Managing introverts and extroverts calls for an understanding of the needs and motivations of these two very different types of people.
And with so many of us now working from home, the switch from being together to collaborating through technology has brought this subject into a sharper focus.
Introverts and extroverts – helping both types thriveOne of the most - if not the most important parts of a senior in-house legal role is managing people.
And people, as we know, are made differently. No two individuals are the same, yet somehow, we need to find ways to bring people together into necessary structures, motivate them to follow processes and empower them to be the best version of themselves at work.
Hard enough when we’re all in the office together, but even tougher when you’re managing teams remotely.
People fall into a wide range of groups. For the purposes of developing your management and leadership style, we look at below, the distinctions between introverts and extroverts – and how we can get the best from them both.
A myth debunked
It’s commonly accepted that the differences between an introvert and an extrovert are that that the former is quiet, bookish, reserved, possibly even shy, while the latter is outgoing, gregarious, fun-loving and confident.
On the surface, these indicators hold true to varying degrees, however the distinction is a little more nuanced than this. What really distinguishes an introvert from an extrovert lies in how they energise themselves. For example:
- Introverts maintain their enthusiasm and energy for a challenge through careful consideration, operating either alone or as members of small, close groups, whereas:
- Extroverts draw on the company of others and the opportunity to socialise and share their ideas to keep their mental energy and motivation levels high.
Bear in mind that some introverts force themselves to behave like extroverts as a coping strategy for the ‘go getting, always connected’ workplace. While they may project a convincing exterior, the effort involved will be draining them rather than recharging them.
By understanding these differences, we can adapt our management style to bring out the best of both types of people – in both the internal and remote working environments.
Tips for managing introverts
Give the introverts in your team the space - both literally and figuratively. You’ll probably find they prefer a desk or cubicle in a quiet corner of the office rather than take centre stage in a large open plan office. For this reason, if space allows configure your office space to provide space for people to congregate and private areas for people to get their heads down and work.
Similarly, if you’re managing change (and what organisations isn’t?) try to implement it slowly for the introverts as they’ll need time to absorb the implications and adapt.
Make your communication with introverts as personal as possible and allow them to collect their thoughts before committing themselves to an action or a stance on an issue. We’re all rushed at times but bear in mind that the introvert will want to give you considered insights and/or feedback, having formulated their thoughts, and express them as articulately as possible. Email works best here as a phone call or face-to-face request may make the introvert feel put on the spot.
The current Covid 19-induced working from home culture will suit the introvert far more than the extrovert, however, when it comes to team meetings, whether via videoconferencing or in the meeting areas:
- Give introverts a pre-meeting task – this will help them plan mentally for the meeting and prepare a set-piece contribution such as a progress update, research report or suggestions as to how to take a project forward;
- Circulate an agenda at least a day before the meeting – this will help everyone – introverts included – get a feel for the wider purpose of the meeting and think about issues beyond those in their personal remit; and
- Ensure they get heard – you’ve asked the introvert to attend the meeting, so it follows that you value their input. Be sure to allow them the time to make their contribution. This may mean intervening to rein in some of the more extroverted attendees. For large meetings, you could consider appointing someone to monitor contributions to ensure everyone gets a chance to have their say;
- If you believe that an introvert has been inhibited during a meeting and not felt able to express themselves, drop them an email afterwards to ask for their thoughts on the issues covered.
Some organisations have a no morning meetings policy. Where possible they schedule all meetings at or after lunchtime to give people the opportunity to spend the morning preparing. Some go even further by asking attendees at meetings to submit ideas on slips of paper to be read out / written up on flip charts or boards anonymously.
Tips for managing extroverts
It’s not hard to spot the extroverts in your team. They’re the ones frequenting the communal areas, offering advice, thinking on their feet – quite probably organising the social calendar. Extroverts are natural relationship builders, great networkers and rarely allow a momentary pause in a conversation become an awkward silence.
They thrive on social contact and involvement with others. Where you’ll need to give the introvert time and space to adapt to change and new ideas, the extrovert is more likely to go with the flow, offering their input readily and spontaneously.
Make the most of this by giving them people-oriented work. Extroverts love client-facing roles and internal team-building projects. They’re confident in meetings and are always be happy to share their ideas on new initiatives.
This can sometimes mean that the extrovert will share ideas before they’re fully formed. You’ll need to test these ideas with searching questions without coming across as being negative towards them. Similarly, you may have to encourage extroverts to be good listeners as well as talkers. This is necessary both to allow them to develop their ideas and to avoid drowning out others.
Where many extroverts are struggling at the moment is in working from home. Deprived of the social cohesion and buzz of the office, they’re disconnected from their energy source. While the introvert sees the home office as the place to think things through and get the job done free from distraction, the extrovert sees it as a lonely place with no way to bounce ideas around or generate a positive atmosphere. With that in mind:
- Help extroverts structure their working day. The stability and routine will help deal with the disruption to their working life;
- Check in regularly with the extroverts working remotely in your teams. Give them a video call each day at around the same time and get them involved in video-conferencing meetings wherever possible; and
- Maximise the use of social and collaborative tools such as Slack and Yammer and encourage non-work communication. Try to reproduce the water cooler small talk environment and make space for spur-of-the-moment comments, be they about music, life in general or last night’s TV.
Introverts are at their best when given time and space to collect their thoughts, work reflectively and plan their contributions to meetings. Extroverts thrive on social contact, spontaneity and the buzz of a busy office environment. Both types of people have much to offer the modern in-house legal function – so long as we can manage them effectively and offer them a working environment, both internally and remotely, that meets their needs.