By Graeme Codrington
There is some debate over the value of personality profiles, especially those that are fairly blunt instruments and create large “boxes” in which to put people. And yet, we know for sure that profiling tools are valuable, and are used in many important and valuable ways every day. The most common of these profiles, and also the most disputed, is the issue of introverts and extroverts.
Firstly, let’s be clear about our definitions. Being an introvert or extrovert has nothing to do with confidence, likability or friendliness. It is about where you get your energy from. Some people get it by being alone, some by being with other people. Most of us sit on a continuum between these two extremes.
Secondly, we need to accept that this continuum exists and be careful of labelling everyone either introvert or extrovert. Almost everyone is a combination of the two, with tendencies to either introversion or extroversion at different times and for different reasons.
Thirdly, we must be aware of the danger of a profile giving you permission to be dysfunctional. We need to be careful of stereotyping, and using these stereotypes to restrict us in how we engage with others.
Finally, though, we should understand our own unique combination of introversion and extroversion, and know how we can get the best out of yourselves and our own energy profile. Fast Company magazine ran a series of articles of profiling tools, and wrote an especially good one on this particular issue in Feb 2017 based on the work of Harvard Business School behavioral scientist and author of Sidetracked Francesca Gino. Read it in full here or just understand this summary.
The most important issue in managing your own energy is to know yourself. This might sound obvious, but many people don’t fully understand what drains them and what energises them, and even those who do know this about themselves often don’t apply that knowledge to help them manage their energy through the course of a day or week. By knowing your own profile, you can then play to your strengths, making sure that you keep your energy levels healthy. You will be able to plan ahead to ensure you have ways to recover your energy after you have been in a situation that uses it up.
We can all access all parts of the introvert and extrovert spectrum, but need to learn which of these is easy and which is hard for us. And also which uses up our energy and which restores it again. As with most things in life, balance is the best outcome to aim for.
Brian Little, author of “Who Are You Really?” was really helpful to me in trying to make sense of this. He argues that we do indeed fit into these personality frameworks, but that more important than the personality profile is our “life projects”.
The things we are passionate about help us to overcome some of the limitations of our inherent personality traits. I very much relate to this superb TED talk because I too am an extreme introvert who has a passion to tell people information that will change their lives. This means I have learned ways to overcome my desire to be alone and not engage others, and my desire to conserve energy when I am with other people. But I must be mindful of the energy that this takes out of me, and ensure I build into my day time to recover. For me, that means being alone and being allowed to “not think”. I use computer games to help me regain my energy - they provide mindless escape and alone time (I don’t play collaborative games much).
To be a better leader, you should also take time to learn the profiles of each member of your team. We need to sometimes tone down the extroverts to give the introverts time and space to make a contribution. And we might need to spend more time one-on-one with introverts to get the best out of them. Office life is often set up to favour extroverts, and leaders need to make sure this doesn’t weaken your team or certain individuals within it.
Questions for you:
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