You know those two doctors in your hospital or practice. There’s the one who’s always chatting loudly by the water cooler or entertaining everyone in the staff area, letting you know about everything from his last holiday to his latest success at work.
Then there’s the other guy who – though polite and personable – you don’t see much of. He doesn’t speak in meetings or push himself forward, but a few times he’s surprised you by coming out with an ingenious solution to a problem or a more efficient way to tackle a tricky healthcare task.
You might have heard people describe these two as ‘an introvert’ and ‘an extrovert’. Well, the question of whether introverts or extroverts make the best employees is a popular topic of debate in the recruitment world right now.
Employers and recruitment consultants are asking whether workplaces benefit more from brash, self-confident, talkative and ‘fun’ extroverts or from quieter, more contemplative, but often more focused introverts.
Below are a few pointers aimed at understanding what introverts and extroverts are, how well they tend to perform and how best to harness their strengths in healthcare jobs.
The terms ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’ were first coined by the Swiss psychologist Karl Jung (1875-1961), who saw the introvert as more focused on his inner thoughts and feelings and the extrovert as more concerned with what was going on in the outside world.
Extroverts thrive on social engagement. They love being in a crowd and draw energy from their interactions with others. Leaving a loud, busy party at two am, they are likely to feel ‘buzzing’ and ‘powered up’.
Introverts, in contrast, would feel drained and exhausted. Though not necessarily shy or unsociable, being around too many people for too long saps their energy and leaves them longing for solitude.
Generally, extroverts enjoy higher levels of stimulation, preferring environments with more noise and even with brighter lights. Introverts do their best work in quiet, lower-stimulation environments or alone.
Extroverts take more risks and actively seek rewards; introverts are slower and more methodical in their work and pay more attention to detail.
Most people are not complete extroverts or introverts, but fall somewhere on a spectrum between the two extremes. The majority of the population, however, can be categorised as belonging more to one camp than the other.
Roughly half the population are more introverted and half more extrovert.
People skills are highly valued in the healthcare job market. Nurses, doctors and midwives often need to chat to patients, maybe make them laugh a little and put them at ease. It would seem that socially confident extroverts would have the edge here.
But introverts don’t necessarily lack people skills. Introverts are good at connecting in one-to-one situations or with very small groups. They would rather, for example, have a glass of wine and a long chat with a friend than go to a rowdy party.
This skill of one-to-one communication could be useful for dealing with disorientated or distressed patients or anxious relatives.
Teamwork is considered a vital part of healthcare jobs nowadays. We might assume, again, that extroverts would have the advantage here. Some introverts dislike working in groups while extroverts thrive around others.
But introverts tend to be good listeners. This means that, when it comes to tackling a particular project, introverts can absorb and evaluate the views expressed by different team members.
This helps them craft good strategies for dealing with the task at hand. It is typical for introverts to think deeply about something and weigh up all the options before acting.
Laurie Helgoe, author of Introvert Power: why your inner life is your hidden strength, says introverts are often able to “identify the strengths among team members, listen to their ideas and channel their initiative into positive outcomes.”
The most successful healthcare teams are usually made up of both extroverted and introverted members.
Extroverts tend to be motivated by rewards, such as bonuses, promotions, social status or just the triumph of having got something right.
This could be a key advantage in the workplace as the prospect of a reward would motivate extroverts to work hard and throw all their considerable energy into meeting a target or solving a problem.
On the other hand, this eagerness for rewards tempts extroverts to take risks – not something that would usually be encouraged in a healthcare job. Here the more careful and contemplative approach of the introvert could be an advantage.
Extroverts possess an advantage when working in high-stress, fast-moving healthcare environments (like A&E departments) because of their greater tolerance for – and, indeed, enjoyment of – action and noise.
But introverts are better at shutting out distractions. This means they can be more productive – provided they can find a quiet corner to just get on with things.
Laurie Helgoe says, “Introverts need to secure quiet spaces in the workplace in order to do their best work.”
“Whether our success depends on writing, calculating, planning or strategizing, at some point we all have to sit down by ourselves and do that crucial work.”
“The one that enjoys solitude will have the easiest time with these tasks.”
When it comes to healthcare management jobs, both extroverts and introverts have their strengths and weaknesses.
Extroverts can be charismatic leaders capable of greatly motivating their staff, but – at worst – they can seem abrasive and their determination to follow their vision can lead to conflict, something which some extroverts actually enjoy.
Perhaps surprisingly, it seems that introverts are more skilled at managing extroverts while extroverts make better bosses of introverts.
Laurie Helgoe says, “A good introverted leader capitalises on the talent and momentum that’s already there. It’s good energy conservation.”
“Introverts are better than extroverts at leading proactive employees. Introverts are better at supporting and channelling the initiative and creativity of employees while extroverts lead better when employees are more passive.”
Introverts also perform better at routine or fiddly management tasks such as drawing up budgets, compiling spreadsheets and allocating human resources.
Extroverts often excel at the more ‘social’ aspects of management such as networking and public speaking.
Extreme introverts have described networking events as causing them to shiver and their palms to sweat. But the introvert’s talent for meaningful, one-on-one communication can be an advantage in such settings.
While an extrovert might bounce around the room impressing everyone, an introvert is more likely to single out the person who is of greatest use to their organisation and charm them with their subtle communication and listening skills. This might be more likely to get results than the extrovert’s ‘scattergun’ approach.
Extroverts may take more naturally to public speaking, but introverts can get better at this with practice. They could, for example, attend public speaking groups where people build up their skills gradually and a shimmering, captivating performance isn’t expected straight away.
There isn’t any obvious answer to this question. Extroverts and introverts each have skills and characteristics which can be of advantage in the healthcare environment. Each, likewise, have traits that are less desirable in healthcare jobs.
The best healthcare teams usually have a mixture of introverted and extroverted personalities. In such cases, the strengths of both personality types are present and the introverts and extroverts can balance out each other’s weaknesses.
It’s worth pointing out, though, that introverts are often underestimated. Modern western cultures tend to be biased towards extroverts, who are seen as ‘dynamic go-getters’.
It’s often assumed that quieter, more modest introverts don’t boast of their achievements because they don’t have any.
Susan Cain – author of the bestselling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking – says, “The world is primarily set up in a way that maximises the energies of extroverts.”
“Studies tell us that introverts are routinely passed over for leadership positions even though ground-breaking research shows that introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes than extroverted ones.”
Ms Cain adds that while “extroversion is an enormously attractive personality style”, a black-and-white view of the merits of introverts and extroverts leads to “a colossal waste of energy and talent and happiness, and we need to be adopting much more of a yin and yang approach to the balance between the two styles.”
IHR Group is an international healthcare recruitment consultancy and nursing agency that places doctors, nurses and midwives in healthcare jobs in Ireland, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
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