How Introverts and Extroverts Perceive Each Other


In this column, Naomi Karten describes an introvert and an extrovert whose communication styles led their coworkers to perceive them negatively. The way the two dealt with the situation—hoping that these perceptions would change—was useless. Naomi describes the important first step in creating positive perceptions.

In my workshops on introversion and extroversion, participants describe how their coworkers sometimes misinterpret their communication style. Consider Kurt and Sandra, for example. Kurt, an extrovert, is a gregarious, lively team leader who, like many extroverts, thinks out loud. His coworkers hear him doing a lot of talking, some of which—by his own admission—entails working out ideas aloud and in the presence of others. They're not sure what to make of what he describes as his "mishmash of ideas." The result, he told the class, is that his coworkers view him as unreliable and unpredictable.

Sandra, an introvert, is an intelligent, hardworking, personable developer. She carefully thinks through her ideas and communicates them articulately. Like many introverts, she does much of her thinking—her best thinking, in her words—in her head, that private place not accessible to others. Often, by the time she has worked out her ideas, the discussion or problem-solving session has moved on, so she says nothing. The result, she told the class, is that her coworkers view her as withholding her input and refusing to contribute to team efforts.

Both Kurt and Sandra are hard workers who care deeply about the success of their teams and their teams' efforts. Both feel hurt that coworkers misinterpret their communication styles and attribute negative intentions to their behaviors.

Perceptions: Positive and Negative
Fortunately, not all the perceptions of introverts and extroverts are negative. For example, when I ask introverts and extroverts to describe what they like, admire, or appreciate about the other, introverts describe extroverts as:

  • Lively and enthusiastic
  • Bringing great energy to interactions
  • Able to keep any conversation going
  • Skilled in social situations

And extroverts describe introverts as:

  • Deep thinkers
  • Articulate in presenting their ideas
  • A calm and calming influence
  • Good listeners

But there are negative perceptions. When I ask introverts and extroverts to describe what frustrates, annoys, or upsets them about the other, extroverts describe introverts as:

  • Withholding important information
  • Uninvolved
  • Unfriendly
  • Making minimal contributions to team efforts

And introverts describe extroverts as:

  • Talking nonstop
  • Dominating the group process
  • Frequently changing their minds
  • Social butterflies who can't just sit down and do their jobs

These positive and negative perceptions are ones I've heard from a great many people.

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