I wrote most of these words in 2017 and I’m revisiting them now, given the significant change in the workplace in that time.
You walk into a restaurant on your own and see that there are two choices for where to sit.
To your left there’s a bar with a few people sitting around talking, the barman looks chatty and you recognize one of the group as an acquaintance.
To your right there’s an alcove with a table and a couple of chairs.
Which do you choose?
If you thought that going left sounded great it’s likely that you are an extrovert. The opportunity to go and chat with a group of people sounds interesting, exciting even. You get your energy from interacting with other people.
If you thought that going right sounded wonderful, it’s likely that you are an introvert. The opportunity to spend some time on your own, and perhaps get that book out of your bag, sounds like just what you need. You can make your own energy.
Given the choice above, I would choose to sit on my own in the restaurant and I’d probably have a book with me. I’m a bit of an introvert but nowhere near the extremes. In fact, 70% of people are somewhere in the middle. I might choose to join the group at the bar depending on whom the person I recognized was.
You’ll notice that I haven’t correlated being an introvert with being shy, because they aren’t always the same thing.
Many of us spend our days in a work context that prefers the extrovert.
Meetings, for example, generally favor the extroverts. They are dominated by the loud and the interactive, even if the loud and the interactive don’t always deliver the most.
Open-plan offices favor the extroverts as well. Being thrust into a group of people with limited barriers to interaction is an extrovert’s view of heaven, but an introvert’s view of hell. One of the stated benefits for open-plan offices is the ability to interact fluidly, which is only helpful if you are an extrovert.
Our collaboration tools tend to favor the extrovert. The constant interruptions and interactions give them energy to feed off, but draining the introvert.
In a world of complex problems and complex solutions we need to interact and we need to collaborate, all of us, introverts and extroverts alike.
How do we build a world where the introvert brings their best value in collaboration with a team?
Here are some techniques and tools that I have observed. I also asked several colleagues – via a couple of social collaboration tools – how they collaborated as introverts which provided some really helpful insights.
Understand the Difference Between Synchronous and Asynchronous
If you have a few hours and want to start an interesting conversation, ask a group of people what their favorite collaboration tool is. People can be quite passionate about which collaboration tools work and which don’t. There are many reasons why people like one tool over another. Some of that has to do with their view on how collaboration happens and some of that is influenced by whether they are an introverted or an extroverted themselves. Extroverts, in general, aren’t fans of collaboration tools because they “just want to speak to someone.” When they do use a tool, though, they prefer ones that provide feedback immediately – synchronous tools. A phone is a synchronous collaboration tool, as is a web conferencing system. Zoom is a dream for extroverts.
Introverts are different, as they prefer to consider before they respond. Therefore, they are likely to prefer collaboration tools that allow them to respond in their own time – asynchronous tools. Enterprise social networks like Microsoft Yammer and Facebook Workplace are asynchronous collaboration tools. Chat based tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams are asynchronous tools as well but they blur the line between synchronous and asynchronous. These messaging apps are really asynchronous tools, but we expect people to respond synchronously. The grandparent of asynchronous collaboration is, of course, email but even here some cultures expect an immediate response.
Maximize the Asynchronous Mechanisms and Tools
As an introvert, asynchronous collaboration tools are your friend. They allow you to respond in a considered way, as you don’t need to respond immediately.
Try not to get sucked into cultures that expect you to respond immediately. Remember that your power is in your ability to consider and then respond. You still need to respond, just not immediately. Unfortunately, you can’t assume that the extroverts have considered your response in the asynchronous tool, they’re too busy on conference calls to read anything.
Minimize or Ignore the Synchronous Mechanisms and Tools
Meetings are inevitable, and they’re not going away any time soon. I live in the hope that the world will move beyond the current teleconference-dominated work cultures.
As an introvert, you probably view meetings as things that get in the way of doing work. If you are working with a team of extroverts they probably have a different viewpoint. You’re only real option is to try and minimize your involvement in meetings. The ways of doing that will depend on the team that you are a part of and your place in that team. You should also turn down all of the notifications on the tools so that you aren’t being constantly interrupted.
Work in the Open
Sometimes as introverts we want to go off into our little corner to formulate our response and only return when we’ve got the full answer. We don’t really want to show people our work, and we definitely don’t want people asking how we are getting on.
Modern document collaboration platforms like GitHub, Google Docs and Office 365 allow us to work on our thing in the open so that others can see in without having to interrupt. We may not like people rummaging around in our workings, but it’s better than sending regular email updates, or responding to endless instant message requests.
Stay Visible Working from Home
Having said all of the above, in our working from home world, there is a danger that you might become invisible to the extraverts. You do need to have some visibility, even if it’s detracting you from being productive. This is a balancing act, I tend to keep myself signed in to one of the collaboration tools and also choose to attend certain meetings partially because it means I remain visible. There are also certain people, extraverts, who I choose to take a call from, again because it’s important to be visible to them.
Collaboration isn’t a tool, or even a process, it’s a culture. Part of what makes up that culture are our various personality types. Use the tools and techniques that enhance your contributions whilst recognizing that others need to use different tools and techniques to draw out their contribution. The magic happens in the meeting of these different facets.
Header Image: This is the view from Tongue Pot, a great place for a swim.