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Gregariousness is Optional

excited business colleagues      Ah, those overly gregarious co-workers. You’re surrounded by them. Gregarious people are the ones who are highly sociable, highly outgoing, always seeking the company of others. Gregarious people, in other words, are the classic extroverts. And if you’re the classic introvert, your gregarious colleagues probably drive you nuts sometimes. Do they always have to be so — emotional? So up? Laughing so loud and so long? High-fiving each other incessantly? Don’t they ever calm down??!

Well…probably not. And I suspect there are times when that fills your introverted heart with a mixture of irritation and maybe just a bit of envy. Sometimes I’ll bet you’d like to cut loose a bit — or at least cut a little looser. But if that’s not your nature, the subtle pressure you might feel from the extroverts around you can be a bit daunting. So here’s some great news from an excellent book I’ve quoted from before, called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. She makes this profound statement: “Love is essential; gregariousness is optional.”

As we’ve pointed out before, our culture tends to idolize the extroverts. We somehow tend to equate being an extrovert with being strong, being a leader, being assertive and taking charge. But experience shows us that is assuredly not always the case! Some extroverts talk a good game but fail to demonstrate substance to match their style. And many introverts outshine their extroverted colleagues and become outstanding leaders in businesses and organizations large and small.

Sadly, in our overly-hyped, extroverted world, gregariousness doesn’t feel optional! While being the out-going one gets you noticed, all too often the introverts feel out-shouted as the clamoring extroverts vie for attention. That’s why I think Susan Cain’s statement is so profound. After she says that “Love is essential; gregariousness is optional,” she goes on to add this suggestion for introverts:

The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers — of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity — to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems, make art, think deeply…Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to.

Where do you shine best — in the glare of the Broadway spotlight, or in the soft glow of the lamplit desk? Each has its place. Each is of equal value.

This notion is even Biblical, by the way. There’s a New Testament verse in Peter’s first epistle that challenges the faithful to use the particular gifts God has given each one of us. In the New Living Translation, this passage says, “Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies.” Do you see the difference? That passage means that it doesn’t matter whether your God-given gift is public or private, out in the spotlight or behind the scenes — both are equally valuable and both are essential.

So, let the gregarious folks out there high five all they want to! Meanwhile you introverts can stop being intimidated. Just remember, “Love is essential; gregariousness is optional.”

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Posted by on July 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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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.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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In the Weeds

cat_in_the_grass     The Big Team Project starts out with the loftiest of intentions. The boss brings everyone together and launches the new initiative. We are going to re-organize the way we do business! We are going to come up with a Vision Statement and a Set of Values that will define us for the next three decades! We are going to establish new paradigms in Customer Service and Total Quality Control! There will be brainstorming assignments, work teams, and No Bad Ideas. We will re-invent ourselves! So roll up your sleeves, because today we begin!

Everyone comes to those first few meetings salivating with anticipation, eager to reinvent, re-think, re-launch and re-imagine. But after a few months all the team wants to do is retreat. What happened? The energy has dissipated, the fresh thinking grown stale, the milestones fewer and farther between. Where’s all that the excitement? When did the air go out of the balloon? Who rained on our brainstorm?

Here’s how these efforts sometimes progress.  During those first few meetings, fueled by great intentions, the team makes great progress and everyone seems to be on board. But then the questions become more complex. The issues grow more opaque. The take-aways become increasingly obscure. The impatience grows more obvious. The lofty goals evaporate into the fog of petty argument and passive aggressive “whatever” attitudes. That dreaded nemesis “Process Fatigue” begins to set in — a toxic condition where a few impatient nay-sayers are finally joined by a growing chorus of equally impatient colleagues asking with one irritated voice, “Can we please just get on with it??!”

Face it, Project Leader — you and your team are deep into the weeds.

Most of us have been there. I was once part of a Strategic Planning team that met weekly for a period of, as I recall, at least two years. We found ourselves in the weeds a lot, debating about the meaning of terms and the pointless details of timelines that would never be met. Ultimately there was an organizational change at the top and the whole project was shelved. Hopefully your project isn’t headed for that same dismal fate!

If you’re a Project Leader and your team seems stuck, the team needs you to help get things moving. So here are three things you might want to focus on. First, replace confusion with context. When a complex project goes awry it’s easy for members of the team to lose sight of the goal and start asking, “Can someone remind me why in heck we’re doing this? What’s the point?” That is the leader’s Central Question! You may understand the point fully, but your team might not, so you need to remind everyone frequently why this project is important. Make sure everyone comprehends where we’ve been and where we’re going. Put the project into a larger context and your team should become reinvigorated.

Second, overcome complexity with clarity. Some projects are just inherently complex, and you’ll never succeed by trying to “make it simple.” But you can make it clear. Use straightforward, non-technical language. Break big concepts into bite-sized chunks and, again, help people see how these smaller pieces fit into the larger task. If you’re a highly analytic leader, learn to use emotional terms to motivate your non-analytic colleagues. When you speak with enthusiasm, confidence and conviction, your clarity can overcome a lot of fear. Take charge and be clear.

Third, turn paralysis into progress. Leaders need to understand just how frustrating it is to be on a team that’s going nowhere! The fastest way out of the weeds may be to back up a bit — something strong-willed leaders hate to do. Figure out where things began to go off the rails. Maybe you need to re-frame the discussion, rearrange the teams or reconsider the timeline. Maybe you need to focus on one or two areas where progress is possible and leave the others for later. Momentum brings a kind of energy that can often sustain itself — just as the feeling of being stuck in the mud brings the fear that it will always be this way!

Context, clarity, progress — help restore these to your project and leave the weeds behind.

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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