We are all born with preferences for introversion and extraversion. Some of us sit in the middle of the continuum (ambiverts), but people typically fall into one of these two categories. And you might be surprised by how the two different groups perceive one another. Here are some weirdly revealing answers I’ve heard in response to questions I ask about what people say they dislike about introverts and extroverts:
“Extroverts make our lives easier, they can handle both sides of the conversation. (group laughs)”
“Introverts say nothing, expecting us to read their minds.”
“Extroverts suck the energy out of EVERYONE.”
“It seems like serial killers are usually introverts.” (Really!)
Put a like-minded group in charge of these questions and the mob quickly gets to work tearing down the other side. Then, I gently remind people that they are often partnered with or have children of the opposite polarity … or maybe a favorite coworker who resides in the other camp.
But in the simplest of terms, introversion and extroversion are about how people get and maintain their energy.
Introverts prefer an internal world and can be harder to get to know. They don’t initiate interactions naturally (unless trained in business), they direct their energy and attention inward and are often drained by too much interaction. They recharge their batteries with solitary activities, seek solitary reflection and tend to have a depth of interests. And, contrary to popular belief, introversion doesn’t necessarily mean shyness. But here is the biggie: Introverts tend to think and reflect for some time before they speak, or act.
Extroverts, on the other hand, naturally initiate interactions and are pretty easy to get to know. They direct their energy and attention outward and are energized by being with other people. In fact, extroverts can become drained by too much solitude. They actively engage with their surroundings, have a breadth of interests and seek out interaction even when alone. And while, contrary to popular belief, extroversion doesn’t necessarily mean outgoing, talkative or friendly; the big difference from introverts is that extroverts tend to think out loud, speaking and acting before reflecting.
The main thing I hear again and again when we critique others is a subtext of, “Be Like Me. Why can’t they be like me? That would solve everything!” Think how often you hear or make a “be like me” comment. When I ask people about their likes and dislikes of either polarity, the amazing takeaway is that what one polarity says they dislike about themselves, the other polarity actually appreciates. This happens every time. People like these distinct differences between groups, and yet how quickly they will jump to criticizing when given the opportunity.
We are all born with these preferences. It’s not like we wake up and think, “How can I annoy people who are different than me today?” My husband is a pretty classic introvert, and I am a pretty classic extrovert. When we go to a party, my energy goes up in a swirling spiral of chatter and playfulness while his short-lived blast of energy peters out within a couple of hours. He signals this to me with a quiet pat on my back, letting me know that his window on all that interaction is closing. He usually stays longer than he wants, and I usually go home sooner than I’d like — we meet in the middle. When we get home, I am wide awake and need to come down by doing something that settles my energy, like reading or watching TV. He falls asleep midair on his way from a sitting position to the pillow.
One of my introverted clients told me about his fear of giving presentations — a common fear for most people regardless of their polarity. I asked him what he was most afraid of, and he said, “I know the extroverts are going to ask me questions. I’d rather just present and be done.” Surprised by his revelation, I followed up with, “I’m afraid of a room heavy on introverts who say little and have fairly expressionless faces. It’s hard for me to read what they are thinking or how engaged they are. Now how funny is that?” We both laughed at our fears of the harmless “other.” But the truth is that introverts are paying close attention and extroverts are thinking out loud just as they are wired to do. Nothing to worry about here.
What are some simple things you can do in your team meetings or within your work environment to help people work together with less frustration? You can read in depth about this conundrum in “Understanding Yourself and Others, An Introduction to the Personality Type Code” by Linda Berens and Dario Nardi, but here are some ideas to get you started.
First, if you are an extroverted talker in meetings with loads of ideas spilling from your brain, how great for you! But know that your introverted colleague isn’t going to interrupt you and may be frustrated that she isn’t processing as fast or getting a chance to speak. It would serve you and your team well to ask yourself if your comment or idea is adding value to the conversation. It might be more valuable to wait for and even invite others to put forth their ideas. Challenge yourself to let others speak while you say less. If you are a quiet, processing introvert, challenge yourself to speak up and offer your ideas before the opportunity is lost and you feel frustrated and unheard. Waiting for people to invite you to speak is also a way of controlling a conversation — just really quietly. Talkers can be frustrated by your lack of interaction. So both sides need to be proactive in meeting each other somewhere in the middle.
Here’s another example: Introverts are usually more inclined to get a project done ahead of time, not enjoying the pressure of a looming deadline while extroverts are often just the opposite — the pressure of the deadline focuses their attention. At work, how often do you hear about so-and-so who is such a procrastinator? Consider that procrastinator might be hard-wired to do her best work with a looming deadline on the horizon. When projects are assigned, think about the natural rhythm of different employees workflow and drop the judgment of when they get it done. It’s the end product that matters, so have faith that both sides will come through when allowed to do it their way. (If the product is bad, that’s a different conversation.)
And finally, leader of the team, ask your team how your meetings could be better. Meetings for the most part are excruciatingly bad (that’s another article). There is no doubt that your team has lots of ideas for how to make meetings better. Ask about the needs of the introverts and extroverts and then put suggestions into action.
The key thing to remember is that whatever drives someone else is as normal to them as whatever drives you. Introverts and extroverts are each hard-wired a certain way. Forget “be like me.” Instead, try to see the “we” in what you do. Open up the dialog to move the team along.