Speaking of useless surveys, what is with all of this introvert/extrovert stuff? Suddenly it seems every company in America needs to know which employees are introverts and which are extroverts—as if you couldn’t already tell. But now companies feel compelled to do an official assessment of people’s behavioral characteristics, assign them to categories, and share the information with the rest of the organization—purportedly to improve performance.
The folks who push this shit on organizations claim that understanding the differences between introverts and extroverts can help everyone get along better and thus perform better. Managers can use the information to more effectively assemble and manage teams with different personality types. You can use it to configure office space, giving introverts more privacy, for example.
In the real world, most companies don’t change anything as a result of these tests.
I never would have guessed that out of all the topics for which I solicited input for this book, the Myers-Briggs survey, used by companies to assess levels of extraversion and introversion among employees, would elicit the most feedback. Everyone, it seems, has gone through this.
At the company where I did Myers-Briggs, everyone in the department was assigned to one of four categories based on what type of introvert or extrovert we were. We discussed the results at a staff meeting. All it did was let everyone know which box everyone fell into, labeling each person forever. Before the test I never thought of my coworkers in terms of who was an extrovert and who was an introvert. Now I did. Nothing else changed.
People form an identity around these labels. After Myers-Briggs it was as if each of my coworkers had “introvert” or “extrovert” branded on their forehead.
The Myers-Briggs assessment is based on teachings that began with Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung in the early twentieth century. Jung used the terms “extraversion” and “introversion” to explain how different motivating factors affect how people direct their energy. He defined introversion as “inwardly directed psychic energy.” Introverts recharge by being alone. They lose energy when they’re around other people. Extroverts gain energy from being social. They recharge by being with other people. They lose energy being alone.
Labeling employees introverts or extroverts implies that everyone belongs to one camp or the other. But Jung actually defined these terms as extremes on a scale of human behavior. “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert,” Jung said. “Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.”
I find this scary because I seem to have all the characteristics of a pure introvert. But we may not know ourselves as well as we think.
Researchers have found differences in the brains of introverts and extroverts in terms of how much dopamine is released in response to different stimuli. Extroverts are turned on by “social attention often linked to money, power, and personal alliances.” Introverts’ brain scans show them to be less energized by such rewards versus things like quiet solitude and deep thought.
Going back to Jung’s assertion that no one is a pure introvert or extrovert and that most of us fall somewhere in the middle, it follows that most of us are actually “ambiverts.”
Of course, who knows how accurate any of this research is when the research also shows that extroverts answer survey questions more enthusiastically than introverts …
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