Why Introverts Make Better Decisions – and How to Compensate if You’re an Extrovert!


I’m an Extrovert.  Like most Extroverts, I’m a quick decision maker.  This is sometimes good (when a quick decision is needed and the stakes aren’t too high), but it often isn’t (when a well thought out balanced decision with high implications is needed.)

I’ve always thought that the reason for this ability to make snap decisions is because of one of my other Myers Briggs Preferences, my Intuition.  I see the big picture and therefore don’t dig into the detail, which is something the Sensors of this world prefer to do.  Until this week, when I really got going on Susan Cain‘s book “Quiet: the power of the introverted mind in a world that can’t stop talking.”  She’s getting me to rethink this tendency, and to consider whether in fact it is my Extroversion which causes the often flawed snap decision making style.

What do you make of this?

Extroverts are more likely to take a quick-and dirty (a favourite phrase of mine) approach to problem-solving, trading accuracy for speed, making increasing numbers of mistakes as they go, and abandoning ship altogether when the problem seems too difficult or frustrating.  Introverts think before they start, digest information thoroughly, stay on task longer, give up less easily, and work more accurately.”

She goes on to quote Einstein (a consummate introvert):

“It’s not that I’m so smart.  It’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

Wozniak

Steve Wozniak makes the same point in his book iWoz.

Patience is usually so underrated…..I just learned things gradually, figuring out how to put electronic devices together without so much as cracking a book.”

Susan goes on to quote some research carried out by psychologist Joseph Newman, which so resonates for me.  People were invited to his lab to play a game:  the more points you get, the more money you win.  Twelve different numbers flash across the screen, and you can choose whether or not to press the gameplay button.  If you press for a “good number” you win points, and you lose them for a “bad number”.  You soon learn through trial and error that four is good and nine is not.

Apparently extroverts are much more likely than introverts to make the same mistake several times, pressing nine repeatedly.  Why?  According to psychologists this is because extroverts think less and act faster on such tasks:  “introverts are geared to inspect, and extroverts are geared to respond.”  In such a situation, having made a mistake, an introvert will reflect and slow down before moving on.  An extrovert will do the opposite:  they SPEED UP!  They throw more energy at the problem in an attempt to remove it.  they do not pause to reflect, and so don’t learn from mistakes.

This is so much my style.  I think back to a vivid example:  I’m driving in a large town late at night trying to find my hotel (this is pre satnav days).  I have a map, but think it will be easier to look for landmarks and rely on a bit of luck.  I soon get lost.  The hotel is not where it is supposed to be.  Instead of pausing to either read the map or ask someone, I speed up, driving around and around in probably circles, in the vain hope that I will get lucky and that on the law of averages I must be bound to find it soon.  Needless to say I was wrong, and eventually ring the hotel to be guided in by them.

The thing is, the extroverted way of making decisions is the one most favoured at work.  Extroversion is more exciting, more sociable, has more of a buzz.  It leads to overconfidence, and denial of the facts in many cases, most obviously the 2008 financial crisis.  Think Enron.  Vincent Kaminski‘s book “Conspiracy of fools” tells how he refused to sign off dangerous transactions, and was eventually stripped of his powers and hauled in  by Enron’s president. “There have been some complaints, Vince, that you’re not helping people to do transactions.  Instead you’re spending all your time acting like cops.  We don’t need cops, Vince.” 

Research of 64 traders at an investment bank showed that the highest performers were the emotionally stable introverts.

So what do you do if you or your organisation are Extroverted?  You have to find a way to slow down the decision making, for a start.  You consciously seek out introversion and weave it into your decision making process.  You respect it, and find ways of unlocking it in meetings (and encouraging the introverts to extrovert themselves.)

In my case, I got lucky. My wife is an introvert, and she brings in the logic as well as slowing down the decision making process.  She is the counterbalance and the sanity in the household.  Without her we’d be living in a tree house in the Outback or something.

I’d love to hear whether this ties in to your experience.  Whether you’re introverted (you get energy from within, like a battery)  or extroverted (getting energy from others, more like solar powered), does this tie into the way you make decisions?  How do you compensate for this at work?

Please add your comments and share the article with others if you think they’d find it helpful.

About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at www.hownot2.com
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12 Responses to Why Introverts Make Better Decisions – and How to Compensate if You’re an Extrovert!

  1. Pingback: The rational decision maker | bert1990

  2. Pingback: In defence of the Extraverts. (We have needs too, you know!) | Real Learning, for a Change

  3. Francesca Nardocci says:

    Hi Michael,
    Being such an “gut feeling” extrovert, as described in your article and having worked for companies that nurtured “fast and furious decision-making”, my conclusions, at this stage of my carreer goes long these lines:
    Extroverts do well, sleeping at least one night over important decisions! Not that one night of beautisleep works wonders (well, maybe it does!) Going “against an extroverts grain” gives even the most avid extroverts a moment to consider additional factors that could have been missed or not considered and which could turn out to “bite the fast and furious decision” into the butt. As much as I used to get irritated with “how difficult can it be to take a decision” – approach of introvert colleagues, I have learned that taking some time, is nothing more than a precious investment in oneself – and for the successfull outcome of a decision. Of course, when a decision cannot wait 24 hours (I do think that except open heart surgery almost anything can wait a night) an extrovert can still always rely on his/her ability and skill to take a fast decision. So…win-win as far as my extrovert experience has tought me.

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    • Hi Fran. Thanks for sharing your experience. As you say, you have learned how a more introverted approach can be beneficial in certain circumstances. As ever, having more than one approach gives better results, and flexibility is the name of the game! My good old chameleon analogy springs to mind!

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    • Doro says:

      Very good to know that I am on the side of introverts which in my opinion make better decisions and can watch better and see immediately what is going on.

      Like

  4. Jacob Engel says:

    Hi Michael,
    Great post as usual. I’m an Ambivert and have found that while E’s are more prone to think aloud vs. I’s that think before speaking. The deciding factor is many times if they are P’s or J’s (This is all in MBTI vernacular). So I don’t see much difference in decision making between ESTP’s and ISTP’s, or between ENTP’s or INTP’s. Just my own observation as a MBTI facilitator.
    Thanks,
    Jacob

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    • Thanks Jacob. So if I understand it correctly you think the main difference in decision making style is to do with how structured they are, or the extent to which they appreciate rules and boundaries (J)?

      Do you think that is reflects how likely J’s are to think “outside the box”, I wonder?

      Many thanks for the input.

      Like

  5. Bilal says:

    Thanks for this. Finally some reasoning and research to backup introvert decision making. I always disagreed with how everyone always overrated quick-and-bigger-picture decision making.
    In reality I would say depending on the situation either introvert or extrovert decision making should be favored but certainly always equating introvert decision with not-looking-at-the-bigger-picture and slowing things down is flawed reasoning.

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  6. Hi Michael.
    Another enjoyable read, thank you! I found Susan Cain’s book an interesting read, not that I agreed with all of it but it provided some wonderful perspectives that I hadn’t considered before. I agree that people with an introverted preference (in MBTI-terms) often bring the quality of reflection and a patience towards decision-making. However, having this preference myself I know that I sometimes miss a trick because I haven’t talked the problem through with others and my decision is based upon my own experiences and opinions. I try to employ my ‘extroverted’ side to seek others’ advice, which adds a richness to what is going on in my own head!
    I found it fascinating to observe the links between the MBTI and TKI models – that there is a correlation between ‘extroverted preference’ and Collaborating and ‘introverted preference’ and Avoiding during conflict scenarios. This is because it takes energy for people with an introverted preference to talk problems through! It’s interesting to reflect on how our preferences lead us into certain habits. It can be difficult, but I always remind myself that we all ‘do’ introversion and extroversion – We just have a preference for one or the other. We can employ both ways of being, to make better decisions.
    Julia

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    • Hi Julia. Thanks for your insight. I guess your final point nails it: making sure our own preference doesn’t get in the way of a good decision. I like your strategy for talking it through with others as a way of not getting stuck on decisions.

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