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I Miss Forced Extroversion

It's one way working together in offices can boost our well-being.

Key points

  • Research has shown that acting extroverted can lead to positive feelings.
  • Even if you're introverted, the science suggests that extroverted actions can boost your positive emotions.
  • This may be a valuable benefit of working in the office that remote workers are missing.

I am generally introverted. I’ve always tended to choose a solitary activity or a small group over meeting new people or mingling at a party. At work, I often found socializing and small talk a bit forced, and tended to use a heavy workload as a reason to avoid it. I preferred heads-down work over meeting with others, so much so that when I saw meetings on my day’s schedule, I saw them as interrupting the work I actually wanted to be doing, or as necessary chores.

But over the years, I have changed how I see social interaction at work. That change is based on a research finding about how extroversion makes you feel.

Acting extroverted makes you happier

Extroversion is correlated with happiness: People who score higher on extroversion generally have more positive and less negative feelings. This is a robust relationship (meta-analyses of many studies reliably find the relationship).

But that’s not the finding that changed my attitude. This is: several studies have shown that doing extroverted acts results in feeling more positive feelings and less negative ones (1, 2, 3). In other words, acting extroverted makes you feel good.

Source: arina krasnikova/Pexels
Source: arina krasnikova/Pexels

What if you're introverted by nature?

The research suggests that, even if you are introverted, acting extroverted can boost your positive emotions. So you don’t need to be gregarious by nature or skilled at working a room to get the benefits of acting extroverted.

It’s also important to note that extroversion isn’t just being gregarious. It’s also being bold or asserting yourself among others (along with other sub-traits). So, proposing a daring project, or successfully making a point in a meeting, could be extroversion.

"But it’s hard!"

Some may find it draining to act extroverted. I often feel tired after interacting with people for long periods of time. It may indeed be draining to be social and assertive, but I’ve concluded that the tiredness is worth getting better overall well-being.

And acting extroverted can get less draining if you practice. Behaviors that you do routinely in the same context can become habitual and demand less cognitive effort.

I’ve taken this research to heart. I have started to recognize the little jolt of energy or excitement I get when I had a successful meeting where we solved something as a team, or where I took the time to have a conversation with someone about non-work topics. I came to appreciate that those were real shots of positive feelings, and that the discomfort of starting an interaction or meeting would result in a payoff at the end and that it was valuable. And now interacting with people, even if it’s sometimes awkward, is generally something I like to do.

Going back to the office? Get some free positive feelings

When millions of workers went fully remote, and then never returned to the office, they stopped having these extra moments of sociability and extroversion. If you’re now going back to the office, try to appreciate that it might have some benefits (it might even be good for you!). Even if going into the office a day or two (or five) is inconvenient or effortful, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Be extroverted, and use that office work to boost your well-being.

If you’re still fully remote, you might still put this finding to work for you. Try logging on early to your next meeting and have some small talk with someone you don’t know. Call someone instead of messaging. Make that bold new proposal you’ve been working on in your spare moments. Make yourself do it—the more you do, and the easier it could get. And you could add some positive feelings to your life.

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