How to Work With Introverts

Extraversion is one of the major personality traits. Our personality stays relatively stable throughout our lives. Personality traits exist on a spectrum, so we can be low, moderate, or high on the extraversion trait. If you are low in extraversion, it is referred to as being high in introversion.

While personality can help predict how someone is likely to behave, it doesn’t determine how we behave. The situation, the setting, how others act, our mood, our values, our intentions, among other things – are just as likely to have an impact on our behavior and actions.

That being said, the behaviors of an extreme introvert and an extreme extravert can vary so drastically in response to an identical situation that one may have quite a difficult time understanding where the other is coming from. To be an effective leader, you must be able to adapt your style. To work effectively in a team situation, it is helpful to recognize, respect, and work with the differences of others.

Emotional Expression

One hallmark of extraverts is they are very likely to display positive emotions whenever they feel them. In contrast, an introvert may be very happy or pleased, yet nobody around them would recognize it because they tend to be more reserved in their emotional expression. They most likely will not jump up and down in response to a birthday gift or a promotion. But don’t assume they are unhappy or unappreciative. They are more likely to express their true emotions through words rather than actions. Take those words at face value and don’t read into it.

Information Processing

Extraverts sometimes must start talking before their thoughts begin to make sense to them. Introverts are opposite in that if they start taking without a plan in mind, they will only get more confused. This is especially true in problem-solving. Don’t catch them off-guard with a question and expect a good answer. Prior to a meeting or a collaboration session, provide everyone with the agenda, the problem, the questions, etc. This will maximize the contributions that introverts make. In recent years, open collaboration spaces have become very popular. However, make sure you also have private, quiet spaces where work can be done without interruptions.

Social Interaction

It is a misconception that introverts have poor social skills or are shy. It probably comes about because introverts become drained (and thus, ineffective) after interacting with others and they become recharged after taking alone time. Introverts are more likely to enjoy interacting with others one-on-one than in larger group settings. They also tend to enjoy getting to know a few people very well rather than lots of people superficially. Because introverts process information internally, they may be slow talkers. Give them time to finish without interrupting.

Quick tips:

  • Extraverts tend to dominate brainstorming sessions. Ask introverts for their opinion specifically and create an opportunity for them to be heard without interruptions.
  • Phone conversations create awkward pauses when the introvert is thinking. Use email if you want to get their clearest thoughts around a topic.
  • Introverts will often keep their emotions, interests, ideas, and thoughts to themselves. It takes time, trust, and a great relationship to get to know them fully.
  • Introverts have a larger personal space bubble and a lower tolerance for external stimuli. Hold the hugs, turn down the music, and give them some space.

To work effectively in a team situation, it is helpful to recognize, respect, and work with the differences of others.

Great team members, as well as great leaders, come in both varieties – introverts and extraverts.

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  • Cary

    I really liked this article and I just like to add that introverts make up 50% of the population. This figure actually comes from the Myers Brigg foundation and the 1/3 of the population figure that often gets bandied about is completely inaccurate.

  • Alexandra_levit

    Eva, I love this! Far too often introverts are overlooked because of their low key style, and this is a mistake because they have just as much to offer as the squeaky wheel extroverts. Thanks for the terrific post.

  • Josephinehanan

    Eva, my favorite part of your article are the “quick tips” about working with people who are introverted. i would be curious to learn more about how coming across as an introvert affects getting hired (as I'm writing a book on the hiring process today), as well as how it could affect performance reviews (especially with a more extraverted style). Looking forward to reading more from you:)

  • Thanks for your comment Cary. Just to clarify, since introversion is so universal that many use it — The definition of introversion I was working with here is that of the Big Five model, which is generally measured with a normed assessment. The 50% figure would definitely still hold, since it's based off the bell curve.

  • Thanks, that is so true. Often the leadership traits that we celebrate are characteristic of extraverts, which can leave introverts feeling left out. I wanted to emphasize that introverts can have just as much to offer and be just as great, so I'm glad that point came across.

  • Thanks Josephine. I try to make a point of connecting everything I write to the “so what” factor.

    Some quick thoughts on the areas you bring up:

    The overemphasis on interviews during the hiring process is for sure an obstacle for an introvert. It doesn't mean they can't do as well on the interview as an extrovert with extra practice, but the things that make a good impression (i.e., confidence, being personable) just come easier to extroverts. So those hiring are more likely to select an extrovert with mediocre performance than an introvert with better performance if they aren't careful to follow a process that takes human biases out of the equation.

    The biggest issue I see with performance reviews and introverts is failing to make your own work visible to others on a regular basis will prevent them from providing the most accurate rating.

    This introvert topic was well-received … I may continue these thoughts into a follow-up post. Thanks for the collaboration!

  • Eva — right on! It can really frustrate extraverts to work with introverts. This article explains how it can be accomplished successfully.

  • This is a great article, thanks! Do you have any suggestions on how I might share it with my boss so that he can understand my working style a little better? And do you have any tips on how an introvert can better work with extroverts?

  • Hi Stephanie,
    Actually, I have done this before. I shared a link with my boss about introverts and said something like, “Good article, if you haven't noticed yet, I am an introvert.” It then led to a discussion about the article and our individual working styles.

    My biggest piece of advice would be to never 'use' it to excuse poor performance/behavior or to cite it during an apology for something.

    Also, your question prompted me to write this post:… Thanks!

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  • Jerry Brower

    Great guidelines and encouraging words for the introvert.  Being an introvert myself, I can see where different methods need to be employed in order to achieve the same results as the extrovert.  But, it is possible to succeed, in spite of the common stereotype given to the introvert.  We definitely have our strong points. We just need to know how to recognize them and learn how to use them.  Social skills will become more natural if you are persistent at practicing them.  I also found some other great free tips on networking at:

    • Thanks Jerry. We tend to think that everyone is just like us and extravert may fall into the trap of thinking … when I am silent during a meeting, it is because I am uninterested or I don’t have anything to contribute … Jenny was silent during our last team meeting, therefore she is uninterested or has nothing to contribute… when in reality Jenny might simply be an introvert and is more comfortable sleeping on the dilemma and bringing solutions to work the next day. Gotta watch out for those individual differences!

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  • criticalfocus

    One problem is that may talk about being an extrovert as the normal condition and that being an introvert is the abnormal.

  • Trevor fan

    This lady can’t spell…wtf is extravert?

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