Systems and complexity

Does introversion hinder tacit knowledge sharing?

The terms “introversion” and “extroversion” are commonly used when we refer to people’s personality characteristics. Introversion can be defined as “The quality of being shy and reticent”, and extroversion as “The quality of being outgoing and socially confident”.

In organisations, we describe two types of knowledge: “tacit knowledge” and “explicit knowledge”. Tacit knowledge “is the kind of knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalizing it”. Examples of tacit knowledge include how to speak a language, how to ride a bicycle, and how to be a good leader. Explicit knowledge on the other hand “is knowledge that can be readily articulated, codified, accessed and verbalized”.

Tacit knowledge is the most vital knowledge in an organization, and because it is difficult to transfer in writing or verbally, it is best shared through socialisation practices. But given that introverts are socially shy and reticent, is introversion an obstacle to tacit knowledge sharing?

A recent paper1 sets out to investigate this question through a review of the existing literature. The review involved studying research on socio-psychological premises for knowledge sharing and synthesizing it with literature on introverted personality traits.

Introversion is both an obstacle and a motivator

The literature review reveals that some aspects of introversion inhibit tacit knowledge sharing through socialization, but other aspects serve as facilitators and motivators for knowledge sharing.

Introverted traits that are obstacles include poor multitasking skills, withdrawnness, evaluation apprehension, and a preference for written over verbal communication. On the other hand, introverts’ openness to experience, tendency to feel intrinsic motivation, listening skills, concise verbal communication style, and ability  to establish and maintain close emotional relationships (fostering trust and loyalty), all motivate and facilitate tacit knowledge sharing.

Because of this, the conclusion is that introversion cannot be considered an obstacle in tacit knowledge sharing through socialisation.

Research limitations

The paper author identifies two limitations in the research:

  1. The review is based on understanding introversion / extraversion as a dichotomy, but in reality introversion / extraversion is a scale with most people falling into both categories.
  2. The reasoning, arguments, and conclusions in the paper are exclusively based on existing literature and the work of other scholars, with no original research carried out.

Article source: The Oxford Review.

Reference:

  1. Hvidsten, A. K. N. (2016). Is Introversion an Obstacle in Tacit Knowledge Sharing through Socialization? A Study on how Personality Traits Influence Knowledge Sharing Behavior. Dalhousie Journal of Interdisciplinary Management, 12(1).

Also published on Medium.

Bruce Boyes

Bruce Boyes (www.bruceboyes.info) is editor, lead writer, and a director of the award-winning RealKM Magazine (www.realkm.com), and a knowledge management (KM), environmental management, and project management consultant. He holds a Master of Environmental Management with Distinction, and his expertise and experience includes knowledge management (KM), environmental management, project management, stakeholder engagement, teaching and training, communications, research, and writing and editing. With a demonstrated ability to identify and implement innovative solutions to social and ecological complexity, Bruce's many career highlights include establishing RealKM Magazine as an award-winning resource, using agile and knowledge management approaches to oversee an award-winning $77.4 million western Sydney river recovery program, leading a knowledge strategy process for Australia's 56 natural resource management (NRM) regional organisations, pioneering collaborative learning and governance approaches to support the sustainable management of landscapes and catchments, and initiating and teaching two new knowledge management subjects at Shanxi University in China.

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2 Comments

  1. Hi Bruce,

    Introversion and extroversion is often understood in relation to a response to social situations, an introvert is exhausted by a small amount of social contact, whilst an extrovert can be ‘plugged in’ for hours. The interplay between the two, how partners in a marriage, and how businesses successfully manage their polar executives is interesting to explore. One of the best books I’ve read, by a successful and self-proclaimed introvert, Susan Cain is Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.

    Regards,
    Amanda

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