Sunday 20 July 2008

The Extroverted Minority

I am a member of many minorities and rather than complain about disadvantage, I find it is better to understand how other people think. That way I can explain why things are the way they are and like a good geek understanding is the bomb.

Since a friend introduced me to the oracle that is Myers Briggs, I have been entranced by the idea that people have a preference for how they think, are energised and how they prefer to behave. Let's not be ridiculous, it's a little more accurate than astrology but does not define you or me. Understanding the basis of behaviour is always revealing.

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time being the lonely extrovert in the sea of IT introverts. I won't complain because introverts are my favourite people. I do realise though that they often see me as the excited puppy or the open book.

In a fascinating conversation today with a group containing an even number of introverts (Is) and extroverts (Es), I discovered the kind of thresholds that people can handle before they feel uncomfortable in a group. According to Jung, extroverts get their energy from people while introverts are energised from within. To me, that makes introverts like superheroes and extroverts... well not. Being in a group and interacting with people makes me feel charged. Sometimes I have to stop hanging out with people or I feel I'll explode.

So back to the thresholds... the Is in the group and some of the Es found that they were comfortable with groups containing 1-6 people. Once they had interacted with these gatherings for a few hours, the Is had to have time on their own to recharge.

As a good puppy, I thought long and hard about my threshold because I wanted to contribute to the conversation. As a good extrovert, I waited for the person speaking to stop and spoke up with my number. This is the number at which I get uncomfortable dealing with that many people at once. When I said "My tipping point is around 50", there was great laughter and smiles. That was the honest truth though but it may be higher in larger rooms.

Even while I'm surrounded by introverts, I still don't quite get how they work and think and recharge but I do love the variety of people in the world. It's probably best we keep on trying to understand each other and just accept everyone for the beautiful unique snowflakes they are :)


Tuesday 1 July 2008

Stop. Collaborate and Listen

Photo by Tio used under the flickr Creative Commons license

As a crippling head cold ends and I roll off my couch and on to a new project in the far north of Sydney, I've taken my sick days to think through what happens when I start a new gig. Doing this at ThoughtWorks is no different to the decade I spent contracting. It's all about walking in to a new space with new faces and working out how to make a difference.

Although I may be the first person to realise, it is now clear that Vanilla Ice was talking about consulting when he sang the wise words...

Stop. Collaborate and Listen.

There is no better set of rules to follow when you are entering unknown territory, whether they take you with open arms or have been told to have you there. Let's break it down...

No matter how brilliant you are or how much you know you can contribute to a client, don't open with that line. Stop yourself from walking in to the room and telling everyone they are wrong and that you know a better way. The fact is that until you have a good understanding of what is going on, you have no idea how to improve it. Some people are able to understand this better and get going pretty fast. You will still notice that they hold back, even for a split second.

If your situation is like mine and you spend your entire working life on teams then collaboration should show it's face in your working ethos. Work together with people to change the landscape, achieve the goals or to teach and learn. You have a common goal. Work together with others to get there. If you pull in a different direction to those around you then you'll hold everything up or go nowhere. Of course, none of this means that you should not say what you think is right or suggest ideas but do it with the common goal in mind.

and Listen.
Listening to people and reacting to them as you work with them is the key to gaining trust and influencing any situation. Listening does not mean saying nothing until they stop talking and then talking about what you want to say. Listening means hearing what people say, even if you don't agree with it. In order to change minds, you must first understand what you are trying to change.

None of this means that you shouldn't try to make changes. If you know a better way to do something then it is your professional responsibility to make that heard, even if no one listens. The thing is that no one will listen to you if you walk straight in the door and start telling everyone how stupid they are. I've witnessed brilliant people go down in flames because they couldn't build trust. They insisted on being given control. Influence and trust are gained through building relationships. Think about the people you listen to. They will all be people you know and trust. They will rarely be the stranger who just walked in the door.

Be sincere, if you are really there to help and not just score genius-points then people will see that. You lose nothing by taking the time and effort to show them that you are a good person who they can rely on.

If Vanilla Ice doesn't work for you then maybe you could continue listening to Eminem's Low, Down, Dirty.

Acknowledge Me

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