Opposites Attract...But Do They Stick?

In her latest book, The Genius Of Opposites, author and keynote speaker Jennifer Kahnweiler continues to explore the world of introverts and extroverts, as we all learn more about the power that comes through being different.

Not having read the book yet, I have no comments directly on Kahnweiler's ideas, other than to heartily endorse the general idea that introversion is not a handicap, but an asset, as well as the notion that we all might work together more productively if we understand both our individual inclinations in this regard and how to effectively work with those who have different preferences.

I have a special interest in this workplace discussion. My career includes frequent and highly visible public interaction combined with periods of quiet reflection and solitude.

My personality and behavioral assessment scores may reflect either an "I" (for introversion) or "E" ( for extroversion) orientation at any given time, depending on how I am feeling or what I am focusing on in that moment. Since I usually appear very comfortable as I present, facilitate, speak, and teach groups of various sizes, people often think that I am an extrovert, and are surprised when I indicate that I more often live in the introversion camp. This is partly because many people confuse introversion with shyness, which is not at all the same thing.

I Ain't Shy

Shyness might be defined as a profound reluctance to be in the spotlight stemming from deep-seated feelings of insecurity or instability. Shyness has more to do with lack of confidence than lack of ability, although obviously, in some contexts, confidence affects ability directly.

A truly shy person may not feel worthy of attention and harbors some doubts regarding their ability to interact successfully with others. They do not feel able to navigate our highly social world.

This creates various hurdles for the truly shy person, including reluctance: to market what they do have to offer, to achieve success in many career fields, and to take full advantage of the positive aspects of our highly “social” and online world.

I Do Need Alone Time

Introverts are fully capable of interacting, do so well when needed, and labor under no serious fear of being around others. Some introverts may not feel comfortable being “up front and verbal," but so do some extroverts. Other introverts, like me, are comfortable being in the public eye, but simply need to recharge our batteries every once in a while. We do so by withdrawing from the noise of the public arena and enjoy being alone with our thoughts.

Introverts are usually confident in their own abilities, maybe more so because they develop their thinking, values, and perceptions by themselves, rather than relying on others.

Introverts simply choose regularly to spend time with themselves … quality time, as we call it. When introverts do this regularly, they function better in most aspects of their life, whatever they are called to do.

Bottom Line

As leaders, we need to consider this aspect of workplace collaboration intentionally and with a view to making sure that everyone on our teams has knowledge of their own preferences, others' perceptions, and how to make all this work for us, rather than against us.

As indicated by the general behavioral preferences identified through DiSC assessments or the psychological leanings shown by MBTI scores, introversion and extroversion are simply points on a continuum, rather than distinct groupings.

Life has a way of requiring certain types of behavior from us. We may be more or less comfortable engaging in a specific type of behavior, but we are still capable of doing a wide range of things acceptably and even unusually well. The quality of our work is not dependent on our personal preferences or make-up, but on the level and quality of our motivation to excel in a role.

  • This is why people who become parents often find themselves doing things they could not previously conceive of themselves doing...
  • This is why some leaders "rise to the challenge" of unexpected difficulties...
  • This is why our best bet is to become continual learners and change agents, to more effectively deal with and thrive through that continual change which comes with life...

Experience, context, and role expectations all impact where our little dot is on that behavioral continuum at any given time.  Understanding this, rather than adopting the attitude that someone at a different point than you are is somehow defective, incapable, or just weird, is the most productive approach.

Some questions to consider here:

  • How do I know whether I am more introverted or extroverted?
  • How do I determine the relative strength of my introversion and my extroversion?
  • How do I use this knowledge to work more effectively with others, especially those way left or way right of me on the continuum?
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