Extraverts May Win The Battle, But Neurotics Win The War

Chelsea Rowe Audacious Ideas, Current Affairs, Learning and Development, Performance, Science

While we may be entering the age of the introvert (anyone read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain?), extroverts have long been cashing out on the benefits of their personality.  Nothing new, right? Extraverts are easy to spot. They:

  • enjoy being the center of attention,
  • often think out loud,
  • tend to be socially dominant, and
  • draw energy from social events

If, to you, that describes the most annoying folks in your office, you might be an introvert.  Extroversion helps explain some of the behaviors folks engage in that help them succeed: they’re vocal about their achievements, their social dominance will look like “taking charge,” and they will get more face-time and words in during meetings—which may help offset the chattiness that gets them off task around the water cooler. Sounds like mostly good stuff!

Neuroticism (emotional instability), on the other hand is often thought of as the dark spot on a personality inventory.  People who are highly neurotic tend to be

  • self-conscious
  • worrisome
  • More prone to mood swings
  • Struggle with delaying gratification and controlling urges

These folks tend to second-guess themselves, and have high anxiety.  Can you think of someone who tends to be anxious, sensitive to stress, or somewhat volatile (okay maybe they wouldn’t call it volatile, but that person has been known to raise their voice with or without the door closed). Perhaps drama always seems to find them—am I hitting a nerve yet?  They might be more neurotic… and chances are this is not highly regarded, so they’re hardly pulling a Julie Andrews and singing it from a mountain top.  Well, new research shows that we may not have considered the full range of outcomes associated with extraversion and neuroticism.

Hear me out:  extroverts may have early wins, but their domineering social style can cause them to step on toes and piss people off. They talk a big game but don’t always play to match their big mouths.  Over time, this causes them to lose status (your introverts won’t experience this effect—no status loss for them).  Neurotics, on the other hand, are expected to produce less and be less valuable team members… but over time they actually beat out the extraverts.  Why? The second-guessing and low self-esteem pushes them to work harder and longer to achieve the outcome—they’re more likely to persevere (why didn’t I think of that?!).  So, your neurotics tend to under-promise and over-deliver.

So, all of this is not to say that extraversion is now a bad thing.  Generally, all personalities are created equal (unless you’re clinical, then call someone), and each has its own strengths and weaknesses.   All I’m saying is that a quiet neurotic shouldn’t necessarily get the bad rep—after all, those tendencies seem to eventually propel them forward in the workplace.

Extroverts, watch your back. Research is on to you, and those damn neurotics are nipping at your heels.