By Daniel Bobinski
Look around at your coworkers. Some have light colored hair, some have dark hair. Some are tall, some are short. Obviously, these differences come from genetic makeup, but did you know the genetic differences also cause extraversion and introversion?
Occasionally, I have extraverted clients tell me they wish their introverted coworkers would come out of their shells and talk a little more. The opposite happens, too. Introverted clients sometimes whisper that they wish their extraverted coworkers would tone down their intensity.
In truth, wishing for people to change their extraversion or introversion style is like wishing a person was taller or shorter. You can wish all you want, it isn’t going to happen. Why? Research has revealed that the different facets of our cognitive style are a result of our brain’s unique electro-chemical composition.
Take dopamine, for example. Dopamine is a hormone that functions as a neurotransmitter in the brain, and it plays an important role in motivation and our sense of rewards, among other things.
And, your brain releases dopamine whenever it encounters a new activity.
If your brain processes dopamine easily, it’s like your brain can’t seem to get enough of it. More dopamine results in a euphoric happiness, and every new experience, whether it’s a new interaction or a new situation, releases more dopamine. Thus, people with this brain chemistry keep seeking new experiences, and we call them extraverts.
People with brains that do not process dopamine quickly we call introverts. Dopamine is released with every new encounter or activity, and in relatively short order their brains are on dopamine overload. This overload actually causes physical discomfort, which plays out by introverts wanting to avoid or get away from new situations or places with a lot of people.
Another chemical that impacts our tendency toward extraversion and introversion is the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. If your brain is configured toward introversion, the presence of acetylcholine creates an internal peace. But if your brain is configured toward extraversion, acetylcholine does not produce that sensation. Hence, in the same way that extraverts are drawn to new situations so they can enjoy their dopamine fix, introverts are drawn to peaceful, quiet situations so they can enjoy their acetylcholine fix.
How does this information help us with emotional intelligence? Now that you know these things, you can choose to value the differences instead of criticizing them. Just like we wouldn’t criticize someone for being tall, short, brunette or blonde, we shouldn’t criticize people for the different ways they get their mental energy.
Remember, you have a choice. You can choose to see the strengths that someone different from you brings to the team. Are you an extravert? Know that introverts see workplace problems a little differently than you do, and their perspective is probably valuable for finding viable solutions. If you’re an introvert, the reverse is also true. I’ll talk more about the strengths of extraverts and introverts in a future column, but for now, know that these are biological differences, and the team is much better off if we look for ways to capitalize on those differences.