I can feel all the psychology majors cringing at the title of this article, never mind those who hold Ph.D.’s in this field.
“Bernard, there’s no such thing as an introvert or an extrovert. Human personality traits are very complex and all people fall somewhere on a multi-axis continuum of many different personality traits. We are complicated beings, beautiful in our intricacies, and can’t be slotted into neat little boxes like “introverts” or “extroverts”. That’s just not the way it works.”
Duly noted. Now let me tell my story.
If you get me on stage and give me a microphone, even on five minutes’ notice, I’ll happily talk until you have to stop me. Put me into any kind of social function and watch me move from one group to another, making easy conversation with people that I’ve never met before. I won’t jump on a table and do the macarena but I’ve been known, at functions where there’s a band or a good DJ, to open the dance floor and close it at the end of the evening. I’m also pretty witty and, unless people only laugh at my jokes because I’m their boss (a possibility), rather funny too in a deadpan kind of way.
So I’m comfortable on stage, funny and outgoing at business or social functions, and I can be the life of any subdued party. I’ve also held many sales jobs over the years, both B2B and B2C and have done very well at them, as I have a facility to relate to people and can also articulate a case for doing business together very compellingly. So I must be an extrovert, right?
Colleague: “Hey, Bernard! A bunch of us from work are going on this fishing (or golf, or cycling) trip in a few weeks. It’ll be great and we’ll have lots of fun. Some of our clients will also be there (paying their own way, it goes without saying) and it will be a great opportunity to spend some time together and get to know each other better. Want to come with us?”
Me: “Surely, you want me dead.”
I can imagine few punishments worse for me than having to spend my precious free time socializing – whether on a holiday, an evening or a weekend. It’s not that I don’t like people, quite the contrary. I love people, and the desire to make a meaningful contribution to their lives – at home, at work and at the dojo – is what gets me out of bed every day.
While I truly enjoy them in the moment, social situations that require me to be “On” – business functions or family reunions, for instance – drain a huge amount of energy out of me. I naturally lean more towards quiet, one-on-one interactions than more superficial, animated and – heaven forbid – boisterous ones. I also have little patience for empty small talk, but love diving into the kind of deep conversations that allow me to really get to know someone.
Relaxing, for me, involves lots of time on my own, listening to music, watching a movie or reading a good book, preferably at home with my own things. I like having my family around me, but not necessarily talking an awful lot. You might say that I just like to be left alone, especially when I’m tired. Thankfully, it’s not unusual in our family for two or three of us to be quietly absorbed in their own activities – a few reading, one listening to music on his or her iPod – happy in one another’s company but not feeling the need to talk much except for the odd word or grunt here and there. Evidently, we are very well suited for each other:
My wife: “Want to go out tonight?”
A week later:
Me: “Want to do something this evening?”
My wife: “Meh.”
You get the picture. We also rarely entertain people at our house, if ever. And if we do entertain friends or family, we prefer to keep it to a small, intimate group. So at the risk of exasperating the esteemed psychologists previously mentioned, I would say that I exhibit what a lot of people would think of as stereotypical introverted personality traits, despite an apparently contradictory ability to act in a way that most people would associate with extroverts. I’m not unusual.
It is becoming better and better understood that one of the key differences between so-called introverts and so-called extroverts is what they get their energy from. Some people might replenish their energy by going out on the town with a group of friends – preferably Friday and Saturday. They feed off social interactions. Others, like me and many like me, replenish by spending quiet time on their own, or with small numbers of people they are very close to.
Whether you fall in one group or another or anywhere on the spectrum, in my experience, has no bearing whatsoever on your ability to do this or that kind of job – sales jobs included. It may make one type of job or another more taxing on you, but many people can find their way through that, as I’ve learned to do over the years. Just make sure you give them lots room to recharge in their own way.
So to get back to my original question, should you ever hire an introvert for a sales role? Of course you should – why would you not? Personality types are just one more form of diversity and having people with a variety of profiles in all sorts of roles enriches organizations.
Some myths die hard and there’s a tenacious notion that stereotypical extroverts are somehow better suited for sales roles, but don’t fall for it. If you want to maximize results in your organization, consider putting some “introverts” in sales roles.