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    Feb 01, 2017    |   Aidan Millar

Extraversion and Introversion: Mind the Hourglass!

One of my favourite moments in a workshop is quite often the discussion around E – I. Whether it be through a splitting exercise or a “draw your room” activity, inevitably the conversation delivers its fair share of “aha” moments, especially as Es and Is start to realize – and parse apart – the reality of these differences rather than their previously held assumptions of each other. The truth is, we see the world through our own lens, and therefore we interpret the behaviour of others in comparison with our own version of what’s ‘typical’ or ‘familiar’. As an extravert, I demonstrate interest in any given conversation by responding aloud, nodding my head, and ‘mmmhmmm’-ing my way through a dialogue. Therefore, if someone fails to do these things when I communicate with them, my assumption – although an inaccurate one based on my own preferences – is that they are disinterested, bored or don’t understand what I’m saying. Only after acquainting myself with type did I realize that quite often, these poor individuals I was so quick to judge and dismiss weren’t ignoring me – they were simply introverting me.

In my workshops I like to compare a commonly experienced E bias towards I’s as akin to using classic dial-up internet (bear with me here). Before hi-speed and fancy wifi, we would go to askjeeves.com for example, (before google was what we know it to be now), type in our question in the search bar and press enter. Now, the temptation would be that if my Internet Explorer did not give me the results in the manner or timeliness that I saw fit, I would re-type the question, and press enter again. Alternatively, in my ultimate wisdom I would exit, and restart altogether. Whatever the reaction, these were simply attempts (usually in vain) to get that search engine to give me what I thought I wanted. This is often the challenge for an extravert. If we ask our introverted counterparts something, or we communicate a message, we expect them to do what we do: talk back, nod, demonstrate enthusiasm, answer our question, etc. When we do not see these things right away, because of our misperceptions of that response or lack thereof, we may assume a lack of understanding, interest, or attention.

So what do we do? Well, we keep pressing enter. AKA, re-phrase, keep talking, ask MORE questions (do you get it? Am I clear? Does this make sense?). In the meantime, we don’t realize that what we are actually doing is robbing the Introvert of the very process they need to give us a meaningful response. We are taking away their opportunity to introspect and refine. There’s an hourglass there, even if we don’t see it.

These projections and misassumption around what I call ‘signs of engagement’ – while seemingly marginal in importance – can actually have major implications for teams and individuals at work. If we allow our biases to impact how we interpret the behaviours of others, we run the risk of underestimating, undermining or even sabotaging the efforts of our colleagues. The good news is that there is hope, and we can – with a little bit of understanding and self awareness – begin to innocculate ourselves against our own biases.

Keep these tips in mind:

1. Start by simply being aware of your projections. By acknowledging that your preferences heavily influence how you interpret the behaviour of others, you will keep your own assumptions at bay.

2. Remind yourself of the contributions that come from this alternative approach that may otherwise be overlooked. In this way, you will be granting your counterparts the benefit of the doubt. Moreover, there may be something in their style that will benefit and round-out your own. Try it out!

3. Finally, voice your intentions and needs more often. Be aware that the impression you give matters, and there can be misconception around our actions. By remembering to voice why we do what we do – or why we need what we need – we not only advocate for our approach in a positive way, but we may prevent the possibility of others negatively interpreting our behaviours. For my introverted preferences, this means finding a way to voice that proverbial internet hourglass. In other words, don’t sacrifice your need to internally process what is said, but rather, be comfortable letting the extravert know that you’ve taken in the info, and will need a bit of time to consider a response.

Filed under: Communication, Type Talk