By Claire Jefferies, Lead Manager - Academic and Student Achievement, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
Do you know what ten seconds feels like? This might seem like an obvious question, but I’d like you to try something.
Imagine you are sitting across from a coworker. Or, better yet, find someone in the office and conduct this experiment face-to-face. Get a stopwatch or timer ready. Ask your coworker a question, but tell them not to respond until time is up. Start the clock and wait.
What does ten seconds feel like now? To some, it feels unbearable to sit in silence with another person – especially while waiting for a response to a question. To others, it probably feels like the right amount of time to process a question and answer with confidence.
How we respond to the ten-second experiment can be a quick, albeit simplified, way to determine a preference for extraversion or introversion. The test illustrates key differences between extraverts and introverts, which can cause unnecessary misunderstandings and conflict at work. Knowing our type and understanding how others perceive us in the workplace is the first step to being a good colleague and an effective manager. Before we delve into why type matters – and what to do about it - let’s get some basics out of the way.
What are introversion and extraversion?
Carl Jung, Swiss psychoanalyst and founder of analytical psychology, defined introversion as an attitude type focused on one’s inner thoughts and behaviors. He defined extraversion as an attitude type focused on the outside world and external behaviors. At their core, introversion and extraversion are about where people get their energy – and not about social ability or skill.
Introverts recharge with reflective time alone. Extraverts recharge by spending time with others. Introverts can be social and excellent public speakers, while extraverts can be shy and deathly afraid of speaking in front of crowds.
While introversion and extraversion operate on a continuum, people usually skew to one type over the other. Those who fall in the middle are called ambiverts – they fluctuate between wanting to spend time with people and needing that alone time to recharge.
Examining the test
So, back to the ten-second experiment. Let’s first examine it by looking at those with a preference for extraversion. It’s often said that extraverts don’t know what they’re thinking until they hear themselves say it out loud . Extraverts can be deeply uncomfortable with silence and might find themselves filling quiet space in conversations. This typically looks like repeating, rephrasing or over-explaining the original question. Or it could mean answering FOR the person before they have a chance to respond.
Now, let’s look at the ten-second rule from the introvert’s perspective. Unlike extraverts, introverts don’t need or want to process out loud to organize their thoughts. They may take more time to respond to a question. But when they do, it’s usually their final answer because they’ve carefully considered their response before saying anything out loud.
Why do introverts need more time to process than extraverts? In reality, extraverts and introverts both need about the same amount of cognitive processing time. The difference is that extraverts involve others in the processing experience by “thinking out loud,” creating the appearance of grasping concepts and ideas more quickly. It’s not that introverts need longer than extraverts; it’s that we don’t often notice the time extraverts need because their verbal expressiveness masks a cognitive process that is more apparent in introverts.
Conflict and resolution
Extraverts can have a reputation for being self-absorbed, always needing to be the center of attention. They often interrupt and talk too much in meetings. Introverts can be labeled shy, stand-offish or slow to respond. They don’t speak as much in large groups and aren’t always as productive in brainstorming sessions. Rather than label these personality differences annoying or frustrating, what if we instead try to see them as expressions of how we function at our best? Isn’t it easier to empathize with a coworker who never says anything – or, maybe, one who says too much – when we better understand what drives their behavior?
Awareness of our individual preferences and those on our team is one of the first steps to creating and maintaining strong, lasting relationships with colleagues. We can find ways to be more respectful of differences and create environments where introverts and extraverts can work collaboratively and effectively with one another.
One example is to structure meetings with introverts in mind – limit meeting size (four is a good number), provide an agenda in advance and let those who aren’t comfortable sharing ideas during the meeting share feedback and suggestions later. Perhaps they need an hour or a day to reflect and allow the brainstorming experience to work its magic. And the next time you ask your coworker a question, stop. Give them time to respond. Research shows that ten seconds is just about the perfect amount of time.
To learn more about introversion and extraversion watch this interview with Claire Jefferies, part of the Association’s Human Intelligence series.