10 Top Tips about Introverts

1 – sometimes we prefer to be extraverts.  When you see us gathering facts, having experiences, making relationships, making plans, talking about possibilities – we are working in the outside world, and that’s extraversion

2 – the most important thing about us is usually hidden from you to start with.  Because we prefer the inner world, you may not be able to see what makes us tick.  That can be confusing if you think the outer world is more important

3 – conversely, the thing you see first might not be that important to us.  Because we prefer the inner world, what we do in the outer one usually matters less to us in the end

4 – you won’t get the best out of us if you don’t give us time to think and process information.  It doesn’t need to be long – just a few seconds silence might be enough.  Tell us clearly when you need the response by and you’ll get it

5 – when we’re quiet, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re holding out on you.  We may just be trying to find the space to understand what we think.  Or we may be a bit worried about how you’ll react to what we want to say

6 – we like extraverts.  We appreciate your energy, and feed off it; although sometimes we may need it in smaller doses

7 – we sometimes feel guilty about being introverts.  In a world in which the media presents human beings as essentially extravert (partying, paragliding and falling in love), it sometimes seems wrong to be ‘us’ (reading, looking at the view, being on our own)

8 – we don’t think we’re better than extraverts.  But we do know that sometimes you need what we have, and we want you to ask for our contribution

9 – too much people stuff tires us out.  We like people (well, most of us do) but to regain a sense of balance and to really be able to contribute well we need to retreat afterwards

10 – once we’ve let you into our world, you may be surprised at how open (and extravert) we can be with you.  But it takes time and trust to let you in

Bob Dylan’s ‘Tempest’

It’s been six weeks since Bob’s new album came out: long enough to get the hang of it, even for the most picky Dylanophile.

So – as usual, some great songs.  An average Dylan song is better than most songwriters ever manage, and there are a few really good Dylan songs here: ‘Scarlet Town‘ is the best by a mile.  ‘In Scarlet Town where I was born, there’s ivy leaf and silver thorn; the streets have names that you can’t pronounce…’ is a great opening to his retelling of the old American standard ‘Barbara Allen’, and takes us into the land of mythical resonance that gave birth to Dylan the songwriter.

I could go on (and will, if you get me talking).  But one of the (many) things I love about Bob is the way he makes old things new.  He re-imagines the oldest folk traditions and makes them into something sparkling and fresh.  He finds life where you thought there wasn’t any. It’s one of the things that infuriates the casual listener who goes to one of his concerts – why can’t he do ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ so that I can recognise it?  But what would be the point?  Do it different: maybe then it will mean something different.  Maybe it’ll work better. Maybe it’ll be worse.  But we won’t know unless we experiment.

So that’s the point of this blog – learn from doing things differently.  Re-imagine.  Keep it fresh.

First Manage Yourself

I recently had a really interesting meeting with a hugely talented woman who works for herself.  She does the most wonderful work.  But she’s struggling to stay motivated and to hit targets, to manage her clients and develop her business.

In our discussion, I asked if she needed a business mentor or a coach.  She was clear: this is about managing herself.  She knows the business inside out; she knows better than almost anyone how to do what she does.  But she needs to manage herself better.

Often we assume that management is about how we get what we need out of other people.  It’s not.  It’s always about how we manage ourselves.  And no-one else can do that.

In the end, the only resource I have to offer the world, or my family, or my business, or my friends is myself.  Am I learning to develop and use that resource?

The Glory of the Paralympics

Paralympians have found a way of working with their limitations which has released them into being exceptional.  Their humanity, their vulnerability, is right there on the surface: in a ‘missing’ arm, or some neural connections that don’t function perfectly, or a severed spinal column.

It’s true there are things they can’t do.  They know that.  If you run on blades, you can’t also wiggle your toes in the sand, because you have no toes.

But what inspires me about the Paralympics is that the athletes haven’t made the illogical reverse assumption that because they can’t wiggle toes in the sand, they can’t run fast.  Oscar Pistorius and the rest of them run (or roll) a whole lot faster than I ever have done, and they do it by focussing on what they can do, not on what they can’t do.

There may be things you really can’t do.  Your humanity and vulnerability may be hidden: a phobia about flying, a deep anxiety about getting close to someone, a difficulty reading, a fear of losing control or being responsible for others.

But Paralympians show us that the glory of being human is that we’re so much less limited than we think we are.

Getting the right people in the room

I’m just back from a brilliant three day course on coach supervision.  It was a real privilege to work with Peter Hawkins and Nick Smith of the Bath Consultancy, who are real thought-leaders in this area.

There was so much to learn, and one of the things I reflected on was how you should always learn from and with the best people you can, because you soak up not only their knowledge and wisdom, but also their skills and presence and energy.  Having the right people in the room with you makes a huge difference.

But the real thing I’ve come back with is the challenge to get the right people in the room when I’m coaching and supervising.  That may sound foolish: surely I’m there and the client is there?  Well, yes, but that is almost never the full cast.  What about the client’s boss?  What about the business leader’s key customers?  What about the team leader’s team?

If they all had to be there physically, it would be a crowded room.  But they don’t: the challenge is to make sure that the client is engaging with the real challenges that these people put before them, in the way that they talk and act and react and pound the table or yawn or whatever it is that they do in a meeting with my client.

Unless we spend real time making sure these people are there, too, we won’t make any progress on the issues.  Because it’s these people who will oppose or support my client, and these people who will work with him or her to help them succeed.

We need the right people in the room.

Why put off until tomorrow what you could put off until the day after?

There are things that I put off doing; and just like everyone else, these are the things I imagine I don’t like doing.  Networking is one of them.  This is what happened towards the end of last year – I was simply so busy that I didn’t have time to do anything more than prepare for the next coaching meeting or facilitation, and then go and deliver.  So I stopped thinking about making any new contacts and looking for new opportunities.  I imagined that what I’d need to do would be to ring up lots of people I didn’t know and ask them to meet me, and so of course, as someone with a preference for introversion (see the previous blog entry), I didn’t do it.  That task had three things I dislike in it – phone, unknown people, and asking.

So – come the new year, and I realise that I need to get back to this.  But by then, the thought that networking was something that involved three of my ‘dislikes’ was firmly embedded in my head, so I put it off until I really felt I had to do something.

And here’s the surprise – I really like networking.  I still don’t like ringing up lots of new people and asking them to meet me.  But for me, networking is not that – it’s contacting a few people I already know and asking them to put me in touch with one or two people I don’t know, who I might have something in common with.  That’s great – I get to meet people who want to meet me, I do it through making contact with people I already know and like, and it’s bite-sized.  The fact that I enjoy it makes me much more relaxed about meeting new people in general, and so I’ve started to network better at larger meetings as well – because the pressure’s off.

Moral: if there are things you avoid doing, find ways of doing them that make them more approachable and friendly to you.  Don’t try and do them the way that seems natural to others.  Take the pressure off.  Do them your way.

Recognising yourself

‘Oh, that’s what I’m like!’

I was sitting in a dark railway carriage a few months ago, and I looked across the aisle.  I saw a reasonably smartly dressed man, with receding hair and glasses.  It was the end of the day – he looked tired. Oddly, he was staring at me as if he knew me.

That unexpected reflection has stuck with me: I can still see the image in my mind’s eye.  Because it’s hard to see ourselves with any sort of objectivity.  It’s both scary (I was older and tireder than I thought) and affirming (I was slightly better-looking than I thought – though that’s not making huge claim!).  Anything that helps us get a better view of who we are and how we appear is exciting.

That’s one reason I love using the Myers Briggs psychometric in my work.  This isn’t an advert – it’s just the truth!  Well used and understood, it’s a fantastic way of seeing ourselves without negative judgement or false pride; a way of recognising ourselves for who we are and beginning to understand how to work better with that.  Any week when I have a few feedback meetings using this tool is a good one for me – because I love to hear people say, with excitement, ‘Oh, that’s what I’m like.’

Ignorance is Bliss

So I’m sitting doing Maths revision with my son, and he’s struggling with SIN and COS and areas of triangles.  It all comes over me in waves – the way I just scraped my GCE Maths all those years ago, how I felt like I was drowning in a sea of ignorance, slowly sinking beneath the waves, never to be seen again…

But then I remembered how I felt when he taught me to swim.  Years ago, he was having lessons, and picking it up really well.  I had never been much of a swimmer, and I thought – why not?  If he can do it, so can I.  Let him teach me – it’ll be good for both of us.  And it was.  He grew in confidence, and I learned better from him than I had from the guy who’d chucked me in the deep end and shouted at me when I was six years old.

The same was true just now – I shared my ignorance with him, and we worked on things together.  I gave up – and he was in the position of having to ‘rescue’ me.  The power shifted – and he’s working away now on his own while I come to write this.

It’s not enough to know the answer and be confident.  Coaching is about really, truly not knowing, and trusting the client and the dynamic of the relationship to come up with the answer.  For coaches, it’s all too tempting to feel we should ‘know the answer'; for buyers of coaching, it’s all too tempting to go for a coach who has wide experience in the business that the client is involved with.  But ignorance really is bliss in coaching – scary, challenging, sometimes threatening… but the only place to start if you actually want to help someone learn something.

Open plan offices

If you’re expected to lead, you must take time to think.

I recently met a couple of senior leaders who work in huge open-plan offices. They both mentioned that they are expected to take responsibility for developing and overseeing teams, and to lead through taking new initiatives in their areas of work.  But both reported that it is impossible to get time to work through a leadership issue at their place of work.  They are surrounded by desks, by conversations, by demands – bosses walk over and ask something; helpful direct reports pitch up in the middle of a train of thought.  However tidy their desks may be, their minds are cluttered; both of them reported not having the space to do the really important stuff they needed to do.

Open-plan offices are designed to encourage togetherness, shared responsibility, team spirit.  But if they stop leaders leading, they are counterproductive.  This is not about being introvert or extravert; it’s about space to think.  If you haven’t got that space, you need to make it – get permission to work from home, or to book a room away from the crowd for a couple of hours, or get a free room designated a ‘quiet zone’ that can be booked and used solely for leadership thinking.  Otherwise you’ll end up doing all the things that don’t really matter, and none of the things that do.

Of course, maybe you prefer doing the things that don’t matter, in which case, leave things as they are…

 

Quiet?

I’ve been reading ‘Quiet’, Susan Cain’s provoking book about introversion and (to a lesser extent) extraversion.  As someone with a definite preference for introversion myself, I think she’s done a great thing in opening up the discussion about the differences.

 

Broadly speaking, an extravert is someone who prefers to spend his or her time and energy in the outer world of new people, experiences, plans, actions and possibilities; an introvert prefers to spend his or her time and energy in the inner world of people they’re close to, familiar experiences, deep interests and inner vision.

 

There’s lots of interesting stuff in the book about the neurological and behavioural differences between people, and at points I felt that lovely surge of confidence that it’s OK to be the way I am, even though most of our popular culture seems to imply that extraversion is in some way ‘better’ or expected of us.  So that was great.  My concern is that I’m sure all of us really prefer to work with a mixture of the outer and inner world – there’s no such thing as a ‘pure’ introvert or extravert.  So it’s not either/or, for any of us – it’s both/and.

 

So the question becomes not the static one of ‘Which are you, extravert or introvert?’; but the much more dynamic ‘How do you use your extraversion and introversion?’  How do you live in the outer world and the inner world?  How do you learn to move comfortably between the two worlds?  Whichever one you prefer, how do you live in the other one effectively when you have to?

 

These are the questions I work with all the time using the Myers Briggs model, so in a way they’re familiar.  But for all of us – me included – they provide new challenges every day.  How do I balance the routine needs of the business (introverted activity like writing a blog and doing the accounts) with new developments and external demands (extraverted activities like networking and delivering)?

 

The great thing is, we have both outer and inner energy; the secret is finding out how to work comfortably with both kinds…