Extroverts versus Neurotics: New research shows neurotics deserve equal consideration as leaders

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Neha Parikh Shah, an assistant professor who teaches organizational behavior at Rutgers Business School, co-authored a paper that is receiving lots of interest among those who care about the qualities of good managers, teams and business leaders.

The paper entitled, “The Downfall of Extroverts and the Rise of Neurotics: The Dynamic Process of Status Allocation in Task Groups” was published last month in the Academy of Management Journal. Corinne Bendersky, an associate professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, was the lead author.

Professor Shah, who is part of the Management & Global Business faculty, agreed to answer some questions about the research, the surprising results it produced and why managers may take a new approach to putting together teams.

Assistant Professor Neha Parikh Shah

Q: What inspired this research on extroverts versus neurotics?

A: “We had done a previous paper on how people rise in status in task groups, and we were interested in learning who rose in status and who fell in status. We focused on extroversion and neuroticism, in particular, because extroverts have historically been the people who are at the top of the status hierarchy and neurotics are the people who are at the bottom of the status hierarchy.” 

“We were very interested in seeing how that plays out when you look at things over time. Research, for a long time, has focused on status as a stable thing. We see what happens initially and how personality tends to create status hierarchies right off the bat. Extroverted people are outgoing. They’re confident, and so they have high status. We assume that things just stay that way. In our previous research, we found that people actually change position in their status groups over time based on how much they contribute to the group. In keeping with that focus on this idea of dynamic status, we looked at personality traits and how they relate to status change.”

Q: What did you find most surprising?

A: “Overall, the idea that extroverts fall in status over time is so interesting, and the fact that neurotics rise in status over time. Both of our main findings are really surprising to us, especially because they were so counter to what had long been believed. What’s also interesting is the idea that everyone was judging extroverts harshly overall. Even when we controlled everybody’s contribution to be at the same amount, extroverts were judged really harshly for the amount they did contribute.”

Q: Is that because people’s expectations are so high?

A: “People’s expectations were surprisingly not that much higher. It’s because they viewed everything that the extroverts were doing with a little bit of skepticism. It’s in line with some of this new work coming out that suggests there is this dark side to extroversion because extroverts tend to not consider other people’s opinions or, at least, other people believe that extroverts aren’t taking their opinions into account.”

Q: Can you share some of the details around the research? How much time you spent studying the group and who made up the group?

A: “Our first study included a little over 200 MBA students and they were put into task groups as part of a course. We looked at them over a course of a 10-week period – a quarter because it was at a school that had a quarter system.  We really got a sense of how they change in status after actually working together.”

“We examined what their initial expectations were of each member of the team individually and we had them complete these personality surveys early on after one interaction and then we went back and looked at them after 10 weeks and saw how their status had changed and why it had changed.  Once people actually start working together and have to put some effort into the task, that’s when all the differences become apparent – Who’s actually doing work? Who’s not doing work? How much are people contributing? Once those things start to become apparent, you really get a sense of how the hierarchy changes.”

“Our second study was an experiment. With that study, we were able to look across levels of contribution, and we saw that even with the same level of contribution anything neurotics did was seen as wonderful because other people have low expectations of them.”

“With the extroverts, their expectations weren’t so high, but what came out was that they were judged much more harshly. Whether they contributed a lot, they were judged very harshly. Whether they contributed a little bit, they were judged very harshly. It was really this difference in judgment that mattered for the extroverts and what dropped them in status.”


Q: Will this change the way managers assemble teams and who they decide to groom for higher positions?

 A: “I think it should. We place a lot of importance on extroversion in our society. We like people who are confident and assertive. But this would suggest that we may need to be a little careful with the extent to which we rely on these people because they may not be perceived by others as being great group members. If managers are putting a lot of stock in extroverts and they’re not contributing or their contributions are not valued, then that over reliance is going to be problematic. The same thing with neurotics, we don’t expect very much of them. These are those anxious people who are really concerned about what everybody thinks about them and in reality that seems to serve as a motivator here.  We might want to have more of these neurotic people on our team because they are the people putting in the effort. They’re the people who are going to stay late, maybe, to work on projects whereas extroverts may not. So managers might want to rely more on the neurotics because over time they do rise in the estimation of their peers.”

Q: What other research are you working on? What’s next?  

A: “Most of my other work is focused on how people manage their social networks in the workplace over time.  I have one paper that is under review in which my co-authors and I are looking at workplace relationships that people have that include both a work dimension and a non-work dimension and examining at how many of those are optimal for high performance. What we found is that people who have a moderate number of those combined relationships were the high performers. We’re theorizing that having these combined relationships, when you’re talking to people about work and non-work things, there’s a great deal more comfort in the relationship so you’re more willing to share better information. Well, it’s only great to a point because you’ve still got to get your work done. Because these relationships have that obligation component – I told you about my day now you tell me about yours – they also draw attention and effort away from work, and that’s why having a moderate number of these relationships is better.”

Q: What draws you to this work?

A: “My interest is really on relationships in the workplace. When people work together in these groups, they do form these status hierarchies. That determines who is influential in the group and how the work gets completed.  Within the organizations, everybody has these social network relationships, and these relationships also determine how work gets done. So, if everyone has these relationships, is it good for your performance? Is it bad for your performance? How should you manage them? What’s the implication?”

Q: Are you an extrovert or an introvert?

A: “It depends on who you’re comparing me to. I think I’m generally an introvert. I get energy from working independently. But one of the other faculty members was in here yesterday and he said, ‘No. you’re wrong.’ I don’t know. I think I sit somewhere in the middle. Maybe in the realm of academia, since I love working with coauthors and enjoy talking with my colleagues, I’m an extrovert."

"I suppose you should have asked me if I’m a neurotic, since I am.”

-Susan Todd


Media coverage of Shah's research:

Forbes: "Leadership Tip: Hire the Quiet Neurotic, Not the Impressive Extrovert"

USA Today: "On the Job: Introverts win in the end"

Time: "Who Is Happiest At Work? Probably Not Who You Think"

New York Times: "That Neurotic on the Team? Give him Time"

CNN International: 'Study: Neurotics shine over time in team settings"

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "WorkZone: Neurotics excelling at office"

CNN Mexico: "Los neuroticos son mejores que los extrovertidos para trabajar en equipo"

Mercado: "Líderes extrovertidos o introvertidos"

BRW (Australia): "Team dynamics: Why quiet neurotics beat extroverts in the long run"

The Sydney Morning Herald: "Forget the personality pigeonholes"


The Gannet story originally published in USA Today also appeared in the Greenbay Press-Gazette, the Salt Lake Tribune, The Ithaca Journal, the Utah Business Magazine and the Clinton News.


Click here to read the paper in the Academy of Management Journal

TAGS: Leadership Management and Global Business MBA Neha Shah Research Thought Leadership