Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Strong, Silent Type

A few weeks ago, I offered suggestions for how to handle extraverts in the work place: Dealing With "Chatty Cathies." I promised to give some insight into the introverts. That's today's topic.

Many of you know this joke, but I'll repeat it here because it is so fitting.

"How do you tell the extraverted engineer from the introverted engineer?"
"The extraverted engineer is looking at your shoes." (The introverted is looking at his own.)

Joke-telling is definitely not my forte, but I have a lot of experience with introverts. There are extraverted engineers out there, but they are the minority. The bulk of engineers I've met are introverts, and some are what I call raging introverts.


* keep their energy and ideas inside, thus making it hard to get to know them
* may avoid (or run from) interaction with others
* hesitate before speaking
* thrive on alone time
* go deep on one or two areas of interest
* proceed cautiously in making decisions
* need to be asked for their opinion and input
* don't give much away through facial expressions


"The introvert is pressured daily, almost from the moment of awakening, to respond and conform to the outer world," according to Otto Kroeger and Janet Thuesen in their book "Type Talk." If you are working with introverts, here is how you help them be more comfortable in a typical business situation.

* Give them questions and agendas ahead of meetings so they can think about the issues ahead of time. Do NOT ask an introvert a question and expect an immediate answer.

* Help them learn to interrupt others. This sounds very strange to extraverts, who interrupt all the time so that they can get their thoughts out. One introverted client, who is very smart, has been thought of as "not real bright" by an executive in her firm. He wants her to interrupt him, and she simply isn't going to do that. I suggested she let him know that about her. She will wait until he is finished, then she will talk.

* Give them lots of prep time before any presentation. One introvert told me he was OK doing presentations, as long as he felt that he was fully prepared and knew what he was going to do. His version of fully prepared was much more extensive than an extravert's version of fully prepared.

* Since introverts have to interact with others, suggest an introvert select a couple of topics that they are comfortable talking about in social settings or networking events. Again, give them time to prepare and to get comfortable with sharing. For men, this topic often involves sports.

* Allow introverts their alone time. If they don't get this, they will stress out. If you are an introverted manager, close your office door. Let people know when you will take questions and when you want to be left alone.

For lots more great insight and information on introverts, read "The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extravert World" by Marti Olsen Laney.


I'm hearing from lots of you that you find these weekly missives helpful and thought-provoking. That is certainly my intent.

You can help us by spreading the word. If you found info in today's piece that was helpful to you, please forward the original email to ONE friend or colleague.

Just ONE. Help spread the word.


Unknown said...

I'm one of those introverts who has overcome many of the fears and doubts Pam talks about. Today, most people who know the difference peg me as an extrovert - the guy doing all the talking at a networking lunch table, willing to speak on the spot about just anything (if I know something about it), comfortable in proposal presentations taking random questions, etc.

How? First know and accept that some measure of business success comes from these learned capabilities (yes, you can learn to "channel" your inner extrovert). Then make yourself do it, until you do by habit, by second nature. And then, make sure you have a place to recover - alone time. One friend and coach told me that it's not how you appear in public, it's what you do to recharge your batteries that is a defining criteria for introversion.

Good luck. Talk it up with next person you meet.

Anonymous said...

I was for many years seen as extremely extraverted by my extraverted school friends and early work colleagues. I would talk about anything and everything, to anybody in any size of group..the bigger the better. Over more than fifteen years in a highly technical environment that seems to attract, even demand, introverted personalities (how I got there I'll never know), I have clearly become introverted more than many of my introverted colleagues and peers. I now intensely dislike the limelight and avoid extraverted personalities like the plague, preferring introverted conversation and one to one social interaction. It's reassuring to read Mark's posting as while I don't mind at all, I recognise the need to relearn how to be extraverted, even if it means recharging those batteries afterwards. A fascinating journey of discovery, and there was I believing I was learning about science and engineering all of these years... ;o)

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