“Why can’t they just figure it out on their own?” “What is taking him so long?!” “Why does she keep talking about stuff she doesn’t know about?” “Why can’t we ever have a productive team meeting?”
Do any of these laments sound familiar?!?
In the typical workplace, there are a wide range of personality types, all trying to accomplish the same thing but having very different ways of doing it. We often label others as “control freaks” or “fly by the seat of her pants” types, sometimes using even less flattering terminology. Informing those behaviors is a core personality trait – being introverted or extroverted – that points to whether we prefer to have lots of space or be rapid fire.
Most of us are familiar with the basic differences between the types: an introvert is someone who gains energy from solitude and drains energy from too much social activity. An extrovert is energized by people and activity and depleted if she has too much time alone.
There's another key difference between innies and outties that's especially important in the workplace: their problem-solving and communication methods. The extrovert will want to gather others and reflect collectively, asking “What do you think?” The introvert will move towards solitude or maybe one other person, to ask “What do I think?” The introvert prefers to reflect on that information by going deeper into the self, whereas an extrovert will assemble the troops.
Why is this important? Because by understanding each type’s modus operandi, we'll have less stress and more compassion with one another. Plus, we'll be more efficient and effective in the important work we do.
Tips for Extroverts Working with Introverts:
- Understand that introverts need space and quiet to gather and process their thoughts. Brainstorming sessions can be stressful (unless you ask the introvert to facilitate or scribe). Share the brainstorming topic or question in advance, so they can get a head-start on thinking of ideas to contribute. Allow people to submit ideas in writing, either during or after the meeting.
- Leave room in the process for introverts to communicate one-on-one or in a small group, or in writing.
- Provide gentle nudging if your introvert colleague is moving too slowly for you or the situation. Give him permission to share something that’s imperfect or unfinished.
- Don’t assume that because an introvert doesn’t speak up that s/he has nothing to say. You may have to ask for feedback directly. Refrain from prefacing your request by saying “You’ve been quiet over there,” which puts them on the spot.
- Keep meetings on-topic and respect the meeting timeframe. Long meetings with free-form agendas leave most people exhausted, especially introverts.
Tips for Introverts Working with Extroverts:
- Use your listening skills to support them in problem solving. Extroverts think out loud by talking through things with others.
Speak up if you feel you’re not being heard. Extroverts expect you to speak up. Decide if you can wait until after the meeting, or practice interjecting at appropriate moments.
- Know that extroverts prefer face-to-face, verbal communication. Respect their preference while honoring your needs by scheduling short, focused meetings as needed to clarify key information.
- Set clear expectations and measures of success. Acknowledge the accomplishments of the extroverts on your team with specific feedback and recognition.
- Take advantage of the average extrovert’s open-door policy. Share what’s on your mind, early and often.
Of course, these tips apply not only to the work place, but to any mixed-personality situation and relationship. The key is to approach any type of interaction with self-awareness, curiosity, transparency and patience.
The Bottom Line
Communicate with others according to their preferences, not yours, while still creating ways to honor your needs. Introverts generally dislike the phone, but they can learn to deal with it because it’s sometimes the fastest way to accomplish something. Extroverts often don’t like to think too much before doing something, but they can choose to slow down because it helps avoid later problems.
It’s a matter of stretching yourself while being aware of what you prefer, what your colleagues prefer, and how you work best. The ultimate outcome is less frustration and easier communication.
What's worked for you? How do you navigate different personalities when it comes to communication?
I love the focus on compassion and understanding other people’s modes of operating – in my experience this is something that takes a lot of practice but can yield tremendous rewards for all parties.
I find that when working in a group, I am most effective when I have processed information throughly by myself before discussing it with others. That way when I do discuss things with others I already know what I am going to talk about and find it much easier to jump in and contribute.