Here’s my dirty little work secret: I like meetings.
Especially ones that show up on my calendar last minute. Ones with no agenda or structure. The meetings that start with 11 minutes of chatter and go well past their time slot. Conversations that dip and weave through different topics, finding their way home after looping together six previously-unrelated subjects. Words dancing around the table like Ali and Foreman, improvising into the ether like Coltrane looking for a 13th note.
Sounds fun at a party. But I’m probably a pain in the ass at work.
I’m an extrovert. The thought of an all-day workshop with my team fills me with energy, but staring down eight hours of uninterrupted quiet time? Cue up the anxiety. I’d rather spend a day at a conference talking to customers than quietly combing through NPS data by myself. I’ll take a pick-up basketball game over a solitary jog on the beach.
Extroverts are an easy punching bag these days. We’re the blabbermouths who keep the smart people from getting work done. Deep work takes deep concentration, and who needs Blake from marketing stopping by to chat?Being an extrovert can be tough. It’s not as easy as it might look. We have insecurities too. A lot of times I feel like an outsider at work. But over the years I’ve come up with a few ways to take advantage of my work style.
My colleague, Season, wrote an excellent piece about working with introverts. Typical extrovert, I decided to butt in with my thoughts.
Tip 1: Schedule social moments, build habits around people
Giving up people time cold turkey isn’t an option. Rather than deprive myself of the energy burst I get from a few minutes of chatter, I find it helps to take ownership of it and schedule it into my day. I try to set up a block of unstructured social time further out into my day. The benefits are two-fold. I get the energy burst from the interaction, and I also get an extra rush in the hours leading up to it. On days where I play basketball at lunch, I find I’m more productive in the morning because I’m looking forward to the time with friends. After the game, I get a boost of energy from the socialization and exercise, and I find I have more focus the rest of the day. It’s a win-win.
This works with improvised one-on-one visits, too. Around 11 a.m. on some days I’ll find a friend on Stride to hit up: “Quick walk and grab coffee this afternoon?” As tempting as it is to ask someone to hang out every time I feel tired, pushing these moments out a few hours forces a little discipline and gives me the added benefit of looking forward to the trip.
For my introvert colleagues: Extroverts like me will have an easier time respecting your quiet time if you help us shake off our social restlessness. Say “yes” to quick coffee walks if you can. If you can’t make it, let us know from the start and suggest another time. It’s a drag when the break I’ve been looking forward to gets brushed aside with a last-minute “Hey, I’m pretty busy” message.
Tip 2: Control your environment, control your destiny
An extrovert working at an office with an open floor plan is like going to a doughnut factory on a diet. So many people to talk to! So many teams and activities around! Does that guy want to have coffee with me? She’s new, I wonder if she wants to play ping pong?
Can I sit in on that meeting?
Perhaps surprisingly, I also work well in focus mode. Noise-canceling headphones and distraction-free app settings help me from getting sucked into a conversation I might not be able to resist. For anyone, putting thought and effort into your physical environment at work is important. I think extroverts are extra sensitive to these distractions, and can easily get sucked into them all day if we don’t set up systems. Don’t just rely on discipline, develop effective systems.
For my introvert colleagues: Nothing complicated here. Respect the same signals and cues to keep distractions limited. Just because I like to talk doesn’t mean I can, or should, right now. But if you want to grab coffee later …
Tip 3: Seek sounding boards and sparring partners
A lot of extroverts use talking as a method of discovery and filtering. I can struggle with a problem or concept in my head for a while, then make it click by talking it through with someone. A silent partner as a sounding board does the trick, but an active sparring partner is even better.
For my introvert colleagues: Conversation is a sport for people like me. Try to keep that in mind if we accidentally say something pointless, off-topic, or possibly abrupt. That’s our way of saying “Here’s all the information on the table, let’s sort it, and rearrange it, and play with it to see where the good stuff is.”
Despite our differences, I agree with Season. Introverts and extroverts can work really well together. If we’re open about our differences and open about strategies that work, at work, we can do amazing things together. Things we can’t do alone.
An effective organization is stronger because of these difference, not in spite of them. The complete team is greater than the sum of its parts. At least I think so.
Stop by my desk, let’s chat about it some more.
For more ways to work better with introverts and extroverts, check out the Atlassian Team Playbook: our free, no-BS guide to unleashing more of your potential.