Calling all Introverts! Why You’re Wired to Collaborate

July 22, 2013 - 3 Comments

Extroverts get too much credit. There, I’ve said it. I’m not exactly sure what I mean by “credit”, but extroverts tend to stand out through their natural behavior. Extroverted leaders glide into rooms and engage instantly in the most important conversations. What makes collaboration so challenging for many organizations is the nature of the work:  teams come together, solve a problem and move on to a new challenge. Extroverts by nature fit easily into these stimulating situations where human-to-human interaction and engagement are the keys to success.

At this point you might be thinking, especially if you’re an introvert like me, “Is he about to give me the ‘buck up’ speech about ‘stepping up to the plate’ and ‘putting my voice on the table’”? My real message is simple: Both introverts and extroverts can help collaborative teams move faster and be more innovative – as long as you play to your strengths.

My colleague Carl Wiese and I decided to devote an entire chapter of our book The Collaboration Imperative to the importance of personal communication styles and how to accelerate authentic conversations by collaborating in your natural style. We even created a tool to help you improve your interpersonal communication profile. Click here to take a quick online assessment to discover your authentic communication style, and click the green “Take GAC Survey” button. This confidential assessment is a bit like the Myers-Briggs test and provides you with a customized profile of your unique communication style; it reveals how you naturally process information, and how you prefer to deliver that information to others. Most importantly, the assessment provides a simple vocabulary to communicate your style to others. Are you conceptual or analytical? An introvert or an extrovert?

But today’s blog is devoted to introverts.  I love my extrovert friends – but you get too much attention.  J

In observing and working with collaboration teams, and as a practicing introvert, I would suggest these three strategies to excel as a collaborative teammate – what I call the three “Cs”:

1)     Codify your point of view. Ok, this applies to extroverts too. But it is particularly important for introverts where it isn’t a natural first instinct to contribute in a conversation involving strangers. But a point of view is powerful. It gives you a consistent perspective — a grounded belief to put your ideas out there faster and shape conversations. This point of view is always there to help you, like a trusted friend, in new conversations with new people.  I’ve found that when I participate on teams, they often try to bite off more than they can chew, especially at the beginning. I always say “sacrifice is the essence of great positioning” as my point of view toward getting the team focused. If all I do is help a team get focused, then I’ve done a lot.

2)     Choose your “meeting moments”. Collaborative teams work best when meetings follow a consistent meeting structure and approach so that teams can focus on the problem and not the agenda and goals of the meeting.  Introverts by nature are thoughtful about what they communicate and when they communicate. Plan ahead by looking to future agendas. Have more than your point of view prepared; have your interpretation of the problem prepared in your specific area of expertise – and be ready to ‘lean in’ to the conversation. If the extroverts aren’t letting you elbow your way into the conversation (haha), exercise the power of introverts:  Ask the question that stops the conversation in its tracks. For more on making the most of meetings, read Meeting H*ll: Stop Wasting Time.

3)     Curate your social reputation. Social media was invented for introverts.  You control the message, the medium, the timing. Not every social tool will be right for you. Don’t worry, there are enough options for everyone. It’s helpful to look at other elements of your communication style when considering social media. For example, deductive thinkers tend to think in conclusions. Thus, deductive introverts are wired for Twitter. Inductive thinkers value the steps taken to reach a conclusion, so inductive introverts are natural bloggers and use sufficient detail to convey their message. Pick the social media tool best aligned to you and get your point-of-view out there.

Collaboration is what creates speed in any organization and that’s why CEOs are so attracted to its potential. It’s up to us as leaders and managers to lead from the top. As a practicing corporate introvert, I can say that codifying, choosing and curating have served me well. Someone once told me “never forget to ask for the order.” That’s your job, introverts.  Just do it in a way only an introvert could (and don’t let those extroverts know what we’re up to).

Let me know your ideas in the comments!


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  1. Hi Ron,

    taking into account the importance of collaboration for our organization is there any chance that free copies of “The Collaboration Imperative” will be distributed to Cisco people in the same manner as copies of Inder Sidhu’s “Doing both” were couple of years ago?

  2. Hi, Ron,

    After taking the assessment, I landed squarely in the extrovert column–and inevitably, have ended up being one of the first to respond. I don’t wish to step past those voices, as I have worked with and loved introverts, and respect what their often quieter voices bring to any collaborative effort.

    One of the things that I find most interesting, though, is that the virtual tools we use in meetings every day seem to exaggerate tendencies which, in person, are much more muted. So the know-it-all in a virtual meeting becomes an authoritative speaker when you meet them face to face. The person who sounds condescending online is the first person to reach out in a face-to-face meeting to help anyone understand. And the introverted often go through a virtual meeting saying absolutely nothing at all–but in person, they not only cooperate, but end up tying a group into a high-functioning unit that wasn’t apparently possible in online meetings.

    From the point of view of an introvert, are you more successful in high-level collaboration in a virtual setting? Or does any truly successful group collaboration demand face-to-face interaction in the end, in order to excel? Does social media create truly successful groups? Or is it a starting place that needs a physical, onsite meeting of the minds in order to reach a group’s full potential?

    • Lisa – thanks for your excellent observation. What I’ve found most valuable — whether you are an introvert or extrovert — is to be self-aware of who you are and to have the courage to tell people how you think and make decisions. In all likelihood, someone who dominates a conversation is doing it without being self-aware of their behavior. Imagine this future: what if everybody told each other their personal communication styles? What if it was ok to say, “Hey I’m an introvert and I like to take information in before I offer an observation?” Or, “I’m an extrovert and I get excited by these ideas and being in a group that’s excited too…so I might talk more than I need to, but let me know when you have questions.” These simple techniques are what we as #leaders need to do: challenge our people to be authentic by revealing their personal communication styles and for all of us to appreciate differences in style in how we behave.