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Embracing Introvert-Extrovert Pairs: How Kahnweiler is Leveling the Playing Field

genoiusI recently had the opportunity to talk to Jennifer Kahnweiler about her latest book: The Genius of Opposites: How Introverts and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results Together. Jennifer, author of multiple bestsellers on introverts including “Quiet Influence” and “The Introverted Leader”, has often been the extrovert walking in hallways filled with techie introverts…and loving it. After 20 years of experience in the talent development space, Jennifer launched her professional speaking and coaching career and today is known as the “Champion of Introverts”. Her personal experience is rooted in her deep partnership with her introverted husband. Professionally, she has helped countless leaders and organizations leverage the introvert-extrovert dynamic effectively.

Yes, historically extroverts and introverts have had a hard time getting along. Yes, we live in a Type A society where extroverts tend to shine and consequently, receive more recognition easier than their introverted counterparts. Jennifer’s mission is to change how we think about extroverts and introverts in the workplace. The Genius of Opposites explores the symbiotic extrovert-introvert relationships that work and the recipe behind their success. Further, she drives home the greater success these pairs have together than either would have had alone.

What fascinates me about her area of expertise is the ease of embracing introversion among my peers, the Millennials and Generation Z. As I often discuss in my work, the key differentiator with the latest generations is the influence of growing up with technology. The Internet is a wonderful equalizer; it allows everyone to have a voice. In addition, the Internet has shifted the focus from what I like to call macro-diversity (gender, ethnicity, age, etc) to micro-diversity (personal strengths, weaknesses, personality traits). These are a part of a collection of trends I have highlighted that are often voiced by Millennials and contribute to what needs to be done to modernize the workplace.

I posed these trends to Jennifer and had the chance to hear her thoughts on how organizations can modernize and start leveraging the strengths of both introverts and extroverts in the workplace.

Q: Do you think generationally we are moving towards accepting introverts more?
Yes, yes! I think it comes back to two things: technology and laughter.
Technology has helped to bring us closer. What we don’t know, we suspect. We are getting to know each other online.

Second, introverts in technology are also called geeks and they laugh at themselves. Look at the television show Big Bang Theory for example. Humor makes the conversation easier to have. I speak to a lot of techies. I was working at a technical company when I discovered this theme – they would play pranks on one another like moving the desk around of their teammate when they were gone. Even though many extroverts couldn’t see it, they were bright and had so much to offer. They are creative and I’ve found as Victor Borge the comedian said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people. “

Q: Let’s dive in more to technology and being online. Do you think the Internet has been a major factor in driving equal opportunity for both introverts and extroverts to contribute?
Yes, absolutely – I think that social media has allowed introverts to think about what they want to say, who they want to connect with and where they want to have conversations, when they historically may not have had these choices. They don’t necessarily need to see people to connect, they can connect solely through ideas.

The other advantage I see of this is that it allows introverts to establish a brand for themselves and share their expertise – again, something that was difficult before the Internet. They really can explore a topic when they can write a blog, create a presence for themselves in a niche – all without having to physically overpower and interrupt extroverted voices offline.

There are certainly differences between extroverts and introvert voices online. The quality of extrovert sharing may not as deep as introverts, for example. Some of where we get the misfiring offline between extroverts and introverts is privacy.  Introverts like to get to know you before sharing personal details. Extrovert dive right in with their sharing. That plays out on social media differently as well. It would be interesting to study the differences in what each posts and how frequently they post.

Q: How do you distinguish between someone who is truly introverted vs. someone who just hasn’t been given a voice?
If you think you’re an introvert, you are. But regardless, at the end of the day, you are reinforced for certain behaviors. When you are repeatedly ignored you naturally stop speaking up.  You naturally lose confidence when you are shut down. In organizations where you are a minority, you feel it more, no matter what the difference is between people, making sure everyone has the opportunity to have a voice is key.

Q: What are the strengths of an introverted leader in comparison to an extroverted leader? Are there any particular competencies companies should be teaching from the natural introvert skill set?
Introverted leaders know how to listen, plain and simple. Research supports the idea that introverted leaders make better leaders of extroverted employees. They also focus on connecting one-on-one and in small groups. They effortlessly exude calmness.

They also focus naturally on depth vs. breadth. Stopping someone in the hallway and expecting a quick response may not be the best way to support their voice. Companies need to give them time to develop their ideas and not expect on the spot, quick responses. But recognize that their response may be much better because they have taken time to be reflective. .

Extroverted leaders are inherent motivators. They are going to pick up on people issues and on people’s feelings, connect and dive in on the relationship.  They are very proactive. They verbalize their thinking and believe in talking through their thought process out loud.

I highly recommend picking up The Genius of Opposites. It’s a quick read with high impact lessons to apply. Here’s a few takeaways from the book and from my chat with Jennifer:

  1. Leveraging introverts and extroverts together, like embracing any other kind of diversity, give companies and teams on a day to day basis stronger ideas, stronger solutions, and overall, stronger value proposition.
  2. Thinking creatively about using the technology we have today can be an effective strategy to cultivate introvert-extrovert pairs.
  3. Rewarding and recognizing the unique leadership strengths of both extroverts and introverts is key in the modern workplace. This is something that Millennials and Gen Z automatically do because we have grown up appreciating micro-diversity on the relatively “blind” Internet.
  4. At the end of the day, to embrace any kind of diversity, become personally self-aware of what behaviors you are reinforcing in others. Do you shut people down and are they now afraid to voice their thoughts? Do you add to thoughts and allow room for discussion of different approaches to the same topic?

Are you an introverted leader? Have you, as either an extrovert or introvert, found tricks that work for you with your counterparts? How adept is your organization at embracing micro-diversity?

Struggling to solve these generation-related challenges? That’s why we exist. As founder and principal at Invati, Crystal and her Millennial team drive engagement and productivity in today’s technology world by applying Millennial insight.

She is the creator of the Millennial Friendly Workplace Discovery and Generation Transition Readiness Discovery processes that intentionally and pragmatically transform the workplace for the next generation.

Crystal is a Huffington Post blogger, alumni of two TEDx Talks (Gen Y: Digital Coma or Powered? and Corporate Fail: Next Generation are Entrepreneurial), and award winner by the Association for Talent Development (formerly ASTD). She is a leader in driving practical application of next generation trends in the workplace.