An Introvert in an Extroverted World


The Meyers-Briggs Temperament Indicator (MBTI) uses a certain vernacular to define individual preferences in all of us. One of the opposite pairs it uses is the Introvert/Extravert scale. Introverts have several specific preferences, but by and large they (actually “we” as I am a Introvert) need to think before speaking while Extroverts need conversation in order to clarify their thoughts. In short, Introverts “Think, Do, Think” while Extroverts “Do, Think, Do”. Extraverts need to talk things out, while Introverts keep thoughts in.

Many times the world of business revolves around Extroverted activities. If not correctly led most meetings, brainstorming sessions, client visits and the like can become extremely Extroverted events and the outcome will be that at least 50% of the attendees will leave them frustrated and exhausted (the Extravert/Introvert measure in the MBTI is the “Energizing” function and when you’re not in your personal zone you expend a tremendous amount of energy trying to be something that is out of your individual temperament preference).

The answer lies in how the meeting is led. The effective meeting leader starts with recognizing that nearly 1/2 of his or her attendees are either Introverts or Extroverts and developing an agenda and meeting pace or focus that is sensitive to each preference group. Here are some tips:

  • Make sure you have an agenda in advance of the meeting or session. Being a good meeting leader starts with an agenda so the Introverts on your team have time to think before the meeting. The agenda may include your anticipated outcome as well as the topics being covered.
  • Allow for times of discussion and times to think or write. As the meeting progresses it’s always a good idea to take a mini-break so the Introverts can think about what just happened. If you don’t do this, the Extraverts will dominate and you could make some decisions that haven’t been clearly thought through. Extraverts can easily grab ideas as they float in the air and run with them. Introverts may need some time (and it may be a few seconds) to think and clarify internally. One idea may be to take a mini break by either a quick writing task or other means to slow things down so the Introverts can have time to think internally and help you make well-rounded, quality decisions. This is not an intelligence issue but simply a preference on how each type approaches thinking and either loses or gains energy in the process.
  • Lead quality discussions that lead your team to make quality decisions. Be sensitive to each MBTI type and make sure everyone has been given an opportunity to think and give input. Your goal as meeting leader is not to check off an agenda, but to make the best qualified decision (and if you’re having meetings that don’t lead to decisions, why are you having the meeting?) to move your business and team forward.

A former boss of mine, an Extrovert, and I developed a rather nice system. Any time he needed my input, or before a critical meeting, he would come by my office and drop off a written proposal or agenda (this can be just a few words). He would then leave and say, “I need you to look at this, I’ll be back in five or ten minutes.” This one action helped us both tremendously. He gave me time to study the issue internally and by coming back he could toss his thoughts in the air and be in his zone as well.

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4 Responses to “An Introvert in an Extroverted World”

  1. Wayne,
    This is a fabulous insight. I’ve never really thought about it. As an introvert myself, I need to keep these things in mind when designing meetings!

  2. Scott Winter says:

    Wayne –
    This just came up in my RSS feeder, so I’m sorry I missed it a couple of weeks ago.
    As an introvert, I am too often the one that leaves meetings frustrated. I feel I have a lot to contribute, but often won’t say what I am thinking because I need to analyze it from every angle. I love the idea of planned “think breaks” to help people like me out!
    Great post!

  3. David says:

    Wow, can I forward this to my boss? When and extrovert runs a meeting, can you hear the sound of one hand clapping? Seriously, though, it seems a direct approach, with a pause, should be the structure of every meeting, and let the agenda make it happen.

  4. Wayne says:

    David, yes you should forward this to your boss. One important point is that both types are important and the balance between the two produces quality decisions. Introverts need to allow the Extrovert to “get their ideas out” and the Extroverts need to allow the Introverts a bit of time to think.

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