RSS

Monthly Archives: May 2014

Extroverts, Introverts and Conflict

Workplace conflict     A friend of mine who owns his own business recently described a situation which perfectly illustrated how extroverts and introverts tend to handle conflict.

He was in the process of trying to counsel a salesperson whose style was creating a lot of conflict in the organization. This sales rep, only recently hired, had all the right credentials and was apparently bringing in lots of new business — but the style of this individual, hard-charging and abrasive, was causing major cultural problems. The boss explained how bad things had gotten. “When you come into a meeting,” he told the offending employee, “all the extroverts put up their dukes, and all the introverts head for the door!”

This idea that extroverts tend to wade into conflict while introverts are strongly conflict-avoidant is nothing new. But the idea bears some further scrutiny. In my work experience, just as (I suspect) in yours, I’ve had bosses who appeared to relish conflict, not only enduring group tension but (knowingly or otherwise) seeming to encourage it. Sales meetings with these bosses were a kind of Rorschach Test, bringing out the deep emotional baggage in the entire team. Some employees (the extroverts) almost literally rose to the occasion, the adrenaline pumping, while others (the introverts) looked like they wished they could crawl under the table, or disappear — anything to get out of the room!

At the other end of the spectrum, I recall a few conflict-avoidant managers, so prone to sidestep and evade that it drove the team crazy — introverts and extroverts alike. I probably fell into that avoidant trap too many times in my career. To all my former colleagues — sorry about that. When a conflict would arise, even when the solution was painfully obvious, the boss was nowhere to be found, and the problem would inevitably fester.

As I reflect back on those experiences, I think there’s a lesson for any of us who manage a team. If you’re a sales manager, a director of development, or the boss of any sort of group of colleagues where good, solid, productive relationships are paramount, be very aware of how you personally handle conflict. Be equally cognizant of how different members of your team handle it. If you’re the extroverted type who thinks plenty of conflict is healthy, beware of the effect all that workplace angst is having on your introverted colleagues who may think your red meat brand of conflict management borders on the hostile. Are they heading for the hills instead of engaging in the work of strengthening the team? At the same time, by encouraging conflict, you might be teaching your extroverted teammates an unhealthy lesson, showing them how to feed conflict and not how to resolve it productively and effectively.

Conflict-avoidant managers, you may be under the assumption that your team is free of angst, but I’ll bet my next commission check that it’s just not so. Peace, as the old saying goes, is more than the absence of conflict — much more. Peace implies emotional health and wholeness (which is the connotation of the Hebrew word “shalom”). Avoiding conflict in hopes that it will go away is like putting a Band-Aid on a splinter: it hides the problem without solving it.

Let’s help the extroverts on the team put down their dukes, and the introverts stop their mental exit. Let’s resolve conflict in appropriate ways so the team can function like a good team should. And, boss, if you have an employee who refuses to get on board, maybe you need to have the same chat my friend had with his salesperson. Good sales numbers are all well and good, but in a healthy organization, the culture matters. Once you lose that strong, healthy organizational culture, you’ll have a really hard time getting it back.

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , ,

Mismatch! When You and Your Job Collide

Job Stress   I was reflecting with a friend last weekend about some of the jobs each of us had previously had — jobs for which we were, to put it charitably, not well-suited. It got me thinking back on my first sales job, one I’ve alluded to before with an unnamed office products company.  I took this job not long after leaving the Navy because I wanted to succeed in selling. I lasted six months before moving on to something else.

Why was this job such a bad fit for me, and I for it? What could I have foreseen had I stopped to consider what I was getting into? Here are a few thoughts (with the benefit of hindsight) on how I could have known from the start that this job would turn out to be a mismatch. Maybe some of these points will help you if you’re considering a new job or a job change.

  1. First problem: I did not care one iota about what I was selling. Does this mean you can never sell something you’re not excited about? Well, no, not necessarily…but if you’re making cold calls to talk about something in which you have zero interest, trying to gain the attention of prospects who don’t particularly want to talk about it either, you’re in for some frustrating sledding.
  2. Second problem: the position was 100% cold calls. Many people can thrive in a cold-call-based job. I am not one of them.
  3. Third problem: the company’s philosophy was 100% based on “getting past the secretary.” (Remember, all this was decades ago). In fact it was the secretary who was going to be the prime user of the product! By doing my best to circumvent her or him, I was turning a potential ally into a committed adversary. As I’ve said before, many people who lack the authority to say “yes” definitely have the influence to say “no,” as I found out the hard way with more than one lost sale. And the manipulation required felt like a bad fit for my relational personality.
  4. Fourth problem: the company insisted on flying me out for a week of training — on Christmas Day. That’s right, on Christmas afternoon I was on a plane for Los Angeles, checking into a hotel in Inglewood for a six-day training class. Ho, ho, ho. That should have been a clue that the company lacked a certain…sensitivity. Not a good fit, for me, anyway.
  5. Fifth problem: the company insisted I memorize the product demonstration. I’m a fairly intuitive person and I feel like I communicate pretty well. I like using my empathy to adjust my communication style. But, no — my sales presentation consisted of a memorized product demo (“Note the pistol-grip microphone for comfortable, stress free dictation.”) from which I was not supposed to deviate. Can you say “awkward”? Again, this approach is perfectly fine for many people, but it’s a bad fit for my personality.

There were more clues, but you get the idea. Was it a “bad” company or a “bad” job? Not at all! But it was a bad fit — wrong for me, my temperament, my learning style, my interests and my personality. In hindsight it’s almost like I took the job under false pretenses, and cost the company a lot of wasted training dollars. I should have known better. I suspect that when I left the boss was as relieved as I was.

In today’s economy, I realize, many people are holding on to jobs they may not love or even particularly like. I get that. But if you’re considering a different job (or a first job after college, the military or raising your kids) you may want to think long and hard about your gifts, talents, and internal wiring. If you have a choice, save yourself the grief of a job mismatch. You’ll be vastly happier in the long run, and so will your boss.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,

“The New Groupthink”

Brainstorm    Do your brainstorming groups look like this? Neither do the ones I’ve been in. My memory of brainstorming sessions usually involves several loud colleagues arguing (I was usually one of them) with several quieter colleagues sitting there looking anxious and disengaged. Years later, after having spent countless hours in the sort of “No Bad Ideas” brainstorming sessions we’re all familiar with, I’m becoming convinced they can be severely counter-productive, an exercise in group frustration where the ideas that tend to surface aren’t the best ideas at all.

This is the third post where I’ve quoted from the book by Susan Cain called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It’s in these pages where I ran across the phrase “the New Groupthink,” and the idea immediately brought to mind images of those brainstorming sessions where the loudest and most eager team members — the Extroverts — always seemed to dominate. Their ideas were the ones that ended up on the gigantic flip chart sheets stuck here and there around the room — and since they always seemed to be the one chosen to summarize the team’s ideas, their ideas tended to get the most attention and affirmation. Meanwhile the Introverts in the group were sitting quietly on the fringes keeping their often-excellent ideas to themselves, reluctant to compete in the jostle of words and emotions.

I think the phrase “the New Groupthink” describes a kind of false consensus based on what all the Extroverts think would work. Sound familiar? But there’s a better way. Listen to how Susan Cain describes it: Remember the dangers of the New Groupthink. If it’s creativity you’re after, ask your employees to solve problems alone before sharing their ideas. If you want the wisdom of the crowd, gather it electronically or in writing, and make sure people can’t see each other’s ideas until everyone’s had a chance to contribute.  Wow — sounds to me like the exact opposite of typical brainstorming!

She goes on to explain why, if you want the best ideas to surface, this radically different approach is so important. Group dynamics contain unavoidable impediments to creative thinking, she writes. Don’t mistake assertiveness and eloquence for good ideas. Those words convict me. In the past I used to be the one who thought he had the best ideas, and because I loved to hear myself pontificate I would usually be the assertive one in the brainstorming group, proclaiming my ideas with volume to match my level of conviction. How much did I contribute to “Groupthink” by unknowingly stifling the ideas of my quieter colleagues? I suspect I did it a lot. Age does sometimes bring wisdom, or at least a bit of self-assessment, and I hope I’ve learned my lesson. Now I try to listen more than I used to, and it’s amazing the things I learn.

What about you? If you’re the leader of the group, maybe you need to try some of the approaches Susan Cain outlines above and seek the contribution of your team in a more private way. If you’re the Extrovert on the team and the boss convenes a brainstorming session, make sure you quiet your impulse to dominate and seek out those in your group who may be hesitant to contribute. And if you’re the Introvert with the Best Idea Ever, speak up. Borrow a whistle or an air horn, if you have to, just to get everyone’s attention! Then someday when your idea has saved the company billions, you’ll be able to smile quietly and say, “See? We quiet ones do have great ideas!”

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Connecting the Dots?

Dots      Last time we talked about the topic of Introverts and Extroverts. It’s really fascinating how much our society is wired to appreciate Extroverts and make Introverts feel out of place! Here’s one recent example…

I was at a day-long business conference last week in a room with about 200 strangers. There on our plastic-enshrouded name tags alongside our names (First Name BIG FONT, last name smaller font) and company/organization was a colored dot. Oh-oh, I thought — this has all the earmarks of an ice-breaker.

Sure enough, at the first break, the cheerful lady at the mic announced that during the break we were to find someone else with a dot the same color as ours and converse. Strike up a conversation. Get to know each other. I presume we weren’t supposed to get too deeply into the weeds of intimacy since we only had 15 minutes (“Five minute countdown, everybody — five minutes!”) This was a longish break so we were supposed to connect more than one dot, as it were, although I think I cheated and talked to the same guy for maybe 20 minutes before I headed to the restroom.

I don’t really mind this stuff, actually, being more or less an Ambivert — with elements of both Intro and Extro woven into my personality. I can do fairly well chatting with strangers. (I do confess to an impatience with rules, though, which explains more than anything else my cheating on the colored-dot protocol.) But when I mentioned this episode to my delightful, sociable, introverted daughter, her immediate response was, “I hate ice-breakers!” And I had to wonder, how many of the people in the room wearing colored dots on their nametags felt exactly the same way? Was this exercise really designed by Extroverts, for Extroverts, leaving a significant number of Introvert attendees feeling awkward and out of place? Did it really break any ice?

The wonderful book by Susan Cain called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking delves into this fascinating topic in detail, and I highly recommend the book. One thing she said toward the end really struck me. “If you’re a manager,” she wrote, “remember that one third to one half of your workforce is probably introverted, whether they appear that way or not.” Boss, you had better stop and consider that reality, especially if you’re an Extrovert yourself! How much of your workplace, from the placement of desks to the assignment of accounts, is designed to appeal to (and maximize the performance of) Extroverts — to the possible detriment of many gifted Introvert members of your team? Have you made provision for these quieter, more reflective types to make a full contribution to your organization’s success?

More about this later. For now, if you go to a trade show or seminar and your name tag bears a colored dot, take my advice and plan your strategy ahead of time. Find a pleasant person with the same color dot as you, grab some coffee and locate a comfortable corner to chat. You even have my permission to talk with a dot of a different color! Oh, and one more thing — they called this particular ice-breaker “Speed Dotting.” I am not making this up.

 

 
2 Comments

Posted by on May 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , ,