23 Apr Managing a preference for extraversion in introverted times
You can’t think experience…
When someone asks me what I do for a living, I broadly say, “I get paid to have great conversations to help people learn about people”. As a leadership consultant to global businesses over the last quarter century, I have met a lot of people, had a lot of great conversations and travelled many miles. Despite the fact that I enjoy travel, those who know me well know that long-haul flights often prove to be the most draining for me. I think people assume it’s because the journey is long, delays are frequent and jet lag is horrible. In fact, with my very clear preference towards extraversion, what actually drains me is 7+ hours in close company with people, without actually having a conversation!
Sometimes I have been lucky and found a travel buddy en route – someone equally sociable and talkative as I am, and we have exchanged life stories, made connections and usually laughed a lot. On these occasions I have arrived feeling refreshed and energised, 7 hours seeming to have passed in a blink.
So, what happens when 7 hours without conversation is exchanged for 7 weeks (so far) in the isolated world of Covid 19 lockdown? Here are the reflections of an extraverted type in these recently introverted times…
Pay attention to the link between preference and energy levels
In Carl Jung’s work on personality type, our preference towards introversion or extraversion is directly linked to how we like to feel energised. Some of us have a clear preference for one of these, some of us have a little of both. Those with a clear preference towards introversion think in order to speak, feel energised by getting sufficient time to themselves, think before taking action and are by nature quieter and more reflective. We describe them as battery powered – when energy levels are low, they take time out to recharge and re-energise.
Those with a clear preference towards extraversion speak in order to think, feel energised by having lots of interaction with others, act first and reflect afterwards and are by nature more talkative, interactive and expressive. We describe them as solar powered – when energy levels are low, they engage with the busy-ness of the people and world around them to boost their levels.
Knowing our personality preferences is therefore important in this time of forced isolation. Having a very clear preference for extraversion, I initially found the process of being disconnected akin to someone cutting off my energy supply. I tried to adjust – the first week was seemingly a never-ending rollercoaster of starting lots of things, finishing nothing, spending far too much time absorbing every headline and participating in too many WhatsApp groups, talking to anyone and everyone about how they were, missing company and generally not achieving very much at all. Time moved slowly. My thinking was jumbled. By the end of it my head was full of thoughts and I felt exhausted but by equal measure, couldn’t sleep.
Some would rightly say that this was simply a reaction to the shock of the circumstances, and that’s absolutely valid. However, knowing that long periods of being isolated are a de-energiser for me is an important consideration in managing my energy and more specifically, recognising how the opportunity to converse makes a huge difference to me. I came to realise that for those of us who prefer engaging with our external world, text-based social interaction is as poor a replacement for actual conversation as email is. Chain messenger exchanges left me feeling tired and irritated. Even phone calls didn’t suffice – I needed to feel more connected. Video calls and meetings however, had a face or ten, were visual, fun, quick and human – my energy levels soared as I felt a real and genuine connection with people’s expressions. If you manage people with a preference for extraversion, make sure they get to connect with faces, not just voices, not just words.
Learn how you learn
Many of us are having to adapt quickly in this new environment and adopt new ways of doing things very quickly. In week 1, I attended countless webinars to enable us to reinvent our approach to technology quickly, desperately trying to absorb knowledge. By the end of week 2, I was desperately trying to stay awake! The low interaction that the webinar format presents is great for conveying information, but it is one-way learning, and for extraverts that doesn’t stick – we speak to think! I found myself literally slumping onto the desk – for me, no interaction equals no learning.
The extravert learning cycle is do-think-do. It’s unlikely and unnatural for us to reflect or stay silent for long periods before taking action – we can’t ‘think’ experience, and experience is where we learn. We have to feel it, do it, talk it, then reflect afterwards. Facilitators of virtual meetings and virtual learning, take note. Make your sessions interactive to get the best out of extraverts – we have to articulate our thoughts (yes, even the partially formed thoughts), to enable our thinking! If we can’t be in the physical room, help us feel that we are – ask our names, let us talk, use our names, give us polls and break out rooms to talk to other participants. In short, involve us (I guess Benjamin Franklin had a preference for extraversion?!).
Want to motivate and engage others? Include them, every day.
In his development of FIRO theory in the 1950s, Will Schutz identified that our behaviour around inclusion (how much we choose to be ‘in’ or ‘out’ within groups) is linked to our feelings of significance, and connects in the self-concept to our sense of being valued. Right now, many of us have been forced to be ‘out’ and that doesn’t sit well with socially energised extraverts.
It is very natural in these times where some organisations are fighting to stay afloat, to pay little attention to getting inclusion right, as many teams struggle to simply maintain productivity. Leaders have enough to be concerned about without checking in on team members every day, right?
So, let me share one more thing that Schutz identified. When we don’t get inclusion right, people feel ‘out’. They feel insignificant, believe they aren’t valued, and say “why bother?”. When inclusion needs are not being met effectively, it quickly impacts negatively on our feelings of significance and may trigger us to disengage and therefore underperform. When we are not included or don’t get the chance to include ourselves, we can start to believe that we are not valued or of value to the people we often spend the most time with – our work colleagues. When we get inclusion right, it enables people to see their worth and move to the next stage of the relationship dynamic, control – much more effectively. Control is all about “what are we here to do and who’s doing it?” – it’s where productivity starts to happen. If people aren’t ‘in’, they can’t be productive.
Before the Covid 19 crisis, whenever organisations said to us that they needed to improve employee engagement or motivation, my first question was always, “how well are you including people?”. Since the crisis began, that question hasn’t changed. Right now, I encourage every organisation to ask it every day. Check in with your people – a lot. Like good travel buddies, good leaders engage with others by talking and help them unpack their thoughts and energies, and that keeps us all moving forward together, even when we have to be apart.