Some years ago, I was invited into an organisation to support Neil who was transitioning into his first senior management role. One of his goals for the coaching assignment was to “improve working relationships with one of his direct reports!”
I asked him to say a little more.
“He drives me crazy. He hides in his office and rarely speaks up or makes a contribution at meetings. When he does it’s generally on an agenda item that we covered 10 minutes previously. He takes forever to make a decision, I just don’t think he is a team player. He slows everything down and it is very frustrating.”
As the coaching progressed, it became apparent that his direct report was actually very talented and good at his role. When he did make decisions, Neil had to admit they were always good and he often (although Neil hated to admit it) considered details that Neil had overlooked in his haste to move quickly.
Sound familiar? So, in this case, what was really going on?
One of the most common challenges brought to coaching is the wish to improve a difficult relationship. Is it difficult or just different?
We all have different temperaments and in our working relationships, the difference is often highlighted. Some of us are more extroverted. Extroverts get their energy from the external world. They like to get out from behind their desks (when we use to have them) and be social. They like to be in the spotlight and have lots of contacts to network with. Too much time alone starts to drain an extrovert’s energy and negatively impact mood, motivation and confidence
Introverts get their energy from their internal world. They like time to think and reflect before speaking and then taking action. They like to delve deeply into topics and detail. Even though they may seem quiet and aloof to an extrovert they have it all going on inside! They need time after interaction with others to recharge their energy levels. If introverts don’t get the time and space to recharge it can feel them leaving drained and have a negative impact on their motivation and confidence.
Extroversion and introversion is not about putting a label on people. We are all somewhere on the scale. The important thing is to know where we are and also the preference of those we work closest with. When we understand and appreciate our differences, we can manage expectations that make for a happier workplace.
What happened to Neil and his direct report?
Neil initiated a conversation with his direct report to understand more about his experience of their meetings. This opened up a dialogue in which both parties agreed to make some small adjustments. Neil started issuing agendas a few days before to allow his direct report to prepare in advance for their meetings. Neil also started to ask a question and then stop to listen, rather than filling the silence with another question. All in all, it resulted in a much better working relationship for both of them.
So, what do extroverts need to know about introverts?
- Introverts like to think about one thing at a time
- Introverts like quiet for concentration
- Introverts prefer to be asked for their opinion – they won’t always simply supply it
- Introverts dislike interruptions
- Introverts do not like to draw attention to themselves
- Introverts need time to think and reflect before they make a decision
And what do introverts need to know about extroverts?
- Extroverts talk and think at the same time
- Extroverts develop ideas through discussion
- Extroverts see interruptions as a welcome diversion
- Extroverts respond quickly to requests and spring into action without much advance thinking
- Extroverts become impatient and bored when work is slow or repeating
- Extroverts feel isolated without management support