Several years ago, the company I worked for at the time sent me to a women-in-management seminar. Attendees were given a modified Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, an assessment used to measure how people see the world and make decisions. Being somewhat shy, especially in social situations, I was surprised to find that the first letter in my four-letter Myers-Briggs acronym was "E," for extrovert.
"When people are standing outside your office, do you desperately need to know what they are saying, or can you continue to work and not care?" said the presenter when I noted my confusion. "If you want to be out there with them, you're an extrovert."
Shyness and introversion are different, I learned. The test was right--I do want to know what the people around me are saying, and I am energized by outside forces, which is why, I think, I quickly grew to appreciate and enthusiastically participate in social networking. So, does that give me an advantage, now that social networking is becoming not only a business tool but a measure of employee value? Conversely, will introverts have to fight their nature to work within the highly collaborative environment that new social business tools engender?
The idea of introversion and extroversion is being widely discussed right now due in large part to a new book, "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking," whose author, Susan Cain, is making the media rounds. I recently heard Cain interviewed on NPR, where she noted that introversion is about having a preference for lower-stimulation environments. "It's just a preference for quiet, for less noise, for less action," she said in the interview, broadcast on Jan. 30. "Many people believe that introversion is about being antisocial, and that's really a misperception. Because actually it's just that introverts are differently social. So they would prefer to have a glass of wine with a close friend as opposed to going to a loud party full of strangers."
[ How to stay private--or maybe not. Google Study: Social Media Enhances Privacy. ]
But aren't Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ a loud party full of strangers, to some extent? What's an introvert to do now that the social business model is making its way into more and more companies?
J. Clint Anderson has been a leadership trainer, coach, and consultant for more than a decade. He said that introversion vs. extroversion should be treated as a diversity issue in the workplace.
"The differences have to be accepted, understood, and appreciated," said Anderson, founder and president of the J. Clint Anderson Company. "Introverts are usually more reflective, desiring to process their thoughts before speaking. Most of the time, they prefer to gather information before engaging in dialogue. They also prefer a slower, more deliberate pace. Leaders who prefer a fast pace and immediate response may find this frustrating, but it is the introverted person's thoughtfulness that, in the end, saves time as they anticipate and avoid problems that a fast pace can create."
So perhaps it is the introvert who will avoid the problems associated with a quick trigger finger on tweets or Facebook updates. Perhaps introverts' inherent traits make them less prolific but more effective when it comes to social networking.
Yosh C. Beier, managing partner and co-founder of Collaborative Coaching LLC, recommends that introverts push themselves to grow their social networks, but leverage their proclivity for deeper, more meaningful relationships.
"With social networks, introverts should push themselves to grow their circles," said Beier. "Again, this can be done in quieter ways. Introverts prefer a few quality relationships and are willing to make a bigger investment in terms of their time and energy to build these." It seems that introverts will need to push themselves somewhat out of their comfort zone, and that companies will need to find ways to smooth the path for them. Ian Aronovich, co-founder of GovernmentAuctions.org, a site that compiles and provides information about government auctions of seized and surplus merchandise from all over the country, said a little incentive never hurts when working to avoid a social media culture clash.
"The dawning of the social media age has somewhat thrust new responsibilities on old workers," said Aronovich. "Since we started our company before the social media Twitter/Facebook business boom, we had to throw a few people right onto some hot coals with new responsibilities, which included making it a point to have relevant social media postings online through our various accounts. ... All it takes is a little nudge in the right direction, and we have seen the shyest of workers actually turn into social media masters. Once you assure them that it becomes their thing, they are usually on board." Are you an extrovert or an introvert, and is your personality affecting your social networking interactions?
What value is your company placing on effective social collaboration, and do you feel that you are at a disadvantage because of your personality type? Please comment below or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Social media are generating tons of data, but that data only becomes truly valuable when examined in context. Attend the virtual Enterprise 2.0 event Social Analytics: The Bridge To Business Value, and learn how social analytics will provide the bridge to unlocking business value. It happens Feb. 16.