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The Quiet Strength Of Introverts In The Workplace


Networking seems to be the key to getting ahead in your career, and that means putting yourself out there. The more outgoing and lively and maybe even louder you are, the better for you, right? It's a game made for extroverts. Or is it? A recent study out of UCLA and Rutgers suggests that more reserved or more neurotic people may be more valuable in team environments at work. In a recent USA Today article "On the Job," columnist Anita Bruzzese argues that bosses should, quote, "strive to help introverts find their voice and weigh how an extrovert is affecting others."

So, in this segment, we want to hear from you out there, bosses and workers. When is a time that you found having an extrovert or an introvert on the team made the key difference? Our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can join this conversation at our website. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION. When is a time that having an extrovert or an introvert on the team make a difference to you?

Anita Bruzzese is a nationally syndicated columnist. Her piece "On the Job: Introverts Win in the End" appeared in USA Today earlier this week. Welcome, Anita, to TALK OF THE NATION.

ANITA BRUZZESE: Thank you so much.

DONVAN: So, Anita, your very headline, "Introverts Win in the End," seems counterintuitive, because we all expect what to be the case?

BRUZZESE: Well, we all expect those people who are the brash, larger-than-life people to be the big success stories, because that's what we're told we're supposed to do. I mean, if you want to get a job, you're supposed to go in there and sell yourself and be the best thing they've ever seen or heard from. And yet, what this research shows is that as time goes on, it's the introverts who really perform better.

DONVAN: Let's take just a minute to define our terms a little bit, your definitions for introvert and extrovert.

BRUZZESE: Well, I think one of the things we do need to clear up is this study talks about neurotics, and it talks about introverts and extroverts. And, you know, an introvert or an extrovert is more about the person's personality, while being neurotic is a measure of their emotional stability or lack thereof, but you can be neurotic and introverted. And introverted people are often known for being very deliberative with what they say and do. They don't like to speak out, maybe, in meetings. They like a longer time to think about their answers and give them. Neurotic people are often anxious and afraid what other people are going to say about them. They're always afraid they're being judged harshly. So those are some of the things you need to think about when you talk about these terms.

DONVAN: And an extrovert is what?

BRUZZESE: Well, an extrovert, I think we all know those people. Those are the salespeople, the ones who make the big deals. They are energized by being around people. They're energized by talking and interacting with people. You'll see them, you know, they're the big networkers. They're out there sticking their hands out, saying hey. They aren't afraid to walk up to a complete stranger and introduce themselves and get a conversation going.

DONVAN: So what you say in your column, which is quite interesting, is that it behooves the boss to, in a way, work with the introvert to bring out the introvert's talents and contributions and personality and to rein in the extrovert. I'm interested to go first to the second part of that. You just made the case for why extroverts are supposed to do so well. So why would a boss want to rein that in?

BRUZZESE: Well, this particular study deals with a team setting. And what happens is with extroverts, what they've found in this study is that they often are not as collaborative. They don't listen as well. They kind of want to be out there, you know, seeing and doing everything and are not willing to stay and get the work done. So, say on a Friday night, you need somebody to stay till 10 or 11 o'clock and finish up a project, that's much more likely to be the neurotic than it is to be the extrovert who's probably out with his or her friends having a good time at a bar somewhere.

DONVAN: Mm-hmm. So you're saying, in a sense, that the extrovert sells a bill of goods, perhaps, and doesn't quite live up to it?

BRUZZESE: Well, I don't want to put extroverts down because they do serve a very important role in the workplace. You know, that's who is out there meeting and greeting clients. They make terrific presentations. They can often help recruit other talent. You know, that's what they're really good at. But what this study looks at, in particular, is a team setting. And in a team setting, bosses need to look at not dismissing introverts or neurotics. Just because they're quiet doesn't mean they don't have something really critical to offer.

DONVAN: Let's - we've asked our listeners to call in with stories about how introverts or extroverts have worked in their workplaces, particularly if the fact of their being introverted or extroverted was the game changer in any particular moment. I want to bring in Macy from St. Joseph, Missouri. Hey, Macy. You're on TALK OF THE NATION.

MACY: Hello.


MACY: Thanks for taking my call.


MACY: I myself am an introvert whenever I'm at work. And I think that that's really played out in my favor, specifically I work with nurse managers in a hospital. And they've been very pleased with me because I'm very detail-oriented. I have, you know, wonderful communication skills, and I'm able to really focus in on what they need. And I think that because I am the neurotic type to where I need to get the job done, and I need to do specifically what they need of me rather than worrying about 17 other things, it's really played in my favor.

DONVAN: Have you felt that in terms of selling yourself and getting attention and promoted and heard, that being an introvert went the other way for you ever?

MACY: You know, honestly, I'm not worried about you know, quote, selling myself. I'm worried about - I was always an A student, so I'm worried about getting good grades at work instead of selling myself. That's kind of the way I see it.

DONVAN: And you trust that doing the job well will be all it takes to get you ahead.

MACY: If it doesn't, it's their loss.


MACY: And someone else will pick me up.

DONVAN: All right. Macy, thanks very much for sharing your story with us. I want to go to...

MACY: Thank you.

DONVAN: ...to Stephen in Columbus, Ohio. Stephen, hi. You're on TALK OF THE NATION.

STEPHEN: Hi. How are you?


STEPHEN: Good. I just...

DONVAN: What's your story?

STEPHEN: Well, I was in hotel management for a number of years, as a general manager. And I just kind of wanted to share my experience where, as I consider myself an introvert, whereas my - for example, my director of sales, one in particular, was very extroverted. She did a lot of the networking with other businesses, chambers of commerce and things like that. I would often attend these meetings with her whereas I found her to be - especially when networking with other hotels and hotel management companies, oftentimes, instead of just selling our property and the benefits of what we had to offer, a lot of times she was more or less selling her own career history, such as, for example, her resume to try to move herself ahead rather than move the property ahead. I found myself, a lot of times, having to go up uncomfortably and interrupt, you know, to put her back on track whereas...

DONVAN: But was she actually wrong, Stephen? I mean, isn't that building that sort of aura of confidence around herself part of her job?

STEPHEN: It is part of her job. But when she would focus more on herself than on the property or the product that we had, it became more of a liability than an actual asset to our company.

DONVAN: Anita Bruzzese, what are you hearing here in these two stories we've heard, especially Stephen's?

BRUZZESE: I think he's saying exactly what the study found, which was in a team environment, when he needed her to promote the business, to promote the team effort, instead she was more focused on herself. She was not being as collaborative; she was not listening to what he was trying to tell her. So I think that bears out exactly what the study found.

DONVAN: Stephen, thanks very much for your call. And I want to go Pam in Hampton, Virginia. Hi, Pam. You're on TALK OF THE NATION.

PAM: Hi. How are you? I'm actually a flight attendant for the airlines, and I work with people who are both introverted and extroverted. And what I find best is when people are able to do both personalities depending on the situation. And we had a lady who had a psychotic breakdown on the airplane, and we had to deal with her issues. And the more introverted, reflective people were much more calming. The more extroverted people tended to be much more passionate, and it just sort of fueled the fire. Also, I find that extroverted people do a lot of jockeying and self-lobbying, and it doesn't necessarily reflect well when you really need some serious situation taken care of.

DONVAN: Pam, which side of that divide do you put yourself on? Introvert or extrovert?

PAM: I actually think it depends on the situation. Socially, I can be extroverted. If I feel intimidated, I'm introverted. Also, if I think I really need to be reflective, I'm introverted. So it just depends on the situation. I don't fall on one side or the other. I use both of those personalities to my own benefit and to the benefit of the set of circumstances I have to contend with.

DONVAN: All right. Pam, thanks very much for your call. Anita Bruzzese, it's interesting that, so far, we have two and a half introverts calling into a national radio program.


DONVAN: So it's - being introverted is not shyness, is it? It's not exactly the same thing.

BRUZZESE: No, I don't think it's - I think it's more a matter of you like to have more time to digest the facts to come up with a response. You're more energized and maybe more creative when you can be alone to think things through. I think there's benefits, like all the callers have said, to both types of personalities. Research will show, again and again, that the best workforces are diverse workforces. That means you need extroverts and introverts. You rely on their individual strengths to make a company successful.

DONVAN: And interesting to hear Pam say that she is sometimes is one and sometimes the other. You are listening...

BRUZZESE: A very smart strategy.

DONVAN: Yes. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION on NPR News. I want to go to Kenny in San Jose, California. Hi, Kenny, You're on TALK OF THE NATION.

KENNY: Hello. Thank you for taking my call.

DONVAN: It's a pleasure.

KENNY: I'm a manager in oil and gas industry in offshore rigs for about a decade. And my teams, I use plenty of extroverts and introverts to help sell different things like safety. It's really difficult to get people involved in safety, and extroverts have a great way of harnessing everyone together and letting them get involved with the merits of safety. And introverted people were always good at getting the stuff actually done.


DONVAN: Really?

KENNY: So, yeah. So on the oil rig, it's fast-paced, very intense in the workplace. And introverted people tend to knuckle down, focus on the task and get it done very meticulously. And extroverted people tend to get behind the safety issue really well.

DONVAN: So, Kenny, in your experience, Kenny, which of those two groups actually do you think provides the better leadership?

KENNY: That is a very tricky one. I tend to favor people who, much like the previous caller, are able to do both, because the two halves are very important, especially in critical situations where you need to be a leader as well as work on the project at the same time.

DONVAN: Kenny, thanks for your call. Really insightful. Appreciate it. We have an email, Anita, from Aimee(ph), who writes - I'm sorry, just looked ahead on this. I like this - I am an extrovert living in reserved Minnesota - not a native - and I often find people deferring to me only because I speak with confidence and/or volume, even if I openly state that I don't know - even if I openly state that I don't necessarily know what I'm talking about or that I'm not married to an idea. It is difficult to rein myself in and I often wish to have a check and balance system.


DONVAN: Can there actually be a whole state of introverts?


BRUZZESE: I like - you know what I like the most about that is that she recognizes the kind of person that she is. She's looking for a way to maybe be better so that people will be more open with her and she can encourage other people. There is a lot of people that are extroverts out there who never stop talking long enough to know that they're dominating a situation.


BRUZZESE: I would, in this case, really encourage her to go to someone she trusts and likes and says, you know, I would really like to kind of have somebody give me a signal that maybe I'm overdoing it or, you know, can you give me some hints in a situation what you would have done. And she can learn from that because it certainly sounds to me like she wants to learn to not be so overbearing.

DONVAN: Interesting. Oh, let's go to Ron in Northern California. Hi, Ron. You're on TALK OF THE NATION.

RON: Hi. How are you?

DONVAN: We're good.

RON: Interesting topic. I am, by definition, an extrovert and I find that both definitions for both classifications of people fit. I'm in banking, highly regulated environment and our rules change on a daily basis, and I rely on my extroverts, myself included, to put together the broad brushstrokes. And I rely on my introverts in our group to connect the dots and execute the plans. My extroverts, you know, they've got the great ideas and then my introverts can get them executed. They are the ones that read the 1,400 pages in the legislation and they are the ones that catch the pitfalls because my extroverts, well, they won't read past the third chapter.

DONVAN: If you're the boss, whom do you promote most often?

RON: Well, there's the dichotomy. The promotion would probably go to the extrovert because they have that leadership quality. They look like a leader. They sound like one. They talk like one. And other people look up to them for broad direction. My introverts, at least in my experiences, are the followers. They do the detail work, but they follow. They don't want to stand out. They don't want to take the risks. My extroverts do. They want the glory that goes along with that. They're kind of cavalier in the risks associated with their decisions or their ideas.

DONVAN: All right. Ron, thanks for the point. I just want to take that to Anita. Where do the leaders come from? Are they always going to be the extroverts?

BRUZZESE: Well, you, know, if you look at where hires are made, they are hiring all the extroverts because those are the people that promote themselves. So if you further that down the line 10 years, who's getting the leadership positions is, just as he said, the extroverts who are able to promote themselves. But I would say that smart companies will find a way to develop introverts, to work with them in their strengths and help move them up the ranks, because if you get to the top and all you got is a bunch of risk-taking extroverts who can talk a good game but aren't making sure that, for example, banking regulations are being followed, you end up having somebody like Jamie Dimon who is going, what in the world happened? We've - at JPMorgan, we've got all these, you know, I's and T's that were not dotted and crossed. And so maybe what you need is to really rethink how you're developing your people.

DONVAN: Anita Bruzzese is a nationally syndicated columnist. Her piece, "On the Job: Introverts win in the end," appeared in USA Today earlier this week. Anita, thanks so much for joining us.

BRUZZESE: Thank you.

DONVAN: Tomorrow, the new arrests in the Boston Marathon bombing and where things go from there. Join Neal Conan for that conversation. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm John Donvan in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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