Think with Footprint: Personalities & Cultural Fit in the Workplace

Published on 27th March 2017

On Friday 24th March, we all sat down for our fourth instalment of Think with Footprint – run by our very own Lori Cantwell! As an Undergraduate at Essex Uni, Lori studied Film & Creative Writing and combined this with her interest in psychology to create a short documentary called ‘The Outside Nation’ which explored how introverted personality types work in job roles more suited for extraverts. Her film was shown at the 2015 International Freethought Film Festival in Orlando, Florida – so we knew we were in for a treat watching it!

The Ambivert Personality Continuum Scale

Lori started off by explaining introverted and extraverted personalities to us. She explained that personalities run on a scale, and that nobody is 100% introvert or 100% extravert, and that many people have qualities of both personality types. The fundamental difference between introverts and extraverts is how they respond to external stimuli – introverts are often exhausted by lots of external stimuli, whilst extraverts thrive on it and can recharge their energy levels by being around lots of stimuli.

The Difference is Dopamine

We discovered that a major difference between the brains of introverts and extraverts is the way we respond to the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain that provides the motivation to seek external rewards like earning money, climbing the social ladder, or getting selected for a high-profile project at work. When dopamine floods the brain, both introverts and extraverts become more talkative, alert to their surroundings, and motivated to take risks and explore the environment.

It’s not that introverts have less dopamine present in their brains than extraverts do. In fact, both introverts and extraverts have the same amount of dopamine available. The difference is in the activity of the dopamine reward network. It is more active in the brains of extraverts than in the brains of introverts. At the expectation of, say, earning a promotion at work, extraverts become more energized than introverts. They buzz with an enthusiastic rush of good feelings, while Introverts feel overstimulated. Crowds and lots of activity will stimulate an extravert and utterly exhaust an introvert after a period of time.

Celebrity Introverts & Extraverts

We were quite surprised when Lori showed us a list of well-known introverts and extraverts, for example, Barack Obama was on the list of introverts! This just shows that introverts are not necessarily shy and retiring, they can be incredibly charismatic.

Introverts

Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton, Meryl Streep, Barack Obama

Extroverts

Bill Clinton, Steve Jobs, Muhammad Ali, George W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher

Lori then asked us whether we thought we were introverted or extraverted, and we all identified more strongly with introvert characteristics, which was a bit of a surprise as we have a range of personalities within our team, some of whom appear more extraverted at work. This was a really interesting conversation to have, and helped us to understand each-others’ personalities a bit more. We decided that when new team members join us, learning about their introverted or extraverted tendencies will be a really important way to help them settle in.

Accommodating Introverts & Extroverts in the Office

Some introverts might be reluctant to open up. If that’s the case, then providing your team with reading materials about the quiet power of introverts, pointing to high-profile, successful introverts, such as Barack Obama, or identifying a leader in your organization who is an introvert and willing to talk about it publicly can help. Talk to your team, too, about the ways in which personality differences drive performance. After all, a properly balanced team has the strengths and skills of both personality sets, whereas a team of too many extraverts can suffer from ego issues, while a team of too many introverts can be lacking a shared team dynamic.

Some key tips for managing extraverts include: Assigning group work, letting them talk it out, understand their energy and how it works, allow for more interaction with other people!

The workplace—particularly the modern Western workplace, with its open floor plans and emphasis on constant collaboration—can seem like it’s built for extraverts. But research suggests that we all— especially introverts—need private space to get work done. So, think about small design changes you might make to create nooks and crannies for people to go and be alone. These include individual tucked away workstations or even “quiet zones” similar to quiet cars on trains. You can also help your team develop cultural practices whereby colleagues signal to others that they’re not be interrupted. For example, in some offices people wear headphones to indicate that they’re in concentration mode. At the same time, you need to make sure that your extraverts don’t get discouraged by everyone retreating to their cubes. So, maintain or create spaces for gatherings and random encounters too – for example, coffee break areas, communal lunch tables, lounge rooms.

The Outside Nation

After her presentation, Lori showed us her documentary, The Outside Nation. This was a fascinating look at three introverts, two in the UK and one in the US, who were partaking in more extraverted job roles. For example, one lady was a tattooist, and spoke about having to throw herself into her work on busy days and another man spoke about how he worked in a secluded office away from people, but was a rapper performing on stage and was married to an extravert who balanced his personality perfectly. This documentary shows just how convoluted our personalities really are – nobody is 100% introverted or extraverted; our environments and upbringing influence our personalities as does our genetic makeup.

This Think with Footprint session was absolutely fascinating, and really got us thinking about the personality types in our office and how better to accommodate each other.