Some people like to linger until the very end of a party; others like to leave early.

Unfortunately, they frequently marry each other.

They may very well have met and been attracted to each other because of these opposite qualities: one represents tranquility, stability, and caution, the other one represents excitement, change, and risk-taking.

Neurophysiology now suggests that these outgoing partiers (extroverts) have brains that are more sensitive to dopamine, the so-called “reward chemical” that actually excites the brain about a potential reward. They have what is called high “reward sensitivity” and they actively seek that buzz in a variety of ways from external sources, including social contacts, risk-taking, even extreme sports.

Low external reward-seekers (introverts) can be uncomfortable and even exhausted by that much buzz. Does that mean they are dull people? By no means; the interior landscape of an introvert can be loaded with exciting concepts. The ability to pursue an activity for its own sake and not for its reward value can lead to being in a state of what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow,” in which one is so engaged in an activity that hours can pass pleasurably as if they were minutes. A person in a state of flow can find energy rise even as work continues.

Here are some questions* to answer to determine if you, a colleague or a partner are reward-oriented:

  • When I get something I want, I feel excited and energized.
  • When I want something, I usually go all out to get it.
  • When I see an opportunity for something I like, I get excited right away.
  • When good things happen to me, it affects me strongly.

Notice that all of these questions refer to something external to the person. Why would you ask these questions? To recognize that individual needs differ, and to make sure that you and those around you are having these needs met in order that everyone may contribute his or her best to the partnership, whether it is a professional one or a personal one.An introvert, less motivated by external rewards,  can feel pleasure in doing something for the sake of doing it, without necessarily being offered a reward. Some are even embarrassed by public recognition of an achievement they did “just for the fun of it.”

We need risk-taking, change, tranquility, and caution in all of life. Too much of one endangers the other, as Enron, the company whose reckless business practices forced it to file for bankruptcy in 2001, discovered after it repeatedly ignored the warnings of a cautious senior level manager, saying, “We don’t need cops.”

To balance the yin and yang of introversion and extroversion, here are some suggestions.

  • Learn to be proud of who you are, even as you recognize others have the right to be proud of who they are.
  • Assert your own needs and recognize how to help other people in your presence meet their own needs.
  • Recognize and accept that some people need that external excitement to remain motivated; others need to avoid that external excitement in order to remain motivated.
  • Allow introvert employees and colleagues time to take in information and reflect on it before responding or acting.

The extrovert needs that buzz so let him or her have it: allow time and space for the extrovert to pursue that exciting activity (arrange separate transportation home from the party, if necessary), and try not to be a heavy anchor.The introvert absolutely requires a certain amount of quiet or solitude to remain psychologically healthy and to have a fulfilled life. Don’t urge him or her to be more sociable; help the person take time out to be reflective.

The combination of yin and yang, or introvert and extrovert, can be very powerful. Just think of Steve Jobs, the face of Apple, and Steve Wozniak, who single-handedly designed both the Apple I and Apple II computers in the late 1970s, contributing significantly to the microcomputer revolution.

*Susan Cain: Quiet: The Power of the Introvert in a World That Can’t Stop Talking


Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.