Are you an introvert or an extrovert? If you're an introvert, you might be a minority in a society that glorifies extroverts. It may even hurt your career. But it can also make you perfectly suited to the unique challenge of laboratory work. By understanding the difference and how it affects the workplace, you can turn being an introvert into an advantage.
Introverts and Extroverts
Like communication, learning and leadership styles, the concepts of introversion and extroversion describe differences in people. It isn't "better" to be introverted or extroverted; either tendency can be advantageous. But society and employers may value one over the other.
Described first by Carl Jung, introverts and extroverts are personality types characterized by duality. An introvert looks inward, as the name suggests, and is concerned with inner thoughts, ideas, and reflections.1 An extrovert (also called extravert), by contrast, is concerned primarily with external stimulation and social settings.2 Moreover, these preferences reflect sources of strength and rejuvenation. Introverts draw energy from quiet, solitary activities away from social settings, extroverts from the world around them.
According to Laurence Shatkin, co-author of 200 Best Jobs for Introverts, introverts account for only 25% of the population.3 Other estimates place the number closer to half or even as a majority of gifted individuals.4 In the United States, as suggested by Psychology Today, extroverts may be overestimated because of the noisy, in-your-face nature of our culture. Indeed, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality tests given to random samples show introverts are half the population.5
There are ways to quantify your tendency, the most well-known being the MBTI developed in the 1940s and first published in 1962. Since then, millions have taken the assessment that looks at several dimensions, including introversion and extroversion.6 Online tests, which are less established, can be fun.7,8 Or you may already have a good sense; common traits identified by the Myers and Briggs Foundation are summarized in the Table.
It's an Extroverted World
Workplaces that emphasize open communication, brainstorming and team participation favor extroverts who prefer thinking aloud and who are energized by group discussion. This begins in our schools, as pointed out by Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, and ends with many workplaces designed for extroverts, even though introverts tend to get better grades as students and deliver better results as leaders. "(Introverted leaders) are better at letting employees run with their creative ideas, while extroverts can unwittingly put their own stamp on things," she told CNN.9
Many workplace activities, such as group discussions, staff meetings and team building exercises, are created for extroverts. Meetings beginning with "ice breakers" intended to encourage introverts to become extroverted send the message, "We value extroverts." Extroverts, who tend to think aloud rather than reflect on problems, are often more vocal and participatory at meetings. And introverts can perceive extroverted coworkers as getting more attention, more recognition and the ear of
Not all professions favor extroverts, however. MSN Careers identifies pharmacist, accountant, paralegal, graphic designer, technical writer, and market research analyst among jobs suited for introverts, lumping them together as having
Click image to view larger table.
"opportunities for some teamwork as well as the kind of independent work that allows introverts to recharge."10 These careers may or may not appeal to extroverts but play to strengths of introverts, allowing their quiet, analytical independence to shine.
Medical technology, with a strong need for analytical self-starters able to work alone and often manage workflow from start to finish, is another profession that attracts and even prefers introverts. Bobbi Dock, laboratory site manager for Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in St. Paul, agreed in the Star Tribune, pointing out that laboratorians may or may not have patient contact shared with the rest of the team. "What we're doing, really, is detective work," Dock said.11 It is work peculiarly suited to introversion in a hospital environment that largely relies on close human interaction.
Introverts in the Laboratory
The above partly answers why laboratorians are the oddballs in the basement who only come out of hiding to collect blood samples or go to the cafeteria to grab a tray and return to their break room. Not all lab workers are introverts, of course, and working alone often makes it impractical to leave the bench for long periods of time. But the nature of the work can put you at odds with members of the team who interact daily at nurses' stations, in treatment rooms and at multidisciplinary meetings.
Here are tips to make your introversion shine in an extroverted workplace:12
- Recognize that these differences are along a spectrum of behavioral tendencies; introverts can
be extroverted and vice-versa. You will need to expend energy to be extroverted. Be willing to
do this when it's called for, such as during group activities with other departments.
- Remind those around you of a preference to think alone. For example, if you're asked to review
a procedure, say, "Give me some time to look at this, and I'll get back to you."
- Remind your boss of your analytical strengths by volunteering for projects that require alone
- Be aware that team exercises such as brainstorming sessions will be dominated by extroverts,
who tend to talk first and express excitement readily with new ideas. Suggest a different
approach, such as a nominal group technique or round robin, that allows everyone to talk.
- Introverts are commonly regarded as shy and socially awkward; this is a myth! Engage other
departments in social situations -- lunch in the cafeteria, for example -- and talk about your work
with nurses, doctors, and other colleagues.
Our natural tendency to be introverted or extroverted can lead us into career paths, be it laboratory or nursing. These qualities can enhance our gifts that help make us talented professionals in a competitive field where details matter. Recognizing these differences and how you can turn them into workplace advantages can make you a better technologist, improving patient care.
Scott Warner is lab manager at Penobscot Valley Hospital, Lincoln, ME.
- Dictionary.com. Introvert. Available at: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/introvert. Last accessed Sept. 17, 2012.
- Dictionary.com. Extrovert. Available at: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/extrovert. Last accessed Sept. 17, 2012.
- Dehne S. Good Jobs for Introverts. Available at: http://msn.careerbuilder.com/Article/MSN-1290-Job-Info-and-Trends-Good-Jobs-for-Introverts. Last accessed Sept. 17, 2012.
- Kluger M. Introverts in an Extraverted World. Available at: http://www.njpsychologist.com/blog/introverts-in-an-extraverted-world/. Last accessed Sept. 17, 2012.
- Helgoe L. Revenge of the Introvert. Available at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201008/revenge-the-introvert?page=2. Last accessed Sept. 17, 2012.
- Myersbriggs. MBTI Basics. Available at: www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/. Last accessed Sept. 17, 2012.
- Pawlik-Keinlin L. How to Tell if You're an Introverted Personality. Available at: http://suite101.com/article/am-i-an-introvert-a36623. Last accessed Sept. 17, 2012.
- Humanmetrics. Jung Typology Test. Available at: www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes2.asp. Last accessed Sept. 17, 2012.
- Cain S. Introverts Run the World -- Quietly. Available at: http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/18/opinion/cain-introverts-power/index.html. Last accessed Sept. 17, 2012.
- Dizik A. 10 Jobs for Introverts. Available at: http://msn.careerbuilder.com/Article/MSN-2669-Job-Info-and-Trends-10-jobs-for-introverts/. Last accessed Sept. 17, 2012.
- French L. Lack of Laboratorians is a 'Quiet Crisis' in Healthcare. Available at: www.startribune.com/jobs/healthcare/11398536.html?refer=y. Last accessed Sept. 17, 2012.
- Rykrsmith E. How to Work with Introverts. Available at: http://quickbase.intuit.com/blog/2010/07/13/how-to-work-with-introverts. Last accessed Sept. 17, 2012.
- Myersbriggs. Extraversion or Introversion. Available at: http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/extraversion-or-introversion.asp. Last accessed Sept. 17, 2012.