Extroverts versus introverts: Analysing systemic conflicts

In one of our instalments, we spoke about the leadership skills required to effectively run teams.

Report by Sam Hlabati

We noted that the success of a team depended on the discernment of the team leader, who should know which leadership style to apply in particular situations.

The dimension of individual characters has an effect on the way individuals interact in teams.

Such interactions in the context of differing characters would have under-the-surface systemic effects on the effectiveness of cooperation between team members. The two common extremes of characters that can be present in a team are extroverts and introverts.

Extroverts are the outgoing people who get their energy from their immediate environment through building connections with people.

This energetic lot literally think with their mouths, thus they think as they talk and they think by talking. These are the fellows who make winding contributions in team meetings; sometimes correcting themselves with self-directed interjections such as “if that does not work, we can do ….”; their statements are loaded with several alternative suggestions.

On the other hand, introverts get their energy from the life of their minds. These people like to think carefully about an issue; they process their own ideas before they talk. Quietness is a comforting situation for them. After a long session of talking at work, they value spending quiet time to recuperate from virtual mental weariness. Even though introverts do have deep and meaningful conversations with colleagues, they draw comfort and energy when they are quiet.

The very differences between extroverts and introverts create systemic conflicts that can destroy a team. The most disturbing fact is that the systemic conflict is usually so subtle that it is hardly noticeable, as it is attributed to perceived incompetence or bullying.

Team leaders would usually go on a wild goose chase trying to control the mistakenly diagnosed incompetency or bullying. Due to their outgoing character, extroverts tend to rise into managerial roles faster than introverts because of their public profile activities such as networking, cheerleading and making speeches, which come naturally to them.

The systemic problem with extroverted leaders is that they tend to misunderstand the character of introverts by trying to rev them up. Introverts can see such directed energies by the leader as pestering, and at worst, harassment.

It is obvious that whilst extroverts have the energy required to revive poor performing teams, they are not necessarily guaranteed to be better leaders than introverts. Introverted leaders are usually respected by their teams because of their listening skills.

Studies have shown that highly-motivated teams and self-directed teams can actually deliver high performance when led by introverts. The underlying performance driver would be the latitude the team would get from an introverted leader who is not always in their faces. High performance teams do not necessarily need an extrovert to get them revved up, they may actually need an introvert who can step back and let them perform on their own.

The systemic failure of a team will depend on the character of the leader, among other factors.

A team whose performance is low will most likely sink into oblivion if they are put under the charge of an introvert. The team would need to be pushed into action, yet the introverted leader would prefer stepping back. The extrovert would do good to such a team; however, till they become self-directing. The other side of the coin is that a well performing self-directed team would not do well with an extrovert who pokes his/her finger into every pie and gives instructions at every step.

The basic problem that emanates from the incompatibility of introverts and extroverts is that individuals tend to assume their own character and communication style is the norm by which the entire universe should survive. It is quite easy for each of us as individuals to misjudge those who differ from us.

Team members can mistakenly assume the worst about their colleagues who are different from themselves. They tend to confuse personality preferences with perceived flaws in people’s character or shortcomings in intellectual capacity. There are a number of areas where extroverts and introverts misjudge each other.

The first area in which these differing colleagues misunderstand each other is social skills. Introverts may assume that extroverts are rude and egotistical. Introverts would be baffled by the gregarious nature of extroverts; assuming they say too much too often, preferring they should shut up and listen more often. Of course, talking less and listening more is what introverts do, so they unfortunately expect extroverts to do the same.

Extroverts mistake the reserved demeanour of introverts as being withdrawn and unsociable. This is insinuated from the fact that introverts do not ordinarily jump into conversations and start throwing around multiples of ideas. In overall team participation, extroverts may assume that introverts do not want to participate in discussions and activities, yet introverts think of extroverts as being inclined to bullying; pushing others around.

Teams are often made up of a mix of introverts and extroverts; it is incumbent upon the leader to manage the team in full cognisance of the nature of the characters of team members. The leaders should be aware of their own characters, whether introverted or extroverted, to be able to relate to team members who may be dissimilar to themselves. Leaders who are unaware of this fundamental principle may destroy teams by aligning themselves with members who are more like themselves, ignoring the team members on the polar opposite.

Sam Hlabati specialises in human capital business strategies advisory services. You can contact him on samhlabati@gmail.com