Who Is Better for the Job? An Introvert or an Extravert?

Posted by Julie Roehm on March 26th, 2013 at 9:50 am

I am an extrovert and I know it. Still, I know better than to think that I (or people like me) am perfect for every job. The quest is to know what type of personality is best for what task and to get those people on those tasks to maximize the results, all while making those employees feel good about it. To help figure out how to determine this, I pulled information from this really interesting study done by Camiel Beukeboom. Below is an excerpt from her study:

"...If, indeed, extraverts communicate more abstractly than introverts, this has extensive interpersonal consequences. Differences in language abstraction have repeatedly been shown to induce systematic effects on recipients’ inferences. When information is reported concretely (using action verbs; e.g., Paul pays the cashier) a verifiable description of what happens is provided. When reported abstractly (using adjectives to describe traits; e.g., Paul is honest), information is interpreted and generalized from specific situations to enduring person characteristics (Semin, 2011). Differences in language abstraction not only affect how information is perceived and memorized by recipients, but also how conversations develop, the impression the speaker leaves, and how information is transferred to third parties."

This makes a ton of sense. Think back to last month, the day after the Superbowl. Did your colleagues arrive to the office and start talking about the game, the blackout or the ads? Do you remember the conversation? Chances are that if someone described the blackout or say, an ad, in detail, with precise description of when it occurred, what happened, in sequence; that person might be an introvert. Whereas, if someone told you about the blackout and added their commentary on who was at fault or how it was handled and/or their pov on the impact it had on the game; chances are that person is an extrovert. So, outside of knowing that introverts favor details while extroverts might lean toward insights, what else do we know? Ms. Beukeboom's study suggest that:

"... extraverts speak faster (Koomen & Dijkstra, 1975), louder, and have a broader dynamic range (Scherer, 1979). In (mostly LIWC-based) studies on extraversion and verbal behavior, roughly four aspects are repeatedly observed. First, extraverts, compared to introverts, tend to use more words overall (Gill & Oberlander, 2002; Mehl et al., 2006). Second, extraverts differ from introverts in the content of their language. Extraverts show an increased use of words related to people and social processes (Hirsch and Peterson, 2009; Pennebaker & King, 1999; Yarkoni, 2010). Third, extraverts use more positive emotion words (Pennebaker & King, 1999; Yarkoni, 2010) and fewer negative emotion words (Pennebaker & King, 1999), which fits with the consistently observed correlation between extraversion and positive affect (Watson & Clark, 1997)...A fourth aspect of extraverts’ language use relates to stylistic (or structural) language features...A close analysis of the stylistic verbal aspects related to extraversion ... suggests that introverts tend to be more concrete and precise than extraverts....Together, it appears introverts exert a more careful, precise and focused style, whereas extraverts exert a more imprecise and ‘looser’ style (Gill & Oberlander, 2002)."

I bolded that last statement because I found it interesting in the application to the office setting. It is easy to think about where an introvert would be great. For instance, if you have a presentation on budget, I would want that introvert leading the presentation. For a sales pitch? Seems like the extravert would be best - depending on who you are selling to. But what about for research and insights? You would want someone focused on details to analyze and report out to maintain objectivity, right? But don't insights come from a more "loose" style? Here would it make the most sense to have both types of personalities working together?

The study went on to suggest areas for potential future research.

"One interesting topic that future research may address pertains to possible underlying mechanisms. First, extraverts have been shown to tend towards fast and less accurate performance in cognitive tasks, whereas introverts tend to take more time and are more careful and accurate (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1985; Harkins & Geen, 1975). In conversations this would result in introverts being more thoughtful, reflecting more before speaking, which is in line with introverts’ lower speech rates (Koomen & Dijkstra, 1975). Increased reflection would make introverts’ speech style more precise but also less fluent and spontaneous (Heylighen & Dewaele, 2002).

Second, by definition extraverts and introverts differ in how they behave in interpersonal situations. Prior research suggests that introverts behave more cautiously because of fear of punishment (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1985). Using concrete descriptions could be regarded as cautious verbal behavior because these are less likely to induce disagreement than abstract descriptions (Semin & Fiedler, 1988). While introverts may stick to the facts out of fear of disagreement (Thorne, 1987), typical extraverts are excitement-seekers (Eysenck, 1981), and may be less hesitant to provide subjective interpretations. They may even use abstract interpretations to encourage more lively conversations (Thorne, 1987)."

Hmm...so, extraverts seek out more contentious language to incite conversation and excitement? Introverts are fearful of punishment? More than extraverts? Could be but either way, I would suggest that if you want to get the best ideas, and be sure that you get a mix of fact and exploration of the possible, you need to have both personalities represented at the table. The bigger challenge is getting the introverts to feel comfortable speaking and not overwhelmed by those talkative extraverts!

4 Responses to “Who Is Better for the Job? An Introvert or an Extravert?”

  1. Hmmm. On some of these I could go either way. Often I speak fast - I was born and raised on Long Island NY, and am of Italian heritage. I often speak in the abstract or bigger picture. But my MBTI type is INTJ.

    Great information here, and fodor for my almost everything introvert blog.


    Patricia Weber

  2. J. Nelson Leith says:

    "...if you want to get the best ideas, and be sure that you get a mix of fact and exploration of the possible, you need to have both personalities represented at the table."

    What's "possible" is defined by the facts, so this is a false dichotomy.

    Studies have also shown that meetings cause a measurable drop in expressed IQ, which is going to hurt both the facts and any rational "exploration of the possible" based on those facts.

    How about extroverts leave the examination of facts and ideas to those who are good at it, and focus on what they are good at: congealing a team to execute the resulting plans.

  3. confused says:

    But wait a minute, those differences abstract communication versus concrete sounds more like sensor vs. intuitive descriptions rather than introvert/extrovert. A sensor is more into precise details and may describe an event in a "just the facts ma'am" fashion and that person may be introvert or extrovert and an intuitive may describe events according to how they felt about them.

    • Jane Howard says:

      I agree with "confused". These differences are NOT introvert/extrovert differences at all. They are sensor/intuitive differences. As an INFJ, I am more interested in the gleaning insight from events than remembering specific details.

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