Dr Lynda Shaw argues that it makes sound business sense to recognise the qualities of all staff and not just listen to or promote the person who speaks loudest.
Not everyone is an extrovert and not everyone is so comfortable and confident in their own skin that they immediately stand out from the crowd, but companies who focus primarily on extroverted employees are at risk of ignoring valuable input from introverted characters which could be hugely detrimental to businesses.
There is a distorted perception that to be successful in business you have to have the loudest voice to get noticed. Many businesses are dominated by assertive, extroverted individuals and by all means we need charisma and confident people in the business. However, I believe that neglecting the input of all staff, including introverts, is at the peril of the company.
According to the Myers-Briggs methodology, there are 16 different personality types, each with four different attributes. The component that creates the greatest divide, especially in the workplace, is the introvert-extrovert component. Introverts may take a back seat because they feel outnumbered by more vociferous extroverted characters, but whilst extroverts may bring a more obvious energy to the business, introverts have a valuable contribution because of their natural ability to reflect and analyse, skills which may not be being adequately utilised in business. Introverts are often misjudged as shy, possibly boring and with a tendency not to speak up, potentially because they lack opinions and ideas, but in reality they may just be prefering to take a back seat initially to enable them to assess a situation. They may be fantastic listeners and are often thorough.
Some corporate executives may view introversion as a barrier to leadership yet according to the book Quiet: the Power of the Introvert by Susan Cain, introverts tend to be more successful in the workplace. When employees are passive and looking for leadership from above, it pays for the boss to be an extrovert. By contrast, in environments where the business model revolves around more teamwork and interaction, it may be better to have a more reflective boss.
Extroverts often seem more likely to be selected for leadership roles, but that does not necessarily make them a better leader than an introvert. Extroverts may have the enthusiasm and assertiveness to get the best out of passive followers, but if they hog the spotlight it may stifle the initiative of proactive followers, leaving them discouraged and the business may miss out on their ideas. Introverted leaders thrive by validating initiative and listening carefully to suggestions.
Whilst extroverts report being happier across a greater number of situations and in their lives as a whole, studies of working groups show that extroverts actually generate more negative emotions in the workforce, as they create slightly difficult relationships with team mates. They start off with a higher status which is lost over time because they fail to make others feel as happy and confident as themselves.
If you walk into any company you will find many shy introverts who are uncomfortable interacting with strangers or larger than life personalities, but love to go out and socialise with friends. Many introverts are more sociable than you think and capable of creating conversation with random people at parties, but get easily overwhelmed by people who shine brighter or have a louder personality.
Believe it or not, most people are actually ambiverted rather than introverted or extroverted: quiet in some situations and loud in others, and alternate between seeking the spotlight and staying backstage.
So ask yourself, how can businesses ultimately ensure that all staff are valued equally? Recognising the team as individuals is key. A greater leader will know the strengths of each of their employees regardless of their introverted or extroverted tendencies and be able to bring out their best qualities, ask for their valuable input and give them tasks that they excel at as well as ones which may challenge them.
For example, it is vital in staff meetings that everybody is given the opportunity to project their own ideas and input to the rest of the group so that the conversation is not dominated by the same people. Valuable ideas may be lost which could have been a goldmine to the company. A team with a good balance of both introverts and extroverts who are equally allowed a voice, will make the optimum team.
*Dr Lynda Shaw is a cognitive and business psychologist.