Tag Archives: introversion

It’s good to talk – or maybe not?

An analysis of over 20 years research into team effectiveness revealed that talkative teams are less effective (Journal of Applied Psychology Vol 94 No 2, 2009).

Teams which talk more aren’t necessarily sharing useful information and are not therefore getting better outcomes. And more introverted types will feel entitled to think “I told you so”, because what you talk about is more important for teams than how much you talk.

The researchers also found that teams communicate better when they are told to come up with a correct or best  solution rather than a consensus.

This is yet another report which shows teams aren’t always as effective as people believe.

A report in the Quack Quack column – “We debunk the myths behind the headlines” – in The Times 27 April – cites research from the University of Arizona, reported in Psychological Science, which shows that the more people engage in superficial communication, the lower their morale.

This followed on from criticism of the report that you could measure the happiness levels of celebrities by analysing their tweets, some not very convincing research from the University of Edinburgh.

Updated since first posted 06/04/2010

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Quietly does it, sometimes

Extraverts may have a natural advantage in leadership roles because they are dominant and outgoing.

They tend to be the centre of attention and take over discussions and are perceived as more effective by both supervisors and subordinates.

In the US only 50% of the population is extraverted, despite what you might believe about Americans, but 96% of managers and executives display extraverted personalities (the percentages showing high levels of extraversion increase from 30% of supervisors to 60% at executive level).

But people can learn extravert behaviours. In fact I remember some research which showed that when introverts were taught extraverted behaviour they could behave in more extravert ways than natural extraverts. And most managers have to learn to stand up and deliver presentations and run meetings.

However work by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Harvard Business School, and North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, shows that in some situations an introvert may be a better leader than an extravert without having to change their behaviours.

It seems that in a dynamic, unpredictable environment introverts are often more effective, particularly if they have proactive workers on the their teams who are prepared to put forward suggestions to improve the business.

This type of behaviour can make extraverted leaders feel threatened (I think especially so if the leaders are narcissistic). Whereas introverted leaders are more likely to listen carefully and show more receptivity thus making them effective leaders of more vocal teams.

Putting extraverted bosses in charge of talkative teams isn’t a good recipe. Extraverts seem to do better as  bosses of teams that perform best when they do as they are told!

To succeed as leaders  introverts have to overcome a strong cultural bias as in America at least two out of three senior executives viewed introversion as a barrier in a 2006 survey. And in politics highly extraverted Presidents are seen as more effective.

Source: HBR December 2010

Happiness and Productivity

Are happy workers more productive or are more productive workers happier?

This is a question that has exercised work and organisational psychologists for over 50 years. And there have been mixed results from workplace interventions. For example in Sweden – with a highly educated workforce doing repetitive work in the car industry – increasing job satisfaction reduced absenteeism but didn’t increase productivity.

Now economists at Warwick University think they have the answer. The Sunday Times article; “Why happy people are the hardest workers” (11 July 2010) reported Professor Andrew Oswald as saying; “… human happiness has large and positive causal effects on productivity. Positive emotions appear to invigorate human beings while negative emotions have the opposite effect”. (This is straight from the positive psychology handbook of course and as a psychologist I wonder why they didn’t just ask one of us).

The research team carried out a range of experiments and showed their subjects either a comedy film or a boring (placebo) film. The subjects who reported higher happiness levels after seeing the comedy film were 12% more productive whereas unhappy workers were 10% less productive.

However those subjects who watched the comedy film but did not report increased happiness were not more productive. So the increase in productivity was linked to an increase in happiness but not to just watching a comedy film.

A surprise finding was that those subjects who had experienced a death in the family in the last two years were 10% less productive. But subjects whose parents had divorced recently didn’t appear less happy or less productive. Perhaps with divorce being so common it’s  no longer seen as a negative life event.

They conclude that if happiness does bring increased productivity then HR departments and business managers should be paying more attention to the influence of emotions at work.

This is interesting but there are lots of questions. Some companies have tried to inject fun into work, for example call centres (often the modern equivalent of Victorian sweat shops) but I haven’t seen any evidence it does anything than temporarily alleviate boredom.

The fact that some subjects didn’t report increased happiness after seeing the film might be because they didn’t think the film was funny (it featured a well-known British comedian for a start) and humour is very subjective.

The subjects’ personality as measured by the Big 5 might have been a factor. Extraverts tend to be happier and more positive than Introverts and also respond better to incentives (the subjects were paid an attendance fee plus a performance fee depending on their output).

It also appears that the subjects were working individually rather than in teams. This reduces the element of “social loafing” and usually maximises the incentive effect but there is a strong social effect when working with friends or in teams, especially for more sociable types.

Anything that improves employee engagement (at an all-time low at the moment) is of interest to business leaders but I can’t help thinking that the more holistic approach adopted by companies like Sony Film is worth looking into. See “Rituals engage staff”.