During my first week as a Project Manager at a Security firm, I attended a job orientation. The speaker began the briefing with the following joke:
"How do you tell the extroverted engineer from the introverted engineer?" "The extroverted engineer is looking at your shoes." (The introverted is looking at his own.)
I immediately laughed out loud and quickly wrote this gem down for future guffaws. The rest of the room stayed dead silent and my colleague sitting beside me squirmed in his chair obviously uncomfortable with my expressiveness.
With all the personality profiles available to modern-day workers, we should 'up' our self-awareness game to better understand ourselves and others. But can we actually nurture workplace differences between extroverts and introverts? Can the two types be woven together in effective and respectful ways so they can function as a truly collaborative and cohesive team?
The answer is a resounding “YES” (but not too loud to embarrass the introverts). The main difference between an extrovert and an introvert is from where they draw their energy. Those of you who track towards the extroverted get motivation from being social and in large groups. Introverts recharge by being alone or in one-on-one conversations.
Your leadership persona is in a constant state of development your entire life. That includes extroversion and introversion. When I was younger, I was off-the-charts social. With the passage of time, I now tend to lean much more toward the ‘being alone to recharge’ end of the spectrum. Maybe it's growing older, maybe it's being more comfortable in my skin, but I am equally happy taking a group trip around the world as I am doing a ‘staycation’ with my pups.
There's a great deal more to be aware of in the workplace other than how people recharge and choose to spend their downtime. For us extroverts, we need to study our introvert counterparts and understand what we can learn from them. This difference came into focus for me as I began getting hired to speak to more varied groups.
When I spoke to sales and managerial groups, it was highly interactive. I could tell from the immediate feedback to my rapid-fire illustrations and points that they were right there with me and in agreement. They even laughed out loud at my jokes! However, when I spoke to my analytical friends in engineering, construction and IT, I had a harder time getting a read on the audience.
After one meeting which I felt had fallen particularly flat, I wrapped up my speech and quickly headed for my seat. Afterward, the members each came up to me and told me this was the most powerful speech they had heard. And the CEO emailed me and said they were still talking about it weeks later.
How could I have been so wrong? I forgot they were introverts! You see, introverts take time to process what is being said. They maintain a much deeper focus than us easily distracted extroverts and hesitate before speaking. They reflect on things before making a decision or assessment. So, what I had read as non-interest was actually cognitive engagement!
I have two team members who are introverts. In working with them over the past six months, I have learned some tremendous tweaks to my leadership persona. We extroverts have a tendency to "speak up" in meetings. They've taught me to allow the other person to finish before I respond completely. They have made me a better listener.
Extroverts also have a wild tendency to get distracted and work on multiple projects at a time. It drives linear thinkers’ crazy. Introverts excel at a deep focus on one task at a time. Since leaders can't achieve more than one strategy at a time, they have taught me to be much more methodical and strategic in my efforts. They've reigned me in so I can be much more focused and purposeful.
There are also ways that introverts can channel their inner extrovert. For meetings, get them an agenda ahead of time. If something comes up in daily conversation, table any ongoing discussion for the future to allow time for discovery and processing. Encourage them to go back and forth in discussions because the more points of view, the better the outcome. If they have to present, allow them plenty of time to prepare. Extroverts may love to expound extemporaneously but that’s not the introvert’s forte. Finally, if you send them to a social function, give them two or three people to approach about a specific topic to get them comfortable with the art of "small talk."
George S. Patton has one of my favorite quotes, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” The same could be said for nurturing a variety of leadership personas in the workplace. Once you learn to speak and understand other “languages” you’ll be a more valuable asset and collaborative team member to any organization. Vive la différence!!