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Unlocking the Genius of Opposites

by Guest Writter
Jennifer Kahnweiler, Author, The Genius of Opposites

In 1998 I accepted a job as a director of employee development at a utility company. I was pretty pumped with the chance to start some new initiatives. Amy was assigned as my assistant. I came full of enthusiasm and couldn’t get the words and ideas out fast enough. But the more I talked, the less Amy did. The more I revved my enthusiasm, the more disinterested she seemed.

I went to our HR manager and he told me, “Here is the problem, Jennifer, you’re an extrovert and Amy is an introvert. Until you learn to understand her style you are not going to get anywhere.”

Amy and I never did find that sweet spot of collaboration but this frustrating experience was a pivotal one for me. It taught me that if not carefully nurtured partnerships between introverts and extroverts can go off the rails. Successful opposites use their differences to challenge each other’s conventional thinking and blast apart their assumptions while maintaining a focus on the results they want to achieve.

Here’s how to do it.

1. Balance need for privacy with sharing. Extroverted banker Brook’s introverted branch services manager Monica was getting married and she wanted to know everything about the wedding planning. Monica didn’t want to share the details—confusing and hurting Brook. Eventually though, Brook learned to accept Monica’s need for boundaries in their relationship and desire to not share details about her wedding in workplace conversation. Here is some advice to the extrovert: Cool your heels and let the introverts you know share what they want to when they do. To the introvert: Share enough information so that the extroverts you know will feel like they can connect, stopping short of revealing information that makes you feel vulnerable.

2. Walk and talk. Consider moving your conversation outside the doors of your office. This strategy serves the needs of both extroverts and introverts. Why? Extroverts think aloud, and talking out their ideas while walking around helps them gain clarity about their positions. They can also ask questions of their partners without seeming like a prosecuting attorney with the introvert on the witness stand. Introverts will respond to the relaxed pace. They also will conserve energy by not having to concentrate on making eye contact and other in-your-face listening behaviors. When you let the juices flow by getting up and moving, new ideas spring up and you will see solutions together.

3. Talk about stuff. “The death knell to real collaboration is politeness,” said biologist Francis Crick. Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg are known for their closed-door meetings, where they discuss “products, strategy, deals, personnel, and each other.” In discussing their friendship, Sandberg describes how she coaches Zuckerberg on his public speaking. He compliments his opposite by remarking, “We can talk for 30 seconds and have more meaning be exchanged than in a lot of meetings that I have for an hour.” Think about having your conversations on neutral ground, such as inviting a guest to dinner out at a restaurant, rather than at your home. You will both be more likely to be civil to be each other when inevitable emotions flare up.

From my latest research, I culled the key lessons and themes of conversations with hundreds of introvert/extrovert relationships, and boiled down their secret sauce into five key steps to make opposites more efficient and effective. The process helps introverts and extroverts understand and appreciate each other’s wiring, use conflicts to spur creativity, enrich their own skills by learning from the other, and create results they never could have by acting separately. You can read about in my new book, The Genius of Opposites, available now.

[Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

About the Author

Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D., Certified Speaking Professional, is a best-selling author and global keynote speaker who is known as the “Champion of Introverts.” Her latest book, The Genius of Opposites, was released August 17th.

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