New research for World Introvert Day: Introverts in conflict

Posted 27 December 2022 by
Kevin Wood, The Myers-Briggs Company

8 min. read

In celebration of World Introvert Day on January 2, we’re sharing new information from our research database around Introversion, Extraversion, and conflict. 

Download the World Introvert Day infographic here

Because it turns out, those preferring Introversion actually use a different conflict-handling mode than those preferring Extraversion. Read on to learn more about how these types handle conflict differently, and how you can use this information to your advantage (whether you prefer Introversion or have a family member, friend or co-worker who’s an Introverted type). 

Introversion and Extraversion – it’s about where you get your energy

You’re probably familiar with the idea that people with an Introversion preference get their energy from their inner world. External stimulation drains them more quickly and their energy is replenished by time spent in their own minds thinking or being by themselves. 

Maybe you work with someone with an Introversion preference (Introverts make up over half the population – (check out the infographic here) and recognize this behavior, or you yourself may prefer Introversion. 

When it comes to energy, the opposite is true of those preferring Extraversion. They’re more easily drained by quiet time and alone time, and instead gain energy from being around and interacting with other people. 

Keep in mind though, for those preferring Introversion, ‘quiet time’ doesn’t necessarily mean inactive or switched off. 

The Introvert’s inner world is constantly active—sometimes too active—because there’s so much processing going on internally. It’s why added input from the outside world can quickly drain their batteries. Remember this point for later in this article when you read about how those preferring Introversion approach conflict situations.

A framework for conflict 

 Research by The Myers-Briggs Company into Conflict at Work (2022) used respondents’ TKI® and MBTI® assessment results to explore any relationships between preferred conflict-handling mode and personality type.

The TKI assessment uses assertiveness and cooperation to assess how a person approaches conflict. Think of assertiveness and cooperation as being on the two sides of a graph—assertiveness on the vertical axis and cooperation on the horizontal axis. Within this graph there are five conflict modes in the TKI model: Competing, Collaborating, Compromising, Accommodating, and Avoiding. 

Each mode differs on assertiveness and cooperativeness. 

But here’s the interesting part: no single conflict-handling mode is the best approach for all situations. 

In fact, any of the five modes might be the most effective, depending on the situation. 

Some of the keys to better conflict management, using the TKI framework, include: 

Now that the basics of Extraversion, Introversion, and conflict-handling modes have been touched on, here’s where all those roads intersect and you can start seeing the patterns (and learning how to use them to your advantage!):

TKI® modes and MBTI® personality type

When it comes to Extraversion and Introversion preferences and conflict modes, our research finds: 

What about the conflict modes favored by Introverts? 

How do Introverts handle conflict? 

Research from The Myers-Briggs Company’s database (shout out to Dr. Rich Thompson, our Sr. Director of Research who got data from over 50,000 people for this analysis) revealed a clear pattern about those preferring Introversion and their default conflict-handling mode:

Introverted types prefer Avoiding

Remember, the five conflict-handling modes are competing, cooperating, compromising, accommodating and avoiding. Each of those five modes has a different combination of how much they cooperate and how assertive they are.

Across the eight Introverted types from the MBTI assessment, avoiding was the highest scoring mode for five of them: ISTJ, ISFJ, ISTP, ISFP, and INTP. 

For the remaining three Introverted types—INFJ, INTJ, and INFP—avoiding was the second highest-scoring mode.

This means that all eight Introversion types listed avoiding as their first or second most-used conflict mode.

But how does this compare to those who prefer Extraversion?

According to our data, only three Extraverted types had avoiding in their top two modes. And none of the Extraverted types had it as their highest scoring mode. 

Basically, Introverted types were nearly three times more likely than Extraverted types to have avoiding as one of their top two conflict modes.

Why would Introverted types avoid conflict?

You’re probably wondering why the avoiding conflict-handling mode is favored so much by those preferring Introversion? Avoiding is the least assertive conflict-handling mode, but it’s also the least cooperative.

To answer the “why avoid” question, let’s look at what we know about Introversion.

The data suggests that the Introverts in your family, team or workplace (or you yourself) often don’t see conflict positively. They’re more likely to feel demotivated and discouraged by conflict than Extraversion types.

Even though conflict often has a negative reputation, it’s really just about two people or parties having different ideas. And diversity of ideas isn’t a bad thing. If your organization and your leadership is inclusive, diversity of thought is incredibly powerful and beneficial

So, if you prefer Introversion what’s the best conflict-handling mode to use? Or if you prefer Extraversion, what’s the best way to deal with those preferring Introversion when there are disagreements?

If you really want to make conflict management more, understanding a little more about what happens to Introverts in those situations should help. 
(It’s also worth noting that the avoiding conflict-handling mode isn’t inherently bad or wrong. Sometimes, avoiding is the best choice in a situation. But, as a conflict-handling mode, it has less to offer than other modes because the issue or disagreement doesn’t progress.) 

The physiology of Introversion

Differences in cortisol levels, cortical arousal, and dopamine in our bodies can present themselves as behaviors associated with Introversion and Extraversion. It’s often about whether or not a person is already stimulated or needs to go seeking it. 

The bottom line is those preferring Introversion need time to think. And they don’t need much external input to stimulate them. 

Here’s what happens to Introverted types during a conflict: Chances are the person preferring Introversion will quickly become overstimulated. They probably won’t be able to fully contribute because they need time to think before they speak. Unlike Extraverts who prefer to often ‘think out loud,’ Introverts prefer to think things out before saying anything out loud.

Introverted types need time and space. 

This is one of the defining quality of Introversion: taking time to process thoughts. 

Without that time, Introverts can’t be their authentic selves because they can’t express what they really think. 

And, in a conflict situation, that sort of time often isn’t available. Conflict often happens there and then, in the moment.

If we add in that (generally) conflict is resolved by using Extraverted behaviors—challenging others, interrupting, asserting—then it’s not surprising that many Introverts defer to the avoiding conflict-handling mode. It’s because the way Western culture prefers to deal with conflict is in an Extraverted way!

The ups and downs of Avoiding

One upside to delaying or deferring conflict is that, with a little space and perspective, the issue has the heat taken out of it. It becomes easier to ‘let it go’—a bit like counting to 10 in an argument. It’s the same idea here.

Also, with more time, there’s a higher likelihood of adopting different perspectives instead of just fighting for your own perspective (which again reduces the intensity of a conflict).

These may well be an Introvert’s strengths when it comes to conflict management which others can learn from. Not everything has to be contested right away.

But this leads us to the downside of avoiding: it doesn’t resolve anything. It leaves things as they are. 

This might be OK for the person who’s decided to ‘let it go,’ but what about the other person or party? And what if the issue needs to be resolved? 

Unless the issue can be completely ignored with no consequence, it’s better if both parties engage. Even if the outcome is the same (i.e., both sides agree to ‘let it go’), it’s a healthier type of outcome because both have invested time in the issue and acknowledged each other’s interests. 

Conflict tips for Introverts

Alex Eggington, Consultant at The Myers-Briggs Company’s UK office, has these suggestions for Introverts when it comes to better managing any type of conflict (work conflict, relationship conflict, family conflict, etc.):

  1. Decide what’s important
    “Avoiding unimportant issues is an inevitable part of focussing 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 look our for signs that avoided issues have become important enough to address.” 
  2. Avoid without being evasive
    “Because avoiding neglects other people’s concerns, it can look like evading when the reason for it isn’t clear. It can lead to sus-picions about your motives, such as people thinking you don’t think the other person’s important. Ensure that you give your rea-son for avoiding, set a time to return to the issue, and use lan-guage that invites the other person to postpone the issue, reduc-ing the impression that your avoiding is arbitrary.”
  3. Breaking the anger cycle 
    “Avoid emotional conflicts and break the destructive anger cycle they create by managing your behaviour at key points:

Conflict tips for Extraverted types working/living with Introverts

Here are a few points to think about when managing conflict that involves those preferring Introversion:

No blaming
Don’t scapegoat Introverted types who ‘avoid’ conflict. Instead, try to understand what it feels like for them and help create an environment where they can contribute on their terms. 

Give time and space
Give the person preferring Introversion space and time if they need it and make an agreement to come back to the subject later.

Conflict tips for people managers working with Introverts

Create the space for Introverted types to express themselves with authenticity. This could mean: