On March 1, Susan Cain and Pat Wadors joined Charles Duhigg at the New York Times-sponsored New Work Summit to discuss how people of all temperaments can be their best selves on the job. In a scant 22 minutes, the panelists tackled topics including the neurobiology of introverts, how to run a successful meeting without saying a word, and the natural attraction that springs up between extroverts and introverts. We’ve distilled some of the best highlights below.
It can be tricky for introverted leaders to gain the trust of their employees. Sharing details with a group of people about your style, values, personal life, and family can feel excruciatingly intimate. But if you learn how to declare who you are—and show how you navigate your work day—it will help your colleagues understand you. It’s okay to say, “I’m an introvert; I eat my lunch by myself to recharge so I’ll be better for you in the afternoon.” It’s easier to build trusting relationships when your coworkers understand your need for quiet doesn’t mean you dislike them—it’s actually just the opposite. A bit of solitude will help you be your best self for them.
Extroverts and introverts are two sides of the same coin. Just as introverts may be stereotyped in unflattering ways, extroverts can also be cast in an unwelcome light—after all, haven’t all of us at some point teased the blabbermouth who wouldn’t shut up during meetings? But the idea that there’s no possible shared ground between the two personality types is a misconception. Studies show the best-performing teams offer a balance of both. In fact, introverts and extroverts are naturally attracted to each other and can make dynamic teams as long as there is an awareness of and respect for the complementary skills and approaches each temperament brings to the table.
If you’re leading introverts, getting them to speak up in meetings can be daunting. Introverts wince at the thought of saying the wrong thing (or saying the right thing in the wrong way). If you can give your team members advance notice of the topics you’ll be covering, introverts will have a chance to plan (and yes, even rehearse) what they want to say. If advance notice isn’t in the cards, review the topics at the beginning of the meeting, and give the group five minutes to think about their responses. In addition to being more welcoming to introverts, this strategy will also encourage extroverts to consider what they’ll say (as opposed to offering stream-of-consciousness contributions). It’s just five minutes—if the extroverts start to fidget, just give them something shiny (kidding, kidding).
On the flip side, if you are an introvert and you have a passion around a topic, get out of your own head, and take the floor right away so you don’t allow your own anticipation around talking to build too much. Speak up early in the meeting so you don’t psych yourself out of saying anything at all. If you have a point to make and you speak early, your energy can be spent actively listening and being present during the balance of the meeting.
And finally, you can be a hero if you advocate for others (and lead your team into doing the same). It starts with spreading awareness. When someone starts to speak up, don’t let anybody else take over. You don’t have to go full Dirty Harry—just say something like, “Hold up a bit, I want to hear what Chris has to say.” This doesn’t just benefit Chris—it sends a signal to the whole team about the value of mingled voices. If you set the example, others will follow. Peer pressure is not always a bad thing!
Ah, the much-maligned (often in this very newsletter) open office plan, bane to introverts and extroverts alike. Like any idea, open floor plans don’t have to be all bad—as long as workers have a choice. Depending on what people are working on, they might need a large, open room to collaborate and brainstorm and let a wild rumpus start. It’s just as valid to have quiet spaces when concentration and focus are required. An ideal office allows people to move freely back and forth between private and social spaces. If your organization is thinking of moving in that direction architecturally, ask your people what they think first. In all likelihood, even the most sociable individuals will advocate for some sense of boundaries.
If you’re interested in learning more about Susan’s and Pat’s take on the future of work, you can watch the full interview below. All other panel discussions from the summit are also available. We particularly recommend the panel with Adam Grant and Amy Cuddy. Happy viewing!