How can introverts and extroverts bring out the best in each other?

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The differences between them can cause real problems on a project. Here’s a guide to spotting issues early and what to do.

There are a number of common myths about introverts and extroverts, such as:

  • Introverts can’t speak in front of an audience
  • Extroverts are better at building relationships
  • Introverts come up with the better ideas, eventually
  • Extroverts are better leaders

The truth is, it’s probably a little unfair to label people and make assumptions about their qualities through what we know of them at work.

I’m sure we’ve all worked with people who for some reason just don’t do things the way we do.  Most of the time, this isn’t a problem, we just get on with it.  Everyone is different after all.

Many of us are a mixture of the two types, but what happens when you’re in a small project team where the characters are really at the polar opposite of the introvert / extrovert spectrum?  In some cases, this can cause a little tension and hinder the success of your project.  Consider these scenarios:

Feedback

  • The introvert  may – Sit on it for a while; either hoping it goes away, or waiting for the right time to give it.
  • The extrovert may – Provide it immediately and often expect an immediate response

Brainstorming

  • The introvert may –  Be uninvolved in discussion; need to to reflect
  • The extrovert may – Jump in with lots of ideas, and will expect the same from others; be vocal

Communicating

  • The introvert may – Be happy with sending emails and meeting occasionally
  • The extrovert – Will be bored with too many written details and will want to do everything face to face

Planning

  • The introvert may – Spend time alone building the most viable plan
  • The extrovert may – Occasionally get bored and just want to get on with it

I believe we should embrace the fact that we approach challenges in different ways and behave differently.  We can learn so much from each other just by reflecting on how our colleagues operate.  Introverts often excel in areas where extroverts struggle, and vice versa.

So what about the scenarios above?  Here’s how potential tricky situations can be resolved:

Feedback

Establish a way of working, or project team charter up front which encourages everyone to play by the rules.  Always ensure there’s logic and reasoning behind any feedback and that it isn’t simply based on emotion.  Give time for a response – the introvert will often want to reflect on it before responding.

Brainstorming

Give time to prepare beforehand; set the parameters.  Structure the meeting giving everyone opportunities to participate.  Maybe include a break for further reflection allowing the introvert time to consider.

Communicating

Schedule regular calls for the project team to avoid any preference towards ‘hiding behind emails’.  Extroverts should ensure that emails are read, not just skimmed to avoid missing any crucial detail, and then responded to.  Keep control of team meetings ensuring they are not dominated by the extroverts.  Ensure that introverts are given opportunities to contribute.

Planning

Ensure everyone is involved at the outset; discuss the plan collaboratively.  Than give the introvert time to develop the plan, set the deadlines.  Always replay it back to everyone for a collaborative consensus. Ensure that clear roles are defined based on personal preferences.

It is important to recognise our different natural preferences and to use them to our advantage.  It sounds straightforward, but by simply dividing the workload based on your team’s preferences will not only make your project team far more productive, but make for happy project team members too.   It’s simply a case of adapting to an environment that others live in as well.

I would love to hear of any examples you may have…