Susan Basterfield
Mar 6, 2016 · 5 min read

Over the past few years many people have written about “empathy for introverts”. I love the fact that we are starting talk more about personal preference as a way to understand each other better.

Whether or not you see Myers Briggs as a helpful tool or a horoscope, one element I have found most useful is the theory behind introverted and extroverted thinkers.

It’s not about whether one is shy or brash, but rather how we get our energy and inform our decision making

Do we do it through thinking/talking aloud with others, or do we do it in our own heads (with the others living in there?)

One of the best tips I ever learned for helping everyone feel comfortable and even confident in meetings is to ensure that when seeking contribution, extroverted thinkers are encouraged to contribute first, allowing time for the introverted thinkers to cogitate and internally rehearse. It’s an important practice — as Katie Shelly reminds us, “Leave no one Behind”.

In one team, we even had a specific order for input, and believe it or not it worked great — because we had a common language (we’d all done Myers Briggs and understood one another in that context) and expectation of one another.

The past year and a half for me has been replete with reflection and internal re-work, done mostly at home and on my own. About a year into the process, I had the opportunity to be part of Seth Godin’s altMBA. In the run up to that month, I had been slowly building intentional relationships with online communities such as responsive.org mainly utilizing traditional asynchronous communications such as Facebook or Google+. The altMBA introduced me to (amongst other things) Slack and Zoom.

Zoom especially changed the game for me — a robust, high quality video experience for multiple participants to hold equal space.

As altMBA progressed (it requires a lot of group work, which is self-organized and self-facilitated via these digital tools) it became clear to me that this was the missing link — that I didn’t want to and didn’t have to work on my own, but moreover, it helped me to understand what was missing — synchronous dialogue, engagement and problem solving — face to face.

Digital, distributed team working and communication (I think) are an introverts delight — especially the use of asynchronous tools such as slack, Facebook and even email.

No one is watching, you can say whatever you want and not be expected to reply straight away, no pressure to perform

Leaving aside intellectually performance based writing (which of course, extroverts indulge in as well!) one can take time, relax into it, delete, perfect.

And that’s not to say I don’t enjoy that mode of communication, I love the ability to take your time to be witty (!) and clever (!) however…..

I like to do a lot of things out loud — not metaphorically, but literally. That means talking! What a novel concept, aye? I hear a lot of talk about how the use of asynchronous tools can promote spontaneity, and I’m not so sure. I guess so, in a passive way, but not the spontaneity you get from live conversation — looking someone in the eye and bantering. The most powerful insight from my year of reflection was my “I don’t want to do this alone” epiphany.

Isn’t it ironic that “orange organizations” — (traditional, centralized hierarchies) cater better for conversation?

Extroverted thinkers get energy from talking things through, and I really believe that is best done in person. However, I sometimes lately have been able to catch that same buzz via Zoom, especially in longer conversations that are allowed to go wherever they need to go, without the strictness of a time box. I have to admit though, that even scheduled calls with a specific purpose, as long as they are one on one, can work really well.

In my work, I do at least 5 or 6 sessions a week that are truly global, and they are normally around 4 to 6 people. I get a lot of thanks and feedback for my ability to facilitate and participate at the same time in those meetings. For me, this are only truly possible and effective using Zoom — sorry you other platforms and those who love them — but the quality and ability for everyone to be the same size just outweighs the benefits of any other platform — simple, but effective. It’s just as if we were at the same table, and that helps me read body language and invite participation. Could turn into a blog gig for Zoom? Who knows! Back to the crux — which is:

How do we extroverted thinkers get the depth of connection in working through critical thinking with others in a distributed environment?

For me, the answer is not random coffee dates. It needs to be real, and intense. It needs to happen regularly, with a predictable cadence.

Distributed organizations like Enspiral and Buffer use the retreat cadence to get the whole team together a few times a year to make space for real-life conversation and bonding.

I get a huge buzz from that, but again, compressing a time and trying to get it all in over 3 or 4 days is equally exhausting, because I am desperately trying to have all the conversations I need to have — whilst being respectful of my introverted thinking colleagues (often seeing a mix of gritted teeth and terror on their faces) for the intense challenge for them of having to be present and prepared for those 3 or 4 days.

Nothing kills an extroverts spirit and creativity faster than locking them away.

I only really light up when in dialogue — the deeper the better. Myers Briggs doesn’t consider the depth of conversation, which for me is essential — nothing exhausts me more than small talk (which may seem antithetical until you consider what the E is really doing, and that’s honest and truly thinking out loud). Small talk doesn’t really require any thinking. And moreover, for an ENTP at least, I want the dialogue to include problems and opinions and now ideas and more information and questions and considerations and and and. Sure I can get them reading and listening. But they only make sense when I can, in real, synchronous time, do all of those aforementioned actions right back! Live messaging can do that to a degree, but without the inflection and eye contact and potential for touch (even if it’s not real) and all the rah de rah body language that we know holds the key, it’s a poor facsimile.

This is a personal observation, (a warning?) based on what I see in myself and see and hear from my Extrovert compatriots. Not that I wouldn’t be happy for introverts to rule the world, but I’d still like to talk about it!

Enspiral Tales

Stories from a bold experiment - creating a collaborative network that helps people do meaningful work.

Susan Basterfield

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Catalyst and Convenor. Experiments in new ways of working and being for everyone. Up for work that matters with people who care.

Enspiral Tales

Stories from a bold experiment - creating a collaborative network that helps people do meaningful work.

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