Let’s Hear it for the Introverts

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By Eileen Habelow, Ph.D.
I love my work with teams. One of my favorite things to work on with teams is helping team members understand each other better, as individuals, so that they can then work better together as an integrated group of teammates. I had the opportunity to do just that, over the past 6-weeks, facilitating a series of three virtual team sessions for a global team of technical experts. In these sessions, we focused on differences in styles at work and how to adapt your own style to be more effective.
One of the most common examples of differences in work styles is between people who identify as introverts and those who identify with extroverts. Neither introvert nor extrovert behavior is inherently good or bad. But, when you are in the opposite ‘camp’, difficulties can easily arise. And, often, it is because we are not acknowledging differences and judging the behavior of others when different from ours.

A stereotypical extrovert is quick to offer answers to questions, propose ideas as they are formed in the brain, and fill any ‘dead air’ in a meeting.  If we judge the extrovert by only her or his actions, we may think the extrovert is domineering, obnoxious, know-it-all, and disruptive.  (And, that may be true if it is taken too far.)

A stereotypical introvert, on the other hand, processes thoughts and ideas, tests the thoughts and ideas, all before saying a word.  By the time the very talkative extrovert gets done filling the air, the introvert may not have time to respond and are, therefore, quiet participants in the meeting.  If we judge the introvert by only her or his actions, we may think the introvert is not interested, not engaged, or not able to follow the conversation.  (And, this also may be true if the style is taken too far.)

Do you see the problem with these judgments based on action only? 

What if, instead, we were all aware of the different work styles on our team?  What if we consciously organized our meeting time, our brainstorms, and our debates so that all team members get the chance to actively participate?  What if we had a facilitator who made it easy to draw boundaries around the participation of very active, extroverted team members to allow space and time for introverted colleagues?

Many of the conflicts that arise in a team have roots in work style differences that are not explicitly called-out and addressed.  You can use a work personality assessment to jump-start the conversation – there are conflict style assessments (e.g., Thomas-Kilmann Indicator), communication style assessments (e.g., DiSC), and personality assessments (e.g., Myers-Briggs Type Indicator).  Any of these tools are good starting points, but a team can explore style differences by simply opening a dialog.

When you spend time getting to know each other and acknowledge style differences, you can avoid misconceptions and misinterpretations based on actions only.

For more on Introverts in the Workplace, consider these resources:

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