The workplace is a melting pot of personalities--no surprise there! All types of employees must work together and are expected to overcome personal differences to reach a common goal. But ethics, cultural norms, and temperament can sometimes cause friction.

Let's discuss temperament. All employee groups will exhibit two main types: introverts and extroverts. Each type can interact very differently in the workplace. One may be better suited for leadership than the other. But can you always tell which is which?

These traits tend to be associated with most extroverts:

  • They never seem to meet a stranger. Everyone is a potential client, or better yet, a potential friend.
  • They seem to volunteer for everything that comes along. These are the employees who will work on several committees at a time, even if the committees have little in common.
  • They involve themselves socially with everyone who will have them. They instigate personal discussions and often become the social directors for the department.

Extroverts sound like wonderfully interactive people, don't they? They can be--but a dark side may also emerge.

  • They can emotionally overpower a client who prefers to remain "strictly business," causing mistrust. This manager must learn to moderate this tendency according to the client's needs.
  • They can get burned out quickly when trying to impress others or earn their respect through overcommitment. This manager must learn balance and when to say no.
  • They can become overly friendly with staff and clients. Proper boundaries are a must if this manager is to maintain the respect of others.

What about traits associated with most introverts?

  • They often prefer to work in solitude. They may get angry if interrupted.
  • They acknowledge the lives of others but don't enter social discussions. They rarely show up at gatherings that are not business related.
  • They tend to wait until an assignment is refused by others before stepping up. A co-worker might feel as if they resent taking on the burden.

It sounds as if introverts would make poor leaders, doesn't it? They can be--but you might look at it this way.

  • They can have impressive powers of concentration and problem solving. When this manager presents his plan, it will usually be detailed and well thought out.
  • They can act as a buffer or diplomat, given that they tend to observe behavior from a distance. This manager can often explain differing points of view without becoming emotionally involved.
  •  They can become effective leaders, not in spite of but because of the fact that they don't push themselves forward. They tend to have a realistic view of their abilities and the patience to figure out the job as it progresses.

Of course, these are only surface traits of extroverts and introverts. All traits can be seen in both personality types.

But what actually constitutes an extrovert or introvert? It's quite simple. An extrovert recharges by being with people, while an introvert recharges by being alone.

All employees deserve and appreciate respect for who they are. Acknowledge the introverted or extroverted traits that you've observed. You may find you have defined the person in error. Many true introverts have learned to act like extroverts in certain situations and vice versa.

Here are some suggestions for effective ways to approach each type:

  • An introvert generally prefers to ease into the workday by sorting and planning alone for the first half an hour. He may want to retreat strategically during the day. Allow him to schedule "alone time," or encourage him to use a "do not disturb" signal when necessary.
  • An extrovert would often rather meet with people and start the day off running. He'll tend to be more productive when he can bounce ideas off others during the workday. Schedule regular brainstorming sessions or encourage him to engage with other people as needed.
  • An introvert may not be comfortable speaking up when a general call for ideas is given. Ask him directly (possibly before the meeting) if he has suggestions.
  • An extrovert may want to explain every detail of his plan immediately. Acknowledge his good ideas in front of his peers without allowing his enthusiasm to hijack the meeting.

Finally, encourage extroverts and introverts to work together. It's sometimes a bit uncomfortable, but each has strengths that will improve the professional development of the other as well as contribute value to the project.

Do you have unique ways to manage the personalities in your office? Please take a moment to share this article and your comments with others.