Why you might want to beware the introvert on your team

Introverts have received a lot of positive press in recent years thanks to the run-away success of Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts. Cain tells us these are people who like their own space, but also happen to be empathic and sensitive and deep-thinkers. A new paper on peer appraisals by team-members bucks this hug-an-introvert trend.

Amir Erez and his co-authors report that introverts tend to give especially low performance ratings to their team-mates who are extravert and over-bearing, even though these people’s actual performance for the team might be the same as other team-mates with different personality types.

“We suggest that introverted peers are more sensitive to extraversion because they recognize that highly assertive (i.e., extraverted) actors often compromise relational outcomes in the interest of instrumental ones, and because extraverts are often afforded initial high status in the absence of relevant performance information,” the researchers said.

In other words, the researchers think introverts use peer appraisals strategically. Extraverts often throw their weight around and get undue credit, and so given the chance, introverts exert a corrective influence by giving extraverts relatively negative ratings. Extraverts, by contrast, were not found to modify their ratings for team-members based on their personality. The researchers think this is because they aren’t so aware of other people’s traits, and aren’t threatened by dominant characters.

The results came initially from a field study involving 178 business students who’d been working together in four- or five-person teams for half a semester. The students rated their own extraversion, agreeableness, and the performance of their team-mates.

Further evidence came from an experiment in which business students thought they were taking part in a virtual team creativity task, in which they interacted with team-mates by text and headsets. In fact, their team-mates were computer controlled and the experience was manipulated so that some of them appeared extravert and others introvert, some unfriendly, others friendly. Afterwards the participants had to rate the performance of one of their team-mates. On objective terms, the researchers made it so the performance of the fictional team-mates rated by the participants was equal; all that differed between them was their personality.

The introverted participants gave poorer performance ratings to team-mates who were extravert, and were nearly six times less likely to recommend them for a bonus reward. Introverts also gave especially negative ratings to unfriendly team-mates. By contrast, extravert participants did not take the personality of their team-mates into account when making their peer ratings. The difference between the introvert and extravert participants was explained in part by the fact the introverts were more aware of the traits of their team-mates, and they formed more negative impressions of the extraverts and unfriendly people.

As peer appraisals are becoming increasingly popular in many organisations, the researchers said their findings have obvious practical implications. “…. [I]ndividuals high in extraversion and disagreeableness should be made aware that their trait-relevant behaviors may have a profoundly negative impact on how introverted individuals experience their dyadic encounters,” they warned, “and may lead to reduced performance evaluation or reward giving for collective accomplishments.”

A weakness of the study is that the experimental section involved creating team-mates who were caricatures of particular personality types. In reality, few people display such extremes of personality. As the researchers also acknowledged, there is a sense too in which the introverts’ peer ratings could be seen as more accurate – it all depends on whether your focus is purely on task performance (which was matched for the imaginary team-mates who were rated), or if you take a longer-term picture and consider the wider team culture. “The sensitivity of introverted peers may actually represent detection of behaviours which are anticipated to hurt collective (but not individual) performance,” the researchers said.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Erez, A., Schilpzand, P., Leavitt, K., Woolum, A., & Judge, T. (2014). Inherently Relational: Interactions Between Peers’ and Individuals’ Personalities Impact Reward Giving and Appraisal of Individual Performance. Academy of Management Journal DOI: 10.5465/amj.2011.0214

further reading
Introverts use more concrete language than extraverts

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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