How Extroverts Could Unknowingly Harm Their Introverted Colleagues

I recently came across the lemonprovocatively titled article, “How Introverts Secretly Hold Back Their Extroverted Colleagues.” My first reaction to the title was skepticism. I should probably clarify here that I am an introvert per MBTI, an ambivert per Daniel Pink’s assessment, and a social introvert per the STAR method. Skeptical, yet curious, I read on:

Introverted employees may have it out for their more outgoing peers, according to researchers at Oregon State University, the University of Florida, and University of Notre Dame. Not only are introverts more likely to rate extroverted colleagues as worse performers at work, they’re less likely to give them credit.

Introverts, especially those living in more extroverted cultures, may find this allegation hard to believe. In her revolutionary book “Quiet“, Susan Cain talks about the challenges introverts face living under the “Extrovert Ideal,” and the biases they face from the extroverts around them. But this article suggests the opposite.

Here’s one of the studies the article quotes:

…178 students were each assigned to a four- or five-person project team for the semester, then asked to complete questionnaires about their team members midway through the term. Additionally, they were asked to share thoughts on how they got along as a team, as well as their own personalities.

To the researchers’ surprise, introverted team members rated other introverts higher than extroverts, while the extroverts didn’t seem to be influenced by the personalities of their teammates at all.

What might be the reason behind this apparent bias? Do introverts really “have it out for their more outgoing peers?”

Well, this could be one of the contributing factors. For introverts who’re quiet-shamed under the Extrovert Ideal, some might indeed feel resentful enough to lose their sense of fairness and rate extroverts poorly. But is this really true for most of the people, most of the time? I don’t think so.

I don’t have access to this particular study, but I do have a hunch about why this might have happened. The answer lies in the lemon experiment.

The lemon experiment shows that introverts salivate more than extroverts when tasting lemon juice. This sensitivity to stimuli occurs not just when tasting lemon juice, but also in every other sphere of life, including social interactions. Since introverts are more easily stimulated, they prefer working in a calm and peaceful environment, i.e., they are looking to lower their  level of stimulation. On the other hand, extroverts don’t do as well in the same calm and peaceful environment which they might find dull, i.e., they are looking to increase their level of stimulation.

The acclaimed psychologist and professor, Brian Little demonstrates this concept of optimal stimulation in his charming Ted Talk: Confessions of a Passionate Introvert. (Time: 3:14 – 7:22)

So, in light of this new understanding of extroverts and introverts, let’s re-examine the study we discussed above.

When working on the project together, it’s possible that the working style and work environment preferences for introverts and extroverts differed. And since the work environment is often geared for the Extrovert Ideal (think open plan offices and group brainstorming), it’s likely that introverts in the group find themselves working in a situation that is not conducive for them to do their best (i.e., in which they are over stimulated). Since the work environment and methods work well for extroverts, they may be unaware of how these practices don’t work for introverts. Since they find these interactions energizing and stimulating,  they struggle to understand that the same interactions may be draining for introverts. So, an extrovert may judge introverts “objectively” on their performance, without considering that the introvert is working in a inhospitable environment, if you will. Introverts on the other hand are very conscious of the effect that their extroverted colleagues and extroverted working methods have on them and their introverted peers. So, the lower rating they may give extroverts is likely to be because of the negative externality of highly extroverted behavior on the more introverted folks.

One of the  researchers of the study concludes:

The issue might be that extroverts just need to hit a “dimmer switch” when interacting with their taciturn peers.

While this is no doubt good, sensible advice, what is really important is educating extroverts of the effect they can have on introverts and their need to be more mindful of the needs of people different from them.

It would also be helpful to learn more about the wonderful, rich, and complex tapestry that is the introverted mind, instead of labeling them taciturn or using diminutive terms like “that introvert.” Like the wise Susan Cain says, just like feminism is not anti-men, the power of introverts is not against extroverts. Just like women need their voice heard to overcome oppression, so do introverts need their voice heard and their needs met to blossom and grow.

How can YOU make the world a better place for the introverts in your life? If you’re an introvert, what have you done to share your needs at college, work, or at home? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

If you think this piece could help an introvert or an extrovert you know, don’t hesitate to share this with them.

You May Also Like
Why “What’s In It For Me?” Doesn’t Motivate Givers
Diligence is Not a Dirty Word I can’t recommend enough Susan Cain’s wonderful, life-changing and world-changing book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts.”
If you would like to grow the power of introverts, join the Quiet Revolution.


2 thoughts on “How Extroverts Could Unknowingly Harm Their Introverted Colleagues

  1. Very well written, Priyanka. One of the things that really stuck me was the bit about the open work spaces. I never thought about it this way. These work spaces are optimized for extroverts though that was likely not the intent. It would be nice to have small, private spaces for introverts to thrive in 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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