We work in an extroverted world

I’m a big fan of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. I trained in it several years ago and have been mentally ruling the world with it ever since. It’s a powerful psychometric tool that offers a very understandable way to interpret the way in which we see the world around us, how we understand it, how we describe it and how we work within it. It’s one of the most popular psychometrics used and has been translated to over 50 languages.

I’ve written previously about how the MBTI can be understood by everyone, and it really can. Although it is a psychometric, and official training is mandatory, it doesn’t mean it can’t be discussed outside of the ‘club’. Indeed, I’ve often found colleagues who aren’t trained in it understand it so well, that their insights into where they identify preferences can be astounding.

I want to talk about the work context specifically, and what the Extroversion/Introversion preference can offer us in this context. The title of this post sums it all up really, but it’s worth exploring why and in what way. First, though, let’s clarify how the terms are defined in MBTI language. The key points to remember are:
– It’s about being one or the other
– It’s NOT about strength of one over the other
– It’s about where our energy comes from
– We can learn to do both, but will always have a preference of one over the other
– We will do both daily, that doesn’t mean you are both
– We will differ in the nuances of what behaviours we exhibit dependent on our preference

The world of work is a buzzing hive of activity. It has to be in order to survive. If you’re a sales driven organisation, everything in your being is about connecting with and interacting with others in order to convince someone you have something they need. You have to communicate and you have to display gregarious type behaviours. If you’re a customer service driven organisation, you are all about listening to and offering a service to those seeking you out. You have to listen, provide information, suggest options, and be engaging enough that they walk away feeling they’ve got the answer they needed. If you’re an administrative organisation, everything you do is about process and policy. That involves iterations of documentation, meetings galore, and checking requirements against what’s produced regularly. There are few organisations where displaying extroverted behaviours isn’t a core part of how you operate (libraries I guess?).

That’s all obvious though right? Right. So what does that mean? It means we’re effectively blocking out up to half of our working population and subjecting them to working practices which just aren’t suited to the way they like to work. Sound obvious? Well it might sound obvious, but how many of you know what to actually do about it?

How do you deal with these behaviours:
– The person who is quiet, softly spoken and doesn’t really say a lot. They’re pleasant enough, and actually very personable, but they’re just quiet.
– The person who in a meeting will say nothing throughout the meeting, even though you know they have an opinion they can share, but they’re not.
– The person who won’t initiate conversations, or social gatherings
– The person who doesn’t attend team/company do’s. Not because they have other commitments, they just don’t.

I could go on. This is a basic list of introverted-esque behaviours. If you’re reading that list and thinking – I could manage that by, or I could include them by, or they are missing out on so much because, you’ve really missed the point of their preference.

The preference of an Introvert drives them to not have a need to do all those things and more. For them it’s perfectly fine to just be by alone, to not attend team/company events, to have time off when you go home. They’re not conflicted by it, and they’re certainly not feeling like they’re missing out. These assumptions are all driven be those of us who are extroverted.

How do we help then? How do we make them (introverts) like us (extroverts)? You don’t, and you can’t, and stop thinking as if it will happen. This is the core of what the MBTI offers us in understanding the extroversion/introversion preference. We demand (informally) everyone to act in line with extroversion. We forget that not everyone wants to act that way and it’s perfectly acceptable for them to not. If we can be conscious of this, then we can foster a better team environment, and better working practices. As my old boss used to say, he learned to be a professional extrovert, but he didn’t stop being an introvert.