Published: May 2, 2008
Jennifer Selby Long, Selby Group
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Extraverts and Introverts: You CAN Work Together Without Going Nuts

It’s an age-old annoyance – that co-worker whose style is irritating. You know it shouldn’t bug you, but it does.

WelcomeThere are plenty of sources of irritation. This week, let’s look at one of the most frequent, a fundamental difference between people – where they get their energy.

We all essentially fall into one of two camps, and I bet you can identify which one you are in without the help of a therapist or a sophisticated assessment: extraverts get most of their energy from the outer world of people, while introverts get it from the inner world.

Stay AwayI once heard a fantastic analogy for this very fundamental difference. It’s so good, I’m passing it on to you. Imagine that you have 20 coins in your pocket at the beginning of the day. Each coin equals one unit of energy. For the extravert, every interaction with another person adds one more coin in the pocket. That’s great for me. I’m an extravert.

But for the introvert, well, he or she has to give up a coin for each interaction. An interaction between an introvert and an extravert is like an ATM machine of energy. It goes out of the introvert and in to the extravert, never to return.

How does this play out at work? This difference can lead to huge leaping conclusions about a co-worker’s intentions. I recently saw this dynamic with one of my client groups.

The extraverts called meetings, but rarely sent an objective or agenda or preparatory materials in advance. The introverts showed up (if they absolutely had to) already feeling shanghaied because they had no opportunity to think about the topic in private. 

Repeated requests for materials in advance fell on deaf ears, because the extraverts rarely sat by themselves and read materials in advance of a meeting, so they saw no real value in it.

In the meetings, the extraverts wanted to make decisions and commitments, because they unconsciously trusted what was decided in a group environment more than a private one.

Now the introverts were really feeling fed up. From their perspective, the decision was rushed, and it would be unethical to make an important commitment without taking some private time to reflect on it and critique it.  So the day after the meeting, they would start meeting one-on-one with key decision-makers to delay or change the decision that the extraverts had thought was final in the meeting.

End result: the extraverts thought the introverts were political slime and the introverts thought the extraverts were the same.

Here’s how to bridge the divide in meetings:

  1. Whether you’re an extravert or an introvert, send an agenda and materials for preparation in advance. Not an hour in advance – at least a day!

  2. All other things being equal, if you want a sounding board for your ideas before a meeting, ask an extravert, who’s more likely to accommodate your request.

  3. Allow for some interruptions rather than having a firm “no interruptions allowed” rule because extraverts tend to interrupt when they are interested in what someone is saying, and the more excited the extravert gets, the more likely he or she is to interrupt.

  4. Likewise, don’t hesitate to politely but firmly cut off someone who’s talking too long or combining too many points at once.

  5. Don’t go around the room trying to get everyone to participate equally. Introverts will speak up if they feel no one is saying what needs to be said.

  6. In the first meeting on a brand new topic, don’t push for a decision. Ask if people are ready to make a decision or prefer a little time to reflect. If they want the time, give them the time. If you try to deny this, your decision will be undone by introverts doing their ethical duty days after the meeting.

  7. Maintain a little flexibility around process. We think our trusted way of doing things is the best, but really it’s just one of several approaches that will get us to the destination on time.

Always remember this:  Introverts think to talk. Extraverts talk to think. Plan accordingly and you may even find you like each other.



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