||Forum participants include (from l) Dr. John Capitanio of the University of California, Davis, Dr. Wendy Heller, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Dr. Robert P. Tett of the University of Tulsa and Dr. L. Alan Witt of the University of Houston. Capitanio shared his research on extraversion in monkeys. Heller explained extraversion from a neurological perspective: she’s studied people’s brains as they take part in personality-related tasks. Witt talked about applying extraversion research concepts to the workplace.
It’s a frequently told parable: A scorpion asks a frog if he can get a ride on the frog’s back across a river. The frog’s dubious. “Are you kidding? You’ll sting me,” he says. The scorpion
reassures him that if he was to sting the frog, they’d both drown, so the frog gives in. Then, sure enough, halfway across the river,
the frog feels a twinge. “Now we’re both going to drown,” he cries. “What’d you do that for?”
“I’m a scorpion,” the scorpion replies, as they sink. “It’s my nature.”
Do we all have traits we can’t escape? Or, in specific situations can we alter our personalities,
our natures? These were core questions in the recent STEP forum, “Introverts/Extraverts:
Some Assembly Required,” where Dr. L. Alan Witt, director of the Ph.D. program in industrial and organizational psychology at the University of Houston, used the scorpion story to start a discussion on just how much personality plays a role in the workplace, and what, if anything, we can do about it.
“How do you define personality?” he asked. “My definition is it’s the predisposition to behave a certain way in a certain situation…and part of my point is, we have to change our behavior to fit the situation in which we are working, and to be aware of that as supervisors and managers, as well as employees.”
According to the forum’s speakers, extraversion plays a big part in how people assess personality.
If we want to know more about those we work with, and how those we work with view us, it helps to understand just what being extraverted
or introverted really means.
In an overview of types, Dr. Robert Tett, associate
professor of industrial/organizational psychology
at the University of Tulsa, explained that researchers approach personality studies by looking at traits, or propensities to behave in “identifiable ways in light of situational
demands.” We can say, for example, that in some workplace situations, extraverts are likely to show sociability, dominance and exhibition.
When looking at introverts, however, it’s important to understand that introversion isn’t the opposite of extraversion, it’s just the lack of it. “Introverts are non-social, but they’re not antisocial,” he said. “They’re soft-spoken, but they’re not inactive…And they’re emotionally less expressive, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have emotions.”
Tett explained that research shows both extraversion
and introversion can help in some situations
and cause problems in others.
Witt, a former corporate human resources director, applied what’s been learned about extraversion through research to its effect in the workplace. “I suppose working here is an honor and a privilege,” he said to the NIH audience. “But how many of you get paid to work here?”
When everyone raised their hands, he said he would assume “that the reason you come to work is to get paid and that you want to get paid more.”
He said the way to do this is to influence other people and “the key to influencing other people is understanding them.”
|Says Tett, “Introverts are non-social, but they’re not antisocial. They’re soft-spoken, but they’re not inactive…And they’re emotionally less expressive, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have emotions."
But understanding a personality goes beyond determining how extraverted a person is, he explained. You need to think about extraversion in relation to other personality characteristics. One approach he discussed—the Abridged Big Five Dimensional Circumplex—combines extraversion
with conscientiousness. An example of a low-conscientious extravert would be Oscar Madison, he said: gregarious, impulse-ridden and reckless. He suggested a low-conscientious introvert would be Edith Bunker: indecisive, passive and wishy-washy. A high-conscientious introvert? The Professor from Gilligan’s Island—someone task-oriented, reserved and serious. And to exemplify a high-conscientious extravert,
Witt showed a photo of NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni: purposeful, self-confident and enterprising. He then went on to explain how each of these personality combinations tends to do in different job situations.
Another method of looking at extraversion is the Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation
test, which focuses on three things: inclusion, or how much you try to interact with others and how much you want people to come to you; control, or how much you want to be in charge and how much you want other people to tell you what to do; and affection, or how much information you’re willing to tell about yourself and how much you want to know about others.
These different combinations can greatly affect how coworkers get along. For example, some people might have high levels of inclusion, but be low on affection—so they’ll go out and talk to people but keep personal information to themselves.
Trying to understand this in different coworkers takes “maturity and effort,” Witt said. “One of the reasons why people who used to look like Tom Selleck look like me after they’ve been managers for 10 years is because they just spend so much energy to understand and interpret
the personalities with whom they work.”
But those who do take the time to understand,
not just their coworkers but their employees and their bosses, tend to be more effective in their jobs, Witt explained. And you should tailor your treatment of others to their specific personalities. “HR often says treat everyone the same,” he explained. “That’s bad advice…You have to treat people according to the way they need to be treated.”
At the same time, you should think about how your personality is perceived. “The French have an expression: you’re not a good lover unless your lover thinks you are,” Witt said. “Well, you’re not a good employee unless your boss thinks you are. You’re not a good manager
unless your subordinates think you are. It’s not what you think about yourself, it’s what other people think.”
This, he noted, means you should adapt your personality to fit better into your workplace. “I’m a hardcore introvert; I like to be left alone,” he said. “But I don’t want people to know that because it will affect my salary.”
So when he goes to meetings, he “fakes” being an extravert and forces himself to participate. He asks questions and writes things down, even if they have nothing to do with the meeting at hand.
“So what I’m asking you to do is, for purposes of your salary and promotion, fake it and fake it well,” he said. “It’s a matter of playing the game. It’s a matter of romancing people. Understand your personality and where your personality could cause you problems at work and then adapt your behavior to succeed.”
If only the scorpion were such a team player.