WorkZone: Neurotics excelling at office

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Confident and outgoing, extroverts do well on job interviews. They get raises and promotions. They get the choice assignments and energize their colleagues.

But, broadly speaking, extroverts are not always the best employees, particularly in team settings.

The ideal workers often are the quietly withdrawn neurotics who are "driven by their internal motivation and their anxiety," according to a research paper from UCLA's Anderson School of Management, to be published this month in the Academy of Management Journal.

The paper, called, "The Downfall of Extraverts and Rise of Neurotics: The Dynamic Process of Status Allocation in Task Groups," says that in a group or team setting, extroverts often oversell and underperform (or at least are viewed as having underperformed), while the neurotics -- of whom less is often expected -- exceed teammates' expectations.

The writers, UCLA associate professor Corinne Bendersky and Neha Parikh Shah, an assistant professor at Rutgers Business School, conducted two experiments, both of which measured what people expected from extroverts and neurotics before a particular project or social interaction, and how those expectations were eventually reversed.

"It turns out the extroverts disappointed their peers and lost status in the group as a result. The neurotics, by contrast, exceeded expectations and contributed more generously to the group than anyone had expected, driving their status up over time," according to a summary of the research that appeared on Forbes.com.

From a clinical standpoint, neurotics are not necessarily the same as an introvert -- though it's possible to be both). Being labeled an introvert or extrovert is more a measurement of personality, while being neurotic is a measure of emotional stability, or the absence of it.

That instability can manifest itself in different ways, according to Ms. Bendersky and Ms. Shah -- low self-esteem, anxiety, withdrawal, "all of which are associated with low performance expectations."

But neurotics, in general, "work really hard not to disappoint their peers," Ms. Bendersky said in a phone interview. "Our intuition really tends to ... repel us away from anxious, neurotic withdrawn employees."

"That erosion of the initial impression was really surprising to me," she said.

Managers, she said, generally overstaff with extroverts and are low on neurotics. Ms. Bendersky said her paper suggests that managers should look to neurotic personalities a bit more often than what their instincts might tell them.

That doesn't mean extroverts aren't valuable to a company, or even to a small working group.

"The role that you put [extroverts] in matters a lot," Ms. Bendersky said. Outward-facing roles, jobs that require a larger degree of independence, sales jobs, fundraising jobs -- all of those roles might benefit from an extrovert's strengths. "Having someone like that on your team can be very important."

employment

Bill Toland: btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625.


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