• Managing people

Extraverts Vs Neurotics in the Team

How personality affects status within a team


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Because extraverts express confidence, dominance and enthusiasm easily – all traits typically associated with good-performing employees – they have traditionally been seen as more ‘employable’ than introverts. This is hardly surprising as compared to someone expressing anxiety, emotional insecurity and an overall neurotic personality the extravert will stand out as better employee. Or so it would seem.

This view is countered by new research from UCLA Anderson School of Management’s Corinne Bendersky and Neha Parikh Shah at Rutgers Business School, that suggests extraverts contribute less than is assumed and expected, with the contributions they do make not being highly valuable over time. On the other hand, neurotics make more motivated employees and ultimately end up exceeding expectations.

Some of the qualities that attract employers to extroverts can end up contributing to their downfall when it comes to teamwork. For example, they tend to display enthusiasm and assertiveness, which may lead to positive contributions to tasks, but according to Professor Bendersky this also results in them being poor listeners and unreceptive to other people’s input.  Neurotics, on the other hand, are motivated to work extra hard, especially in group contexts. This stems from the anxiety they feel about not wanting to disappoint peers and colleagues. “They can even be very generous and supportive and helpful," says Bendersky.

Bendersky and Shah conducted two experiments:

First: 299 MBA students took personality tests and were divided into five-person study groups. After the students had worked together for a week, everyone was asked to complete a survey evaluating their teammates, with emphasis on which members had the highest status and were expected to perform the best. The more extraverted the member, the higher their peers rated their expected influence and status. Neurotics, on the other hand, got much lower ratings. In a follow-up 10 weeks later, however, the extraverts had disappointed and lost their status over time. In contrast, the neurotics had exceeded expectations, driving their status higher.

Secondly: An online study was set-up with 300 people; they were then told they needed to make an urgent request for help preparing a work presentation from an unknown colleague named John, described as either extroverted, introverted, neurotic or emotionally stable. Monitoring exchanges between the participants and “John”, the researchers found that a lot was expected from the extrovert version of him, who was also evaluated quite critically. On the other hand, little was expected of the neurotic version so his contributions were evaluated very positively.

Although the research showed that, over time team members’ assessments of neurotic workers tend to rise, while appraisals of extroverts decline, these findings do not mean that employers should stay away from extraverts completely. Extraverts do contribute in teamwork, but what this research shows is that it is just not as much as is initially expected of them. And, for roles that require a more ‘charismatic’ team member, such as sales or roles involving on-stage presentations, they may still be best choice. It is when it comes to collaborative tasks that problems arise.

“This work suggests that more of a balance is appropriate,” says Bendersky. “Extraverts tend to be much more risk-seeking, and neurotics tend to be much more cautious and risk-averse. So having a balance of those preferences may, overall, improve decision-making.”

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