March 9, 2016
There’s an old joke in the IT industry about software developers. It goes like this:
“How can you identify an extroverted engineer?”
“She looks at your shoes instead of hers.”
It’s usually pretty easy to recognize the extroverts in the room. They are the people who start conversations. They are usually the ones who talk the most, are quick to offer opinions and ideas, and are comfortable interacting with all kinds of people. By definition, extroverts are outgoing and gregarious, which makes them a lot of fun at parties, but what about at work? Managing extroverts involves understanding how their particular tendencies help or hinder them in doing their jobs, and how those same tendencies impact group interactions and team culture.
I said this in my post on managing introverts, and I want to say it again here. The introvert/extrovert discussion is not binary; most people are not simply one or the other. There is a broad spectrum of personalities and approaches to communication, and, as a manager, your job is to recognize where each person on your team falls on that spectrum. But, with that said, some people are more comfortable speaking up and engaging others; some are not. Some people are verbal processors, meaning they think through things by talking, while others need time and space alone to evaluate an idea. What we’re talking about here are tendencies, and there is no right or wrong answer in terms of who you should hire or who performs better. But, there are different ways to engage with people who tend to be more outspoken and tend to think by talking.
Extroverts are usually the first people to voice an opinion or express an idea in a gathering. While this can be a great way to get the ball rolling in a brainstorming session, Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, pointed out that the first is not always the best idea. Our brains have certain biases that guide our initial responses to questions, but, by thinking beyond those biases and truly considering the whole picture, we come up with better solutions.
Here are a few things you need to think about when engaging extroverts:
Slow Down – Extroverts often get excited about the first idea they hear or come up with. While that one may be great, a better concept might emerge after a more detailed analysis, or the initial idea might be improved with some more careful thought.
Listen Up – It’s a lot of fun for extroverts to talk about their ideas, but sometimes they inadvertently talk over the introverts. Remind the extroverts on your team to ask for feedback and really listen to responses.
Buddy Up – Introverts and extroverts can help each other out. If an extrovert comes up with what she thinks is a great new concept, talking it over with an introvert might help fill in some of the details and make that idea even better.
Research tells us that diversity of perspectives makes teams more creative and more successful at problem solving. But, only when those diverse teams value each others’ differences and find ways to work together. As a manager, you’re in a position to bring the team together by creating an opportunity for the introverts and the extroverts to do their best work.