In the 1990s, I worked at a place called Astra Merck. It was my first corporate job. I would come into work every morning, make a cup of coffee, check my e-mail and voice mail, and then go out and speak to the people on my team.
I had a colleague who came into work every morning. She threw her coat and briefcase in her office, and then went right to her team and spoke to them. When she was done, she would check her e-mail and voice mail.
Neither style is right or wrong. Both have advantages and disadvantages. For example, sometimes she would come to me and say “so and so on your team has a bullet wound, and is bleeding out at his desk. I thought you might want to know”. And sometimes I would go to her and say “did you see that our company was purchased overnight, we have all been laid off, and we are now unemployed?”
OK, both of those examples were slight exaggerations. But you get the idea. She was the first one to know what was going on with people. I was the first one to know what was going on with events and tasks.
By the way, we made a pretty good team, when we weren’t driving each other crazy.
Have you ever heard of an assessment tool called the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI? It is an assessment of preferences and styles in the workplace. The MBTI has approximately 60 questions. None of them are “right or wrong” questions- they are all about preferences.
For example-when you go to a party with people that you don’t know, do you prefer to “work the room” and meet as many people as you can, or do you prefer to connect with one person, and speak with them for a long time?
When you return home from that party, are you energized, and feel like you’d like to do it all over again, or would you prefer to sit in a quiet room and decompress for a while?
I’m an introvert. (I know that you are shocked by that). When I go to a party, I want to stay with one person for the whole evening. For me, meeting new people feels like hard work. If I meet several people at a party, I get tired, and I struggle to remember the names of the people I met.
When I come home, I definitely want to sit in a dark, quiet room and decompress. For a week, if possible.
I orient towards tasks instead of people. I always have. I find comfort in tasks. If you assign me some sort of solitary task that involves reading or writing, I’m delighted to do it. I prefer that.
While I prefer being alone, I am married, have two children, I have a busy career with responsibilty for a team, and I participate in several community and social activities. So I flex when I have to. I even enjoy doing it.
It’s just that I prefer to be by myself sometimes.
The world recognizes extroverts. Think of the entertainers, athletes, politicians, and corporate leaders that you know. They like to be in the public eye. They get their energy from shaking hands, talking to people, and being in the spotlight.
People like to follow leaders who look like they are enjoying being leaders. Who wants to be led by someone who isn’t enjoying what they are doing?
Introverts can also show preferences about personal space. I’m not a touchy-feely, huggy kind of a person. Sometimes I meet people who like to touch. I carry a taser for just such occasions. One or two jolts, and they stop touching me. I am very aware of personal space. Have you ever met someone who “got in your face”, literally? Someone who would walk up to you, and stand toe to toe?
Introverts also like boundaries. I had a colleague who shared her apartment key with 9-10 friends. They all had keys for each others apartments, and had permission to stop in, anytime, where each of them lived. Not me. I think that would drive me crazy. As I once heard someone say, “if you are going to surprise me, please let me know in advance”.
I received some coaching many years ago about how to flex in my work style. My coach suggested that since I prefer doing tasks, I should create a task of “walk around and talk”. I have a “to-do” list, and I put “walk around and talk” on my to-do list. And every day, I walk around and speak to my colleagues.
It works. I know it sounds weird, but I walk around, I chat with my colleagues, and I get good work done that way.
It probably isn’t surprising that I married an introvert, and that our girls are introverted too. Our home is a quiet place. Even our dog is an introvert. After a walk in the park, or any activity where he interacts with any dog or any person he doesn’t know, he curls up in a ball, let’s out a big sigh, and goes to sleep.