In the discussions of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, the order of importance to address is (arguably) gender, race, sexual orientation, disability. Certain other categories get sidelined including aging, appearance, and personality.
These last three are important and bear discussion. The one that is probably most overlooked and most potentially damaging to an organization is personality, specifically introversion.
Introversion was first identified by the psychiatrist Carl Jung in his book Psychological Types in 1921. Since then, and with the popularization of Jung’s typology in the Myers-Briggs Trait Inventory (MBTI) it has been known and is in common parlance, particularly in corporations where the MBTI is widely used, but it is often misunderstood and misused.
For purposes of this discussion, let’s use Jung’s definition which boils down to the following: Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Another way to say it is that, confronted with a situation demanding decision or action, Introverts analyze the decision and its ramifications, which Extroverts dive right in.
While there are probably as many definitions of introversion and extroversion as there are trait-based theories of personality, it’s worth making a few distinctions. First of all, the common way of using the terms – that extroverts are outgoing and social, and introverts are quiet loners is completely incorrect. Introversion and extroversion (the E/I scale on the MBTI) is a continuum – while those characterizations may somewhat describe the ends of the spectrum, they are far from being generally true. There are social introverts and asocial extroverts. Second, if you want a rough test, use this one: Introverts get their energy from going internal – thinking, feeling, etc. Extroverts get their energy from being with people. If at the end of a party, you had a good time, but you are tired, you’re probably an introvert. If after the party you are more energized than when you arrived, chances are you are an extrovert.
In her 2012 book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain makes the case that extroversion, charismatic leadership, and group collaboration as first promoted by Dale Carnegie, became the norm for leadership and communication in the 20th century and has continued to this day. She asserts that this ideal that she calls the “mighty likable fellow” gave an edge in business to the glad hander, the talker, the assertive person at the expense of the introvert. In a business meeting, extroverts will dominate the conversation while introverts are mostly quiet, but that is largely because extroverts think by talking and arguing while introverts think and process internally. If space is not made for the introverts to talk, their contributions will be missed, to the organization’s detriment.
In recruiting, this becomes extremely important. If a recruiter does not understand these differences, and worse yet if they buy into the myth of the “mighty likable fellow,” the candidate who is an introvert will not get to express themselves if the interviewer lacks the patience to allow for silences and moves to the next question before the introverted candidate has the opportunity to speak.
While culturally we have come to equate extroversion with success, it is not the case that extroverts have a corner on accomplishments. As Cain says:
Without introverts, the world would be devoid of:
- the theory of gravity
- the theory of relativity
- W. B. Yeats’s “The Second Coming”
- Chopin’s nocturnes
- Proust’s In Search of Lost Time
- Peter Pan
- Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm
- The Cat in the Hat
- Charlie Brown
- Schindler’s List,
- E.T., and Close Encounters of the Third Kind
- Harry Potter
As companies expand, they will need to recruit with an eye toward candidates who deliver the greatest value rather than someone you relate to in a social situation. Attracting and retaining top talent can be a daunting process, particularly given the natural human bias for those who are most like us or like an ideal we have in mind. A relationship with a recruiting firm that understands the company’s purpose and finds the best candidate for the job is likely to produce the best results. An effective recruiting partner will partner with the company to identify the right combination of skill and experience to find the top candidates irrespective of their personality traits and help the hiring company to find the right niche for the candidate.
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