G

    Crapped the bed? As if Jung was the final and complete assessment of personality and psychic tendency for all time? Ambivert is simply another word for a continuum. Few people are hard-and-fast introvert or extravert. And (as this article suggests) such tendencies can change over time, hours, months, years. An "I" Myers Briggs today could be an "E" next year, or could even change depending on what they're doing in life at that moment. And those closer to median I/E on MB are probably stronger ambiverts.

    "You don't want to encourage people to imagine they are neither".
    Did we just read the same article? I didn't get that at all from the writer. Just the opposite in fact.

  • Performancepi Gander

    Working with trainers, I discovered that introvert trainers usually (not always but with a very high frequency) come out of the classroom experience "high"; they are energized.  On the other hand, the extroverts come out of the classroom exhausted and "down".  This seemed contrary to the idea of where people get their energy. 

    As an introvert, I paid attention to what I was doing in class that raised or lowered my energy level.  Guess what, much of classroom training is actually internally focused for the trainer.  That is, they have a timeline and goal for activities and outcomes.  Trainers are not "being social".  Even the social interactions of classroom discussions are about an outcome and the trainer must be tracking the outcomes (an internal activity) rather than socializing.   

    Of course, variations do exist... The hardest class I ever had to teach was all facilitation... ask the class to read text, show a video, ask key questions, reflect back key points, ask students to write out answers, walk class through a review of answers.  It work.  It worked very, very well.  However, I had to spend the whole tow or three days of class in "social" mode attuned to many people and their emotional responses, responding to their individual experiences and needs, praising and supporting sharing.  I was exhausted by this class.  My extrovert friends loved teaching this class and found it very fulfilling. 

    However, having said that, when I teach my classes are filled with group discussions and activities... discussions and activities based on the content to be learned and with presentations scattered around to support key knowledge changes required.  So, we can't say that this is about people who "lecture" versus those who "facilitate".   

  • Susaneavery

    This is great! Best definition of introverts and extroverts ever. What hit home for me was where we get the source of recharging. I had always viewed myself more of an extrovert, but after reading this, I am definitely an introvert. This will help me both professionally and personally.

  • james pisano

    Hi Susane. FYI, introversion and extraversion are not traits, like "friendliness" or "shyness," they are actually complimentary psychic functions or attitudes, (according to Jung) that everyone has and that we all have a preference for; one over the other. A classic analogy that is quite good is thinking of introversion and extraversion as like two hands; you have two hands you use every day, but you prefer one over the other, that is, one is dominant. You can explore the theory more, there are many books available; it's quite powerful if you invest a little time. I always think of introverts as being people where the inner world of their own thoughts and feelings is their dominant reality whereas extraverts' dominant reality is the outer world of people and situations, etc. There are many other differences, and when you combine them with Jung's other observations (other functions), you have a pretty powerful view of a person.

  • Cedricj

    I find that the times when I shut down or open up to a social environment is more of a function of whether I am with energy drainers (high maintenance people) or energy boosters (inspiring and giving people) rather than introverted or extroverted tendencies.

    Inspiring leaders to inspire others

  • Omar Brown

    I find that my energizing sources emerge from both solitude as well as in social environments, too much of either can drain me, while I thrive in social gatherings. I prefer a more intimate setting. My tendency to crave praise is often met with embarrassment to the point of often aiming to redirect its merit to other sources, making the conveyor of the praise all too often very uncomfortable and sometimes even sorry for making the gesture. While I love being validated for tapping my creative juices to solve deep complex matters, its the stimulation that I desire rather than the praise, having the effort genuinely reflected back from someone who gets it, is where it's at for me. I guess I would prefer a sincere hand shake of gratitude, than being showered with praise. In the end for me its about fulfilling a need, and being connected with the masses, but at a distance; I got to have my space to hear myself think even if its with the music on.  As much as I thrive on the stimulation of people, of experiencing and learning new things, I also need the solitude time to process it all, got to have my Zen moments as well as my primordial scream time at the stadium with the masses.  The dichotomy of me, hear of late while in the middle of this divorce with a true guarded introvert, I love to indulge in deep blue sorrow to the point of breaking out in to tears, while on the other hand it is not unusual for me to be shedding tears of joy. I love exploring the edges, leaping from precipices when they're no longer configured to serve the purpose of the development of my dream: to be the man carving out his path to heaven, through the jungle of atheism filled with religious nets set to trap those who would dare to believe.   

  • Curt Buermeyer

    Well said. I finally see the world starting to wake up to the world of Ambiverts.  This is kinda funny...since 67% of us are ambiverts, really.  The Myers-Briggs has dichotomized the continuum for too long! The "Ducks Aren't Dogs" blog also makes the point that we should stop trying to make introverts act like extroverts, and vice versa. (http://goo.gl/Ised4C)