At some point in your life, you’ve probably been described as an introvert or an extrovert – or an ambivert if you are somewhere in between.

The way introverts and extroverts are wired is complicated but incredibly interesting to observe. The difference is biological; how introverted or extroverted you are has nothing to do with how shy or socially anxious you are, it simply comes down to your individual neurodiversity.

A major difference between the brains of extroverts and introverts has to do with dopamine and how we respond to it. When dopamine is released in the brain, it increases our motivation to seek external rewards such as earning more money or charming a partner and we become more talkative and alert to our surroundings. There is the same amount of dopamine available in the brains of extroverts and introverts, but it is more active in the brains of extroverts. Introverts prefer acetylcholine as their neurotransmitter. Acetylcholine is also connected to pleasure, but the difference from dopamine is that it makes us feel good when we seek internal rewards.

According to Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist, your level of introversion or extroversion is in your DNA and it can’t be changed.

The original definition of introversion, as posed by Carl Jung, is an “inwardly directed psychic energy”. Carl Jung invented these terms in the 1920s. He argued that the differences between extroverts and introverts come down to energy; people with high levels of extraversion get energised by socialising while introverts require alone time to recharge and energise.

Perpetua Neo, a psychology doctor stated that introverts have a lower threshold of sensitivity than extroverts. The lower the dopamine threshold, the more stimulated an individual is.

How to effectively manage introverts and extroverts

Introverts and extroverts often take rather different approaches to work. Employers should harness the unique traits of introverts and extroverts by engaging them in a way that suits their personality.

Supporting Introverts

When you hear the term “introvert” you might imagine someone quiet or insular who likes to be alone and avoid social situations.Introverts usually prefer to start the day by having some alone time for half an hour or so to plan ahead. They might always require a retreat during the day, so it would be useful if managers allow them to schedule some alone time. They may not be that comfortable expressing themselves in front of a group people. It would be better if they are asked in private about any ideas or recommendations they may have. Before requesting a big change from them, give them enough notice to prepare. Furthermore, it is crucial that you honour their privacy.

Supporting Extroverts

Depending on the team dynamics, extroverts can either lift a team or drag it down. A study published by the Journal of Organizational Behavior revealed that extroverts work positively in groups where team members generally agree on things, but when there is a high level of disagreement and conflict, extroverts can come through as aggressive. Extroverts usually enjoy starting the day meeting with colleagues. It would be beneficial if managers schedule group brainstorming sessions for employees with these traits. It is important you keep things excited for them so they don’t get under stimulated. For example, put them in situations where they will have the opportunity to meet new people.

The five languages of appreciation

The way feedback and appreciation is given to employees should be tailored to their personality. The distinct preferences extroverts and introverts have must be recognised and taken into account in the languages of appreciation we communicate to them.

The five languages of appreciation according to Karl Moore, an associate professor at McGill University and how we can adapt them to introverts and extroverts:

  1. Words of Affirmation: This incorporates verbally appreciating your employee. Extroverts usually enjoy public praise but introverts might be embarrassed by it. Praise your introverted employees in private but don’t hesitate to compliment your extroverted ones in front of other coworkers.
  2. Quality Time: Introverts see quality time as extremely beneficial. Generally, extroverts can communicate their ideas/concerns openly in group settings, but introverts may be more reserved and avoid talking openly. One to one meetings are a great way to spend quality time with your introverted employee and get them to communicate their thoughts with you.
  3. Acts of service: Acts of service include taking on a task to reduce the workload. It conveys recognition of your employees’ contributions. When an act of service is conducted, make sure you communicate to your employees that it’s done as an appreciation of their hard work.
  4. Giving Gifts. This type of language of appreciation is one of the trickier ones. It’s not about how expensive the gift is, but rather about the gesture and the intention, showcasing that you appreciate them.
  5. Physical Touch: Physical touch in the workplace can include a simple high-five or a pat on the back. Professor Moore argues that this should be reserved for extroverts as most – not all- respond well to appropriate physical contact, but it’s important to think about personal space – and not invade it.

Employers should celebrate the differences of introverts and extroverts as they make the workplace unique. They can provide different approaches to work and solutions to problems. Help your employees reach their full potential by giving them the opportunity to be themselves.

So…are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? Or are you somewhere in between?