Extroverts are at an advantage in business. Psychologists tell us this, and so, indirectly, do the countless blog posts and books instructing introverts on how to fight back against this reality. If extroverts didn't have a leg up due to their more outgoing nature, we wouldn't need bestsellers like Susan Cain's Quiet.
But exactly how big is the extrovert advantage, and does it have any limits? A new post on the Association for Psychological Science blog offers fascinating answers to these questions. It highlights research carried out by an international team of psychologists that focused on determining the boundaries of the extrovert advantage, and they found a big one.
When the going gets tough, introverts come out ahead.
To figure out when the more social among us flourish and when they struggle, the team studied 162 Belgian business students who were separated into 27 teams as part of a class project. The psychologists assessed each student's level of extroversion and then followed the progress of the groups, monitoring their level of conflict and group dynamics over time.
At first, their measurements weren't surprising in the least. Extroverts made friends and allies more quickly than their more reserved classmates, and were viewed as valuable contributors to their teams. But when disagreements arose among team members, things got more interesting.
The enthusiasm that the teams so valued in extroverted members suddenly became a liability when conflicts arose. What first appeared to be useful energy was reinterpreted as pushiness, which worsened relationships in the group. In short, being a bit of a loudmouth is only appreciated when everyone gets along. When disagreements crop up, that same forcefulness is resented as an attempt to dominate the group.
Or as the researchers put it: "These findings suggest that extroverts are not only oriented toward social relationships, providing positive energy therein, but can also be perceived as overly assertive and dominant, acting in a way that negatively impacts their relationships. Extroverts may be perceived as 'shouting the loudest,' perhaps overcrowding others and even prolonging task conflict within teams."
What's the takeaway here? That depends on where you sit. If you're a dyed-in-the-wool extrovert, this study should be a caution to you for when you next participate in a group in crisis. Be careful that your exuberance isn't misinterpreted.
If you're an introvert, however, the findings will probably be more cheering. Here's scientific confirmation of another one of your unique strengths. While chatty colleagues might make instant friends, you're much more likely to be able to navigate a group crisis without ruffling feathers.
Finally, for managers, one possible takeaway might be that you should think carefully about the personality mix of your teams. A bunch of extroverts working together might seem fun at the outset, but could potentially be a powder keg if the project runs into trouble. A healthy mix of styles is probably a safer bet.
Have you witnessed this dynamic of a group souring on its most talkative members when the going gets tough in real life?