3 major misunderstandings (& how to resolve them) when introverts and extroverts collide

Another day, another meeting. Another opportunity for co-workers to gather around the table -- and get on each others' nerves. It's especially likely when introverts and extroverts collide.

Why is HE always the first person to talk -- and talk? And SHE is so darn quiet, what's she really thinking?

It's common knowledge that introverts and extroverts differ in their approach to communication. Psychologists explain it this way:

  • Extroverts get energized by connecting with the world around them. They prefer to develop an idea by talking it through, adding to it as they do.
  • Introverts get energy from the inner life of the mind. They prefer to incubate an idea in their brain until it's well-formed -- then present it.

It's true that many managers are extroverts, and it can be easier for outgoing people to lead. Making personal connections, cheerleading, delivering speeches just comes more naturally. But it doesn't mean extroverts are guaranteed to be better bosses.

Plenty of  introverted managers are effective and respected by their troops -- especially for their listening skills. In fact, a recent study found that highly motivated and self-directing work teams can actually perform better when led by an introvert. They didn't need an extrovert to step in and get them revved up -- they needed an introvert who stepped back and let them charge on.

Be that as it may, we tend to think OUR communication style is the "norm" -- and it is easy to misjudge those who differ from us. We can mistakenly assume the worst, confusing personality preferences with character flaws or intellectual shortcomings. Here are three areas in which introverts and extroverts often misjudge each other.

Social skills:

Introverts may assume extroverts are rude and egotistical. Why else would a person say so much, so often in a meeting? Why not shut up and listen for a while?

Extroverts may assume introverts are shy and antisocial. Why else would someone not jump right in and kick around ideas? Why the silent treatment?

Thinking skills:

Introverts may assume extroverts are scatterbrained. Why do they say the same thing twice, then change their mind in mid-sentence the third time. Can't they keep focused?

Extroverts may assume introverts aren't too bright. Why do they just sit there listening while ideas are in play all around them? Sure, they offer thoughts later in the meetings, but are they slow learners?

Team play:

Introverts may assume that extroverts want to dominate and push others around.

Extroverts may assume introverts don't want to play at all.

Some of the best discussions in our seminars come when I ask introverts and extroverts to talk honestly about these misperceptions of each other. We clear the air by talking about the joys and challenges of both personality types.

It's pretty eye-opening for people to discover that extroverts aren't naturally self-absorbed and introverts aren't hard-wired to be hermits. The problem: we rarely have conversations like that at work, so we go on making assumptions and getting irritated.

To help managers get a better handle on how our personalities affect our communication styles -- and what we can do about it -- we've produced a training video on the topic. It's part of a trio of videos on leadership, communication and conflict resolution styles, available on Poynter's e-learning site, News University.

Here's a quick preview of what's in the video:

Here's hoping your next meeting goes better -- because you understand how to get the best out of everyone, no matter their communication style.

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    Jill Geisler

    Jill helps news managers learn how to lead her favorite people in the world - journalists. Good journalists, she points out, question authority and resist "spin." It takes exceptional leaders to build trust, along with the systems and culture that grow great journalism.


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