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extrovert – introvert

Silence is lyrical. Silence is energy. Silence is time: The space of time between the pulling back of the arrow in the bow and its release.

Or …

Teams are fun. Meetings and parties are energy. People are motion: The speeding motion between the arrow’s release and the explosive arrival at the target.

Not long ago in a hiring discussion, I overheard someone proclaim, “Of course the person we hire needs to be an extrovert.” I cringed. On the Myers-Briggs introvert – extrovert scale, I fall slightly toward the introvert side. Surprised? You’ll find me leading organization processes, delivering training, and speaking publicly.

The confusion arises from a misunderstanding of the scale. In the original Myers-Briggs’ definition, the introvert and extrovert get their energy from different places. Extroverts are energized by the outer world of people and action. Introverts gain energy from an inner world of ideas and concepts. The scale has nothing to do with whether people get along with others, are confident public speakers, or provide good leadership.

The fact that different types of experiences energize people is not a sound hiring metric. Opportunities and challenges exist across the extrovert – introvert scale. For example, research with groups at the University of California, Santa Cruz demonstrated that while extroverts talked more in the groups, they had a wide-range of topics and were “light-hearted.” The introverts talked less and focused on one or two  serious topics. The extroverts appreciated feeling understood by having someone actively listening. The introverts appreciated the relaxed ease of the conversation (Quiet, p. 238-239).

Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking describes the value of extroverts and introverts in organizations.  She offers ideas about using the strengths of both sides of the scale to build organizational effectiveness. Wherever you fall on the introvert – extrovert scale, one key is tuning into the energy of those around you. Adjust your communication patterns to meet them in their comfort zone and invite them into the conversation.

How does your organization work to embrace the strengths of extroverts and introverts? What does your preference on the scale mean in your life?

Susan Cain’s blog: The Power of Introverts
Susan Cain’s book: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking
Related link forwarded to me by a friend: The Introverted Leader

Note: I followed Cain’s choice to use the word extrovert from the common usage, rather than the word extravert which is found in the research literature (Quiet, p. 271).

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. tommy316 #

    Oh cringe, indeed.

    This is a very timely entry for me, and I appreciate you writing it. I have on a couple of occasions received feedback that my “quietness” is a constraint that I need to work on . I have yet to hear this advice from a fellow introvert.

    Still, I’ve taken much of compensation principles from Thom Rainer to heart as I must be able to function as a leader in an environment surrounded by many extroverts, and I do believe that introverts can function successfully, even when surrounded by extroverts who we might believe (incorrectly) have a sole purpose in life to wear the rest of us down.

    It is all about fuel. Just as we shouldn’t take a long trip before a stop at the filling station, I take steps to make sure that I have the fuel I need before entering a situation where I will be speaking, engaging, and interacting. Yes, we introverts can speak, engage, and interact socially just as you correct the misconception above. As a leader, I have these situations often. Honestly, I don’t always succeed. I spend many meetings reflecting and note taking, and find that my best work in the meeting comes nine hours later after reflecting in the garden to be followed up with a dialogue. I’m a proud introvert.

    To me it also has much to do with the time of day. My fellow MSOD students might have noticed that I’m often quiet, and at other times not so much. Class is at night, and it just depends on how depleted my tank is. It has more than once caused me some anxiety when I consider the “class participation” portion of a course grade knowing I just hadn’t had much in me for a few weeks.

    Ultimately, I would love for more people to understand introversion and extroversion and the strengths of each attitude. I often find myself seizing those opportunities to discuss them when I hear comments like “ugh, why is he always talking to people and buzzing around so much?” or “she’s really quiet in our meetings, does she just not like being here? Maybe she shouldn’t be on the team.” Statements like those suggest there is work to be done in organizations to help folks understand and apply knowledge of these two preferences of the MBTI.

    May 15, 2012
    • Friesen Group #

      Thank you for adding to the conversation. I resonate with your analogy using fuel and the filling station. I’d be interested to hear from an extrovert as to how they re-fuel, perhaps before or after a solitary task.

      May 15, 2012

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