The Genius of Opposites: An Excerpt

What are genius opposites?

Genius opposites are partnerships made up of introverts and extroverts in all types of combinations. These include executives and admins, creatives and their collaborators, sales people and office support personnel, project managers and their sponsors, and more.

These powerful teams have a unique chemistry and achieve outcomes they never could achieve alone. But they take work to succeed, and the magic rises from their differences. Although their styles are divergent, the results of their collaboration look like they came from a single mind. Their relationships are most successful when they stop focusing on their differences and use approaches that move them toward results.

The basics: Be sure you’re defining introverts and extroverts accurately

Introverts get their energy from within, and extroverts get theirs from the outside world. Though many of us claim to fall somewhere in the middle on this energy scale, we do tend to lean one way or another.

You can also behave more extroverted or introverted in  specific situations. For example, as an extrovert, you may be very comfortable at large holiday parties with strangers, but you may clam up with the finance team, with whom you have less confidence. Or as an introvert, you may speak powerfully in a prepared talk but be tongue-tied with your co-workers at lunch.

The deal-breaker question of whether you are more of an introvert or extrovert is this: Do you need time to recharge after being with people? If the answer is a resounding yes!, then there is a good chance you are an introvert. But if it is just a medium yes, then you are likely more extroverted. While that distinction may not be especially scientific, it is practical.

Beth Buelow is an expert on introverted entrepreneurs and author of The Introvert Entrepreneur. In complimenting an introvert/extrovert pair who made their business work as opposites, Beth said, “You are mastering being together together.” That mastery describes many of the partners you will meet in this book. In different ways, they are seeking to deliver results together. You will also read about the breakdowns that occur along the way between introverts and extroverts, and how to avoid them. Here are a few of the problems that can occur as a result of introvert/extrovert differences. Can you identify with any of these in either your work or personal life?

Opposite wiring causes misfiring

The people who drive us crazy often view the world through different lenses. In fact, those “lens” differences or traits that we at first find endearing often become the ones we can’t stand. I loved my introverted husband Bill’s quiet, calm demeanor when we were dating. A year later, I found those long pauses irritating. Why doesn’t he answer when I ask a question? I thought. The truth was that Bill was responding in the same slow cadence as before, but the honeymoon was over and I was less accepting. He still expresses himself that way more than forty years later. Fortunately, learning about introvert/extrovert preferences helped me to reframe his long pauses and accept his need to think first before he spoke.

In addition to differences in pace of speech, these natural differences can also lead to conflict between introverts and extroverts.

Wiring challenge #1: Being alone versus with people

Introverts need and want to spend time alone. They prefer quiet, private spaces and like to handle projects individually, one on one, or in small groups. Extroverts have a hard time understanding that and often feel the need to intrude on that solitude. My husband, in his humorous way, has a large “Do Not Disturb” sign on his door, as a fifteen-year-old boy might! Extroverts need a strong signal like that to know introverts mean business when they say they need alone time.

Writer Jonathan Rauch explains, “Extroverts…assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome….As often as I have tried to explain the matter to extroverts, I have never sensed that any of them really understood. They listen for a moment and then go back to barking and yipping.”

Extroverts thrive on being out among people, love meeting new ones and packing a lot into a day. The more activities the better it is. When extrovert Steve Cohn, a director of learning, is on the road, he likes to eat with his colleagues, to “hear sixteen conversations going on at the same time.” An introverted team member told him that at the end of the day, she had given everything she had while in the classroom and needed to recharge. She headed up to her room and that was it for the evening. Cohn was irritated at first, but changed his thinking when he thought about it. He explained, “I teach this stuff (communication skills), so I am understanding.”

Until partners understand these differences, they may not be as understanding and resent team members who don’t join in evening socializing. Being alone or being with people can create challenges in customer interactions as well. Introverts are challenged when they are thrust into gatherings designed for networking with strangers. Extroverts are frustrated when a customer or client squelches their rapport-building time by being uncommunicative or wanting to get to business.

Wiring challenge #2: Thinking it through versus talking it out

Introverts need space and time to process their thoughts. Even in casual conversations, they consider others’ comments carefully. They stop and reflect before responding and know how to use the power of the pause to let everyone’s words sink in. Extroverts are impatient while waiting for introverts to finish their thoughts. They also express frustration about having to ask questions in order to pull ideas from their introverted counterparts, especially when decisions must be made. They often are ready to move while their introvert partners are still pondering the options.

Extroverts may not have fully formed their ideas, but are forming them aloud as they speak. Introverts find this tiring and become confused trying to follow an extrovert’s running commentary. They may even think that the extrovert has changed his mind when he is expressing a new thought; actually, the thought was just percolating aloud. Consultant and author Emily Axelrod illustrates the point: “It used to frustrate Dick (her husband and business partner) when I would think out loud. Once, I ran to him and said, ‘Let’s go to the movies. We can see this, this, this, or this!’ He just looked at me. Suddenly, it dawned on me: it frustrated him when I would talk about all these things that we could do because he thought we had to do them all!”

Wiring challenge #3: Being private versus being an open book

Introverts keep personal matters under wraps, sharing information with only a select few. Even then, they share it only after they know people well and feel a high level of comfort with them. Extroverts want to connect and warm up to people more quickly. They may perceive introverts as standoffish, aloof, and downright angry when first meeting them, especially when introverts don’t quickly self-disclose. Introverts, on the other hand, find the questions and immediate best-friend camaraderie intrusive.

That extroverts need to talk, talk, and talk to everyone often baffles the introvert. Author and leadership consultant Devora Zack tells introverts in her classes that extroverts say, “I can talk to anyone about anything.” She has watched those same introverts “stare with mouths dropped open, as if upon their first viewing of a UFO.”

Summary: Figure out the wiring

The new model of work requires that we collaborate and understand how extroverts and introverts are wired differently. Not understanding how these different wires can cross can cause serious damage in being productive, satisfied, and ultimately in serving your customers.

Your natural disposition toward or away from solitude, your preference for thinking or talking aloud and being private or an open book are all potential causes for disagreement. Though their styles are divergent and these unlikely duos take work to succeed, the magic rises from their differences. The results of their collaboration look like they came from a single mind.

Excerpted with permission from Jennifer B. Kahnweiler’s The Genius of Opposites: How Introverts and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results Together. Learn more at

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