7 Tips for Extroverts Working With Introverts
Updated: Jul 25, 2020
Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt – Abe Lincoln
First, a confession: I am an Extrovert. Yes, that's Extrovert with a capital “E.” Crowds energize me, an elevator provides the ideal venue for an impromptu social engagement, and when it comes to a stranger at an adjacent urinal, how am I to know the guy isn’t a kindred spirit if I don’t strike up a conversation?
While my extroversion comes in handy at cocktail parties, it sometimes undermines teamwork, particularly in professional situations when I need to collaborate with introverts. It’s not that I don’t want insights from my more reticent counterparts. I simply have an innate aversion to conversational lulls; for me, nearly every silence is awkward.
Over the years, having witnessed the good, the bad, and the insufferable aspects of my extroversion, I have concluded the following: The onus for building great teams falls primarily on the shoulders of us extroverts. Not because extroverts are natural born leaders; not because we exude confidence or know-it-all bravado; and not because we are so very spontaneous, communicative, genuine, and downright lovable. Rather, our responsibility is much more personal than that. First and foremost, we need to periodically suspend our broadcasts and share the airwaves with those around us.
For someone like me, that is much harder than it sounds. As an extrovert, I learn by talking. For my own thoughts to take shape and crystalize, I need to express them in words, and the best way I know to do that is by speaking those words aloud. Even those rare times that I am quiet – and, yes, there are times – I tend to run an internal monologue. That too makes it difficult to listen mindfully and be present in the moment – actual human traits my introverted friends assure me are possible, even for extroverts.
For years as a middle manager I sought expert guidance. While I uncovered a great deal of leadership literature designed to help introverts work with extroverts, I found surprisingly few books and articles written for extroverts. And when I did, the advice came at a fairly high level and boiled down into one overarching directive: “shut up and listen, stupid.”
So, with that, I offer the following 7 Tips for Extroverts Working with Introverts. Through trial and error, these techniques have seemed the most helpful in regulating my tendencies to interrupt and talk over introverts in both public and private settings, stray off topic during a discursive monologue, or steamroll a personal opinion, musing, or half-baked conclusion through an audience of the unwilling.
1. Assume Others in the Room Are Smarter Than You
Valuing the wisdom inherent in our introverted colleagues is an extrovert’s first step to recovery. Admittedly, extroverts don’t necessarily assume we are the smartest people in the room. But many of us do assume we need to lead and equate leading with needing to have all the right answers. This is a huge pitfall for many extroverted senior managers.
As a new manager, I believed most meetings were preordained to conclude with buy-in and consensus around HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion). It wasn’t until I started to assume (if not actually realize) that everyone else in the room was, in reality, smarter than me did I begin to look beyond the sound of my own voice for critical insights and answers. Who knew? Admittedly, there is likely an extrovert out there who truly is the smartest person in the room, but that doesn’t become apparent until everyone else is heard. If you aren’t the smartest person in the room, however, it’s better to find out sooner rather than later. This is especially true if you are the highest paid person and responsible for delivering quality results.
There's zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas. – Susan Cain
2. Listen First, Speak Last
For most extroverts, the listen first, speak last paradigm requires a good deal of practice and self-management. Even when well-intentioned -- whether the goal is to break the ice, get things rolling, or cut to the quick – extroverts often are the first to speak and the last to stop. We also are quick to anchor the conversation with our positions, ideas, and beliefs, positing an opinion and arguing its virtues before ever considering external input or pushback. When we do this, we drain the introverts in the room and demotivate them from participating. As an extrovert, it is nearly always a good idea to provide introverts with first right of opinion.
The skill is really to keep your opinions to yourself. Simply sit there, take it all in and the only thing you’re allowed to do is ask questions, so that you can understand what [others] mean and why they have the opinion that they have… At the end, you will get your turn. It sounds easy, it’s not. Practice being the last to speak. – Simon Sinek
3. Turn Your Opinions into Questions
I call this technique the Jeopardy! method, and it works like this: Before speaking, try converting even your most declarative opinions into open-ended questions. Sometimes this is as easy as starting with an interrogative clause to introduce a declarative or imperative statement – e.g., “How could we…” or “What would happen if…” or “Why should we…” All of us, introverts and extroverts alike, are hard-wired to abhor the vacuum of unanswered questions. When we ask questions, we invite engagement from others and force ourselves to reframe our thinking, slow down, and listen for answers.
My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions. – Peter Drucker
4. Give Introverts the Gift of Prep Time
Agendas, read-ahead materials, or pre-meeting prompts can help put introverts at ease. While most extroverts enjoy processing new information by talking it over cold, introverts often need quiet time to read, reflect, and think through options before joining the fray. Providing preparatory materials also lays the groundwork for fuller, more meaningful participation all-round. A simple pre-meeting email with a prompt or two makes it possible to go around the table at the outset of the meeting and have each person share his or her thoughts.
Think before you speak. Read before you think. – Fran Lebowitz
5. Provide Introverts with Top-Cover from Other Extroverts
One good thing about being an extrovert is that you likely have spent a lifetime pushing up against, working with, and channeling other extroverts. If someone in the room other than you is hijacking a discussion, now is the time to dip into your own extroversion, interrupt them, and create space for the introverts. Don’t be a jerk about it. A simple reaffirmation followed by an invitation to the larger group often works wonders – e.g., “That’s an interesting idea, Bill. What do you the rest of you think about it?”
Everybody talks, nobody listens. Good listeners are as rare as white crows. – Helen Keller
6. Create Introvert-Friendly Opportunities
Engaging introverts individually and informally can establish rapport and trust. A chat over coffee or lunch often works wonders. During meetings, suggest breaking into small groups or asking people around the table to discuss an issue with the person sitting beside them. When that’s done, ask each group what they came up with, being sure to thank each contributor for his or her input. Also, instead of traditional brainstorming sessions, consider a brainwriting exercise. Brainwriting is much more conducive to eliciting thoughts from introverts than asking them to battle it out in a room full of people simultaneously barking out solutions.
Everyone shines, given the right lighting. – Susan Cain
7. Make Peace with Silence
As extroverts, silence often scares or threatens us. We interpret a pause in a discussion as inertia, a failure to make progress, or a breakdown in communication. The power to embrace silence and allow it to persist begins in our own heads. Mindfulness and meditation practices can help. Instead of fearing silence, extroverts need to nurture, honor, and welcome the quiet, and, in the best of worlds, permit it to linger long enough for an introvert to step up and fill it.
Speak only if it improves upon the silence. – Mahatma Gandhi
References and Further Reading:
Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Broadway Paperbacks, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, 2013
Fosslien, Liz; Duffy, Molly West. “Communication Tips for Introverts and Extroverts, from Two of Your Favorite Authors!” Quiet Revolution, accessed February 16, 2020.
Rudy, Lisa Jo. “How to Use Brainwriting for Rapid Idea Generation,” Envato Tuts+, May 9, 2016.
Sinek, Simon. “Be the Last To Speak,” Goalcast, June 24, 2017.
“The Power of Asking Questions: 7 Ways Questions Are More Powerful Than Answers,” Rapid Start Leadership, accessed February 16, 2020