Knowing Who We Are

Working with others in introvert or extrovert styles may be more productive than we think.

In my travels, I talk to many shops that are looking for ways to better match people with their jobs and people with other people in teams, cells and so forth. Because of the shortage of skilled workers, ways must be found to keep good employees happy and pulling together as a team. Often, personality traits get in the way of team performance, so it’s in the best interest of all parties to identify what works and doesn’t work for each person.

One system that I’ve seen successfully applied in a couple of shops is called PI (predictive index), which identifies a variety of personality traits and reveals how best to interact with different types of people. PI may reveal, for example, that approaching one team member with a written document is a turn off, but that approaching with a chart or graph will engage the employee. It’s like identifying an individual’s on/off buttons. In interpersonal communication, information like that can be very useful. I know this from experience.

I was in my late 30s when I officially found out that I am an extrovert. I had long suspected the fact, but it was a Myers-Briggs test (similar to PI) that confirmed the diagnosis. Along with the revelation came an understanding of what being an extrovert actually means. In my career, this has been very helpful information.

Back when I first started working here at Gardner Publications (almost 15 years ago), my direct report was our editor at the time, Tom Beard. We’re about the same age and have a lot of life experiences in common. Good conversation about many different topics is never a problem for Tom and me. I consider him a friend as well as colleague.

Early on in our working relationship, however, things were not as smooth as they are now. Ironically, neither of us knew at the time why. You see, as it turns out, Tom is an introvert. He, too, always suspected it, but got his confirmation from the same test that identified me as an extrovert. So here, you have these two virtually opposite personality types trying to figure out why each behaves the way he does. Here was the dynamic before the test.

I’d come into Tom’s office all excited about a story angle I had “invented,” bubbling over with enthusiasm. Politely, Tom would listen then ask a couple of probing questions that pretty much shot me down. What he said made sense, so I’d take his constructive points and leave.

Shortly, I’d come up with my next brainstorm incorporating Tom’s suggestions and come bounding into his office spouting my improved idea. He’d listen, make some suggestions, and then I’d slink back to my office again. This process would go on for several iterations until a pretty good angle on the story had been developed. This was our “process.” It worked, but not very efficiently.

The bottom line for us was that I couldn’t understand why Tom didn’t recognize the innate brilliance of my ideas, and Tom couldn’t understand why I kept coming into his office with these half-baked ideas. But because neither of us really understood each other, we simply muddled through with our “process,” inefficient as it was.

Then about a year or so into Tom’s and my working relationship, our company signed all the employees up for the Myers-Briggs test. Here’s what we found out.

As an extrovert, I think verbally. I may enter a conversation with an idea and at the end of the discussion come out with an entirely new idea. My thinking process involves verbalization. Until I took that test, I never knew that about myself. It was revealing because it helped me understand that interaction with others could be much more productive if I took some time to anticipate questions like Tom was asking me. In other words, I could improve by trying to become more thoughtful and prepared before proffering ideas.

As for Tom as an introvert, he processes information internally. He is able to listen to my verbalization of an idea, process the data and see negatives or positives in my rambling without saying a word. He uses questions to help both of us understand the idea better. Together, we examine an idea more holistically, and as a result come up with better ideas much faster.
It turned out to be seminal for Tom and me, greatly streamlining our interactions. Each of us had a better handle on the other, and it made work much more enjoyable from then on.

Today, I have people that directly report to me, and I continue to apply the information I learned from that test long ago. We don’t all have to be alike to get the job done, but it helps if we can better understand how to more efficiently interact. I think smart managers can use information from tests like this as a competitive advantage.

Vive le difference!