Introverts in the Workplace
By Kim Finnestead
Being an introvert is part of one’s personality and not a matter of choice, according to the results from Psychtests, Extroversion Introversion Test. Introverts are typically drawn to an inner focus on thoughts, ideas, and visions. Introverts are sometimes reluctant to share their ideas in a group setting or in a staff meeting. Introverts can sometimes seem aloof or uninterested, but this is usually not an accurate portrayal; they are typically pondering their next contribution to the team.
Scientifically, introverts and extroverts are neurologically wired differently. According to research by Scott Barry Kaufman, the scientific director of The Imagine Institute, introverts and extroverts respond differently to the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain that provides response to stimulus such as external rewards. External rewards can be different for each individual but usually in the workplace, they take the form of increased salary, the bigger office, earning a higher level position or title. Extroverts seem to be more motivated by the external factors listed above than introverts. Their dopamine receptors are triggered when they get “a rush” from being named the top sales person, for example. This is not to say that introverts are less motivated at work than extroverts, but the stimuli appear to be from internal factors rather than from external factors.
In her book Quiet Kids: Help Your Introverted Child Succeed in an Extroverted World, Christine Fonseca explains,“like dopamine, acetylcholine is also linked to pleasure; the difference is, acetylcholine makes us feel good when we turn inward.” Acetylcholine helps people to ponder, think profoundly and stay attentive for long periods of time. Introverts tend to find more pleasure from the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which reinforces the need for a quiet environment in which to utilize their talents. As Dr. Marti Olsen Laney (2002) stated in her book The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World, “acetylcholine is linked to the parasympathetic side of the nervous system, which is nicknamed the ‘throttle down’ or ‘rest-and-digest’ side.” Introverts tend to thrive in this side of the nervous system, whereas extroverts gravitate towards the dopamine charged sympathetic side of the nervous system − which is the “fight or flight” charged part of the nervous system.
Identifying Work Settings for Introverts
When considering the science, it is safe to say introverts and extroverts are “wired differently.” Since those with a strong preference for introversion are inclined to be more methodical, great listeners, enjoy solitude and are very observant − it would be ideal for them to find a career and workplace setting that would fit those preferences. Sometimes it can be perplexing for the career counselor to assist in finding an ideal career situation for an introvert because many corporations and offices are not structured or designed with the introvert in mind. After contemplating the orientation of an introvert, career counselors may need to do additional research to determine appropriate career settings for an introvert. According to Laurie Helgoe (2013), author of Introvert Power: Why your inner life is your hidden strength, the best work settings for introverts allow for a private office with limited disruptions and the ability to work on solo projects.
In Jenn Granneman’s (2017) book "The Secret Lives of Introverts, Inside Our Hidden World", she describes some examples of jobs that align with the work surroundings suggested for introverts to include; social worker, writer, blogger, photographer, music lesson instructor, editor, lab technician, software programmer, animal care worker, social media manager, graphic designer, coder, or online tutor.
Introverts can bring great leadership to a team. According to Jennifer B. Kahnweiler (2009) from the NCDA article The Introverted Leader: Thriving in the Extroverted Business World, “Introverts bring many unique strengths to organizations, including a focus on depth, an ability to listen, and a calm, reflective nature.” One of the best traits of an introverted leader is their ability to listen to employees without interrupting. Introverts allow others their full attention when they are sharing their ideas.
Coaching an Introvert
When a career counselor wants to coach an introvert, it is important to understand that introverts ultimately operate differently than extroverts. Introverts do best in coaching situations where there is a plan in place with open communication between coach and client. The introvert’s need for meaningful work is a top priority when considering the path to career satisfaction (Granneman, 2017). Allow space in the career coaching session for contemplative conversation that allows the introvert time to ponder without interruption to help define desires and interests. Granneman suggests specific questions to help the introvert to find their calling. Some questions include:
- “What message do you want to share with the world?”
- “What kind of work would you never do again, no matter how much you were paid,” and
- “who is doing your dream job, and what can you learn from them?”
Asking questions that let the introvert visualize and conceptualize scenarios to which they can relate may help them get closer to finding their dream job.
Success and Benefits of Introversion
Some of the greatest leaders in history were introverts. Front-runners like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Rosa Parks and Albert Einstein are/were introverts. As stated, introverts may make important contributions to the group, they are often extraordinary listeners, innovative workers and strong leaders. Introverts are deep thinkers with much to contribute to the workplace. So the next time you work with an introvert, reflect on the depth of their orientation and the benefit of having them on your team!
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Kim Finnestead, MSC, CDF is a School Counselor and Certified Career Development Facilitator who strives to help others find their truth in the workplace. Kim has a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences and Marketing from Southeast Missouri State University. She also has a Master’s of Science Degree in School Counseling from University of Phoenix-Turnpike Campus, Westminster, CO. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org