Why Business Needs More Neurotics

New research shows people have low expectations for neurotics, like Carrie Mathison in “Homeland,” above, that they frequently exceed Photograph by Kent Smith/Showtime Network/Everett Collection

With its group projects, case studies, and emphasis on leadership, business school tends to favor extroverts, or at least gives them plenty of opportunities to shine. But in a business setting, extroverts tend to suffer from the weight of the expectations people put on them—they disappoint. People expect less from neurotics, full of social anxiety and emotional volatility, and are frequently surprised by their contributions.

That’s the upshot of new research by Corinne Bendersky, associate professor of management and organizations at UCLA Anderson School of Management, and Neha P. Shah, an assistant professor at Rutgers Business School, published in the Academy of Management Journal’s April issue.

The findings come from two studies the pair conducted, including one that involved testing the personalities of first-year MBA students and placing them in study groups to see how their assessments of each other changed over the course of an academic quarter. The second study asked online respondents to rate people of different personality types in a scenario that portrayed one colleague asking another for help.

Recently, Bendersky spoke with Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Francesca Di Meglio about how MBA students can apply this research in their careers. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Why do neurotics make better teammates?
At the core of a neurotic is a concern about disappointing other people. This motivates them to be engaged, well-prepared, and almost self-sacrificial.

What are the takeaways of this research for future managers?
Extroverted people may do better on independent tasks, while neurotics might be better in team settings. You have to be upfront about your personality type and your behavioral commitments. In the end, what really matters is the way people behave and their actions. When managing these different types, you have to recognize that general personality cues are less relevant than their actions and commitments.

What advice do you have for introverted people?
The implications are less interesting than the other findings. Introverts tend to have a lower status among their teammates, and they don’t usually change the perception over time. Introverts can push themselves outside their comfort zone, especially in their initial interactions with others, to mitigate the perceptions others have of them.

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