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Want a good team player? Draft a neurotic.

May 7, 2013

Article courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

By Anthony Kaylin

If you had to assemble a team for a work project, who would you pick?

According to new study, persons categorized as neurotic are better team players and more appreciated by the team than other work types, especially the extrovert. The study’s authors are Corinne Bendersky, an associate professor at UCLA’s business school, and Neha Parikh Shah, an assistant professor at Rutgers Business School.

In their paper “The Downfall of Extroverts and Rise of Neurotics: The Dynamic Process of Status Allocation in Task Groups,” Bendersky and Shah debunk the value of extroversion.  According to the study, extroverts are status conscious, wanting get ahead or be seen as superior to others.  Extroverts’ traits include assertiveness, interpersonal dominance and/or talkativeness. Typically seen as favorable traits, these behaviors get low marks in teams.  In teams, others see extroverts as poor listeners who are unreceptive to input from others and are generally self-serving.

Neurotics, on the other hand, have initial low status in a team environment.  They are perceived to have low self-esteem, low self-efficacy and an external locus of control, all of which are associated with low performance expectations.  However, over time others begin to see them as strong team players.  Neurotics have a desire to avoid social disapproval and being perceived as incompetent in task settings. So they are motivated to work harder to forward the goals of the team.

To prove their points, Bendersky and Shah ran two experiments. In the first one, they broke 229 MBA students into study groups of five people, and surveyed them to identify their personality types. After the personality assessments, they had the students predict how they thought their team members would influence their groups and how team members’ status would play out in the process. The results were that the more extroverted the student, the higher their peers rated their expected influence and status. The neurotics got much lower ratings.

After the ten-week academic quarter passed, the students were asked how their team members had performed. 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.

In the second experiment, Bendersky and Shah ran an online study in which they asked 300 participants to make an urgent request of a man named “John,” asking him for help in preparing a work presentation. The survey described this fictional “John” as either extroverted, introverted, neurotic or emotionally stable. The survey then reported that John answered the request, either saying he was too busy to help much, or saying that even though he was busy he would help as much as needed.

Once John was established as a personality type, the respondents were asked to evaluate him.   As with the first study, those who were told John was an extrovert had high expectations of him. But when he failed to meet those expectations his value diminished greatly. But those who were told John was a neurotic initially had low expectations, and the more generous his response to their request, the higher he leapt in status.  “The neurotics are rated as being more generous and exceeding expectations for the exact same response,” explains Bendersky.

Therefore, concluded Bendersky, team leaders should be wary of extroverts. “The core of an extroverted personality is to be attention-seeking,” she observed. “It turns out they just keep talking, they don’t listen very well and they’re not very receptive to other people’s input. They don’t contribute as much as people think they will.” If she were putting together a team, says Bendersky,“I would staff it with more neurotics and fewer extroverts than my initial instinct would lead me to do.”

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