Most of us identify as being an introvert or extrovert, and some of us fall somewhere in between. It can be easy to spot someone in the workplace that’s your opposite, but what happens when you have to manage them? What should you do if you’re an introvert leading a team of extroverts?
Managing people who have different personalities than your own requires that you tune into what makes them tick, says Devora Zack, author of Networking for People Who Hate Networking.
“You succeed by honoring your strengths,” she says. “And you can manage someone else by understanding theirs.”
In the workplace, introverts and extroverts have two major differences, says Zack, and introvert bosses can leverage them to create a cohesive team.
How you get your energy
Introverts get their energy by being alone, while extroverts get their energy by being around others. An introvert boss may feel drained by managing a team of extroverts who prefer interaction over isolation, but it’s possible for both types to thrive, says Zack.
“An introvert might find schmoozing in the lunchroom draining, while an extrovert finds it re-energizing,” she says. “An introvert boss may think the extrovert employee is wasting time and being irresponsible, but it’s important for them to remember, that’s how extroverts decompress.”
On the other hand, an extrovert might see an introvert leader staring out the window and think they’re wasting time spacing out, says Zack, but it’s how they re-energize.
Start by being open about your preferred work style. If you need time alone, shut your door and let employees know you are doing focused work that can be interrupted only in an emergency.
Also, recognize that as a manager, you have a perception challenge to overcome, says Zack. “If you are a confident and introverted leader, you can be mischaracterized if you turn down offers to socialize,” she says. “If you’re invited to join a group for happy hour or lunch, and you turn it down because you’re self-aware and know you energize alone, others may mistake your behavior and think you’re a snobby extrovert.”
It’s important for introvert managers to occasionally say “yes” to offers, suggests Zack. “It’s possible to flex your style,” she says. “Lunch invitations or big group dinners at the end of a busy conference, for example, can sound horrible to an introvert. Find time to re-energize by creating regular escapes to refuel. Making conscious choices to go outside of who you are can help you bridge the differences.”
How you think
Introverts think to talk, and extroverts talk to think. It can be difficult for introvert managers to supervise extrovert employees, because too much talking can derail their own thought process. To succeed, you need to build systems around it, says Zack.
For example, if an extrovert employee comes into your office, set a time limit on conversations. “Say, ‘I have five minutes,'” Zack suggests. “Let them know up front and set boundaries when you have focused work you need to do.”
Also consider the differences while in meetings. “By the time an introvert speaks up, they mean it,” says Zack. “With an extrovert, talking is the process that takes them toward what they ultimately believe.”
This can result in introverts and extroverts leaving meetings with different ideas about what’s happening next. As a result, it’s important for an introvert manager to recap the decisions made during meetings and assign next steps, so everyone is on the same page.
Also take into consideration these differences when it comes to a brainstorming session, which is inherently an extrovert-centric activity. Extroverts talk to brainstorm ideas while introverts brainstorm quietly, processing ideas internally to think.
“The revision is to tell people the topic and give everyone a minute to think of ideas before sharing,” says Zack. “This gives introverts a chance to think. Sometimes introverts won’t share in meetings because they’re in thought or feel private and don’t want to talk in the group. It’s also possible to submit thoughts in writing.”
As you get to know people better, you can pick up on their behaviors, but it’s okay to talk about your personality and working style, ask others what they prefer, and share your own preferences, says Zack.
“This is an issue because we need to respect each other more, and people experience what’s respectful in different ways,” she says. “For example, an extrovert will feel it’s respectful to be greeted after they’ve been away from the office, while an introvert might feel it’s disrespectful and intrusive.”
As the leader, flex your work style by meeting your team where they’re at, and by calibrating how you communicate with others. “The golden rule is to treat others how you want to be treated, but the platinum rule is to treat others how they want to be treated,” says Zack.
By Stephanie Vozza