How those with an Introversion preference tend to manage and deal with conflict
Alex Eggington, Consultant at The Myers-Briggs Company
8 min. read
It is widely established that those with preferences for Introversion and Extraversion will differ in their typical behavior, and these differences can extend to each preference’s approach to conflict.
Research looking at links between the TKI® conflict assessment and MBTI® preferences has shown that, from the five TKI modes, the most common preferred mode for Introversion types is ‘Avoiding’. This mode occurs when we try not to engage in a conflict issue with the other person. It sees conflict as an interruption or a disruption, diverting energy from the task and causing unnecessary stress. In other words, it’s “not now, I’ll come back to you tomorrow”.
Before we dive into Introversion and conflict specifically, it’s worth exploring some of the physiological differences that have been established between those with Introversion and Extraversion preferences. It helps us understand these preferences’ differences in approach to conflict more intricately.
Physiological differences between Introverts and Extraverts
Eysenck (1979) established the link between personality and cortisol arousal which affects heartrate and vigilance in monitoring external stimuli. He found that Extraverts experience lower levels of this arousal, causing them to seek out stimuli. Introverts experience higher arousal levels. This puts them at risk of being overstimulated with external stimulus and they’ll seek to avoid any further increase which may also contribute to higher levels of experienced stress.
These physiological differences also extend to the way in which neurotransmitters are experienced by those with the different preferences. An increase in dopamine can lead to overstimulation in Introverts but is energizing for Extraverts. As dopamine encourages reward-seeking behavior, like winning an argument, people might have a tendency to keep pushing for their agenda if they find it energizing.
Another consideration is the role dopamine plays in the regulation of our emotional response (Salgado Pineda et al, 2005). This suggests that the emotional component of conflict could contribute to overstimulation for Introverts.
Finally, the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which engages deep thinking, reflection, and focus, is found to be more beneficial for Introverts. It is released when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated. This is the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system being activated, which Extraverts are more responsive to. The evidence suggests that Extraverts are perhaps more likely to respond to conflict by bringing up energy to respond and make a quick decision, much like the “fight or flight” response.; Introverts, on the other hand, may be more likely to withdraw.
In short, when it comes to conflict, Extraverts may well seek out interaction and even benefit from engaging in an argument. But for Introverts, this could lead to overstimulation. Under stress, we will all rely on our dominant preferences and systems, meaning that Introverts may be more likely to slow down and analyze the situation. In that sense, it is unsurprising that we may find those with an Introversion preference reporting higher use of the “Avoiding” approach to conflict.
It is important to emphasize, however, that there is no single best way to handle conflict. When considering MBTI types as a whole, there are unique strengths and development areas, and as such when it comes to typical conflict approaches of Introversion and Extraversion, there are costs and benefits to each.
For those with a preference for Introversion, their effectiveness in handling conflict will come down to two factors: knowing when it is helpful to lean into their preferred mode of avoiding, and understanding the skills required to engage with it and other approaches effectively.
What are the potential risks of the Introversion approach to conflict? Where might “Avoiding” present issues?
In organizations, being professional means putting up with some irritations to accomplish tasks. It also means putting effort into building and maintaining relationships rather than letting them deteriorate. Using Avoiding as an approach to conflict can—if overused, used in the wrong contexts, or managed badly—present issues such as:
- Delays. When issues are unaddressed, they can cause delays. Those issues then might recur, taking up more time and causing more frustration than if they’d been addressed earlier.
- Degraded communication and decision-making. People may walk on eggshells rather than speaking candidly and learning from one another. They may miss opportunities to provide input into issues, especially important ones.
- Resentment. Others might see your ‘avoiding’ as evasive and resent you for neglecting their concerns. Unresolved issues may build and relationships could deteriorate over time. Hostile stereotypical attitudes could develop and fester.
- Reduced political influence. People may perceive you as unresponsive and not know what you stand for. You risk not getting enough of your own agenda out of situations because others will default to making decisions without you or for you.
In some situations, conflict is better approached by leaning into other, more active approaches than Avoiding. Those with an Introversion preference would benefit from increasing their awareness around this tendency and understanding when Avoiding is best avoided. The benefits include:
- Establishing better work boundaries. Engaging in more direct and assertive approaches to conflict to communicate workload negotiations or your opinion in important decisions.
- Improving and growing their relationships at work. Engaging in healthy conflict aids in deepening trust and effective communication within pre-existing relationships. It provides opportunities for those around us to understand our thoughts and feelings more, and it serves to reduce unnecessary recurring conflict on the same issues in the future.
- Avoiding the build up of stress and resentment of others. See above.
What are the benefits of the Avoiding approach to conflict?
It’s important to state that Avoiding isn’t wholly negative or without merit. Using Avoiding as a conflict approach can be incredibly effective in certain contexts—for example, when managing energy and stress effectively. Or where negative effects of escalating conflict can be avoided. As many of us can recall, there will have been moments in our working lives where we engaged in conflict that was simply pointless and left us depleted afterwards. Contexts where the Avoiding approach is appropriate and effective include:
- Trivial issues.
- As a temporary step when tensions are high.
- To buy more time when information is needed.
- When you know you have no power/control.
- When there is someone else who can resolve this more effectively/politically.
- When the issue is a symptom of an underlying larger issue.
- When the issue is no longer important.
Engaging in the Avoiding approach to conflict in these contexts can have the benefits of reducing unnecessary stress, saving time, and creating space to set up more favorable conditions. As such, when Avoiding is underused, or where other approaches to the conflict are used instead, other risks are presented and they all have an adverse impact on our effectiveness when it comes to leadership and team behaviors. The risks of underusing Avoiding include:
- You may be seen as opinionated or looking for a fight.
- Seen as overly involved in issues, increasing your own and others workload.
- Stop others from taking on opportunities for responsibility.
- Perceived by others as meddling.
How can those with a preference for Introversion manage the Avoiding approach to conflict more effectively?
Decide what is important. Avoiding unimportant issues is an inevitable part of focusing energy and attention. If you can decide that is important, you will have a logical basis for deciding which issues to avoid. Be clear about your goals for a meeting, set joint goals if possible (which will reduce the number of irrelevant issues that come up), try to stick to those goals, and be on the lookout for signs that avoided issues have become important enough to address.
Avoid without being evasive. Because Avoiding neglects other people’s concerns, it can look like evasion if the reason for it isn’t clear. This can lead to suspicions about your motives—such as you not feeling the other colleague is important, for example. Ensure that you give your reason for Avoiding, set a time to return to the issue, and use language that invites the other person to postpone the issue. This reduces the impression that your Avoiding is arbitrary.
Breaking the anger cycle. Avoid emotional conflicts and break the destructive anger cycle they create by managing your behavior at key points.
- Use your psychological boundaries by realizing that you are responsible for your own emotions. Find ways to control those automatic reactions to perceived insults.
- Give the other person the benefit of the doubt and try not to conclude that the other person is deliberately trying to hurt you or has another unflattering motive. You will be less likely to become angry in a conflict situation.
- Discharge your anger safely with a trusted third party and discuss the issue with the other person only after you have regained a clearer perspective on the conflict issue.
- Watch your connotations when discussing with the other person in a conflict. Use more neutral language to avoid hurting them.
- Use humor to defuse tension, introduce a sense of comradeship, and say things in an indirect manner without raising people’s defences.
How can leaders ensure that conflict within their team is more inclusive of those with Introversion preferences?
When we think about inclusive behaviors in the context of personality, the key is to increase our awareness and understanding both of our own preferences and of those we work alongside. Armed with this knowledge we can be more deliberate and effective in engaging in various exchanges, such as communication, team decision-making, and indeed how we manage and approach conflict.
Here are some hints and tips when it comes to including those with Introversion preferences in conflict situations:
- Consider the energy being projected into the discussion and who is doing it. Those with preferences for Extraversion may have a tendency to dominate the discussion by engaging in more direct and active approaches to conflict. This may mean that those with an Introversion preference are less likely to have their perspectives heard, particularly if this argument or conflict is happening with all parties present in one room.
- With that in mind, try not to assume they don’t care. There can be a tendency for those avoiding conflict to appear as if they do not care about the outcome or the issue being discussed. This is not always the case, and it might be beneficial to ask what they think/what their experience or perspective is. This is especially helpful in more intense and heated conflict scenarios where those with an Introversion preference might simply be preserving their own well-being by avoiding the external stimulation the conflict brings.
- Be patient and allow yourself to postpone the discussion. For those with Extraversion preferences, there can be a tendency to want to engage in the discussion of the issue or conflict quickly to come to a solution fast. This can feel somewhat stressful for those with Introversion preferences. They might be overstimulated by this and need space to think and reflect on how they would like to approach and position their argument. Here, it can be helpful to support them by allowing time and postponing the discussion, especially those discussions that feel heated and raise emotions within the team.
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Learn more about The Myers-Briggs Company’s professional services and consultancy.
The Neuroscience Behind Introversion and What It Means For You In Conflict – Novel HR
Why Life Is Better as an Introvert When You Embrace Conflict (introvertdear.com)
TKI conflict-handling mode and MBTI type data mentioned in this article are sourced directly from The Myers-Briggs Company’s proprietary internal research database, and was collected and analyzed with the help with Dr. Rich Thompson, Sr. Director of Research at The Myers-Briggs Company.