as published in Conway Daily Sun
Being extraverted is often associated with talking more frequently, longer and faster; you know the type – I am the type. If you’ve ever met me you probably know that I am fully capable of speaking endlessly at a rate of over 250 words per minute – which would be normal if I lived in New York City or if I were the radio voice who reads the legal disclaimer at the end of car sales commercials. The average person to whom we can actually listen without our ears bleeding, speaks at a rate of only about 150 words per minute. Conversely, introverted people are often associated with speaking more slowly, quietly and less frequently. Both ends of the spectrum present dangers for communication as neither are particularly helpful in sales, service, or relationships.
Adam Grant, PhD., the celebrated professor at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania has done extensive research on this subject. He identifies a number of discoveries that reveal myths about introverts and extraverts. From where they get their energy, to fear of public speaking, to being better networkers or better sales people, there is little correlation between any of these qualities and whether a person is an extravert or an introvert. I know, it shocked me too, but upon further reading of his material, it began to make sense.
Let us take the skill of persuasion for example. Most people assume that extroverts are natural born salespeople. In fact, according to Dr. Grant’s research, extraverts were only slightly better at sales than introverts were. 1 in 9 American workers work in sales, and according to a survey created by Danial Pink, author of To Sell is Human, the other 8 out of 9, while mostly negative about “sales”, still spend much of their time in direct persuasion. Much of the persuading we do in life, we don’t consider selling, but is very similar. Let’s face it, if you are a parent or a teacher, you are constantly in persuasion mode. If you have a boss, co-worker or spouse, chances are you spend some time “selling” them on some concept or idea. Daniel Pink’s survey of over 7,000 workers revealed that (non-sales people) American workers self-report spending 41% of their time in the art of sales/persuasion. So the art of persuasion seems important not only to sales people, but to everyone who has a job, a parent, a child, a student, a co-worker, or a relationship with anyone. The bad news for extraverts is that you do not have an advantage in this area. The truth is that effective persuaders are people who possess listening skills, compassion and empathy in addition to presentation skills. We need to be able to understand others’ perspectives, goals, ideas and desires, before we can make any honest promise to be of assistance to them. Does this make persuasion easier for introverts? Introverts may be naturally better listeners, but understanding how you can help someone is not enough. We need to be able to articulate to them clearly, exactly how we can help them and why we are their best alternative.
Given the poor quality of sales and customer service we see in the marketplace, it should not surprise us that some people simply do not listen, while others do not tell you anything. Some of us talk too much to be effective listeners, and some of us do not talk enough to share what we know. Introversion and extroversion are relatively stable personality traits; they do not generally change much throughout a person’s life. While anyone can learn the skills that come naturally to other personality types, research shows that we do not move very far across the spectrum from our natural starting point as introvert or extrovert. If, on a scale of 1-10, from total introvert to total extrovert, none of are likely to move more than 2-3 points on the scale. Good news.
Ambiverts are the folks who are naturally in the middle. Like the ambidextrous, they can go either way and balance listening and presentation skills more easily. In pursuing win/win relationships, we often talk about the balance between courage for oneself and consideration for others. If you are at one end of the spectrum or the other, and you can learn to move just a couple points toward the middle, that is often enough to become far more effective at managing relationships at work and home, and find success in understanding and meeting the needs of others while maintaining a balance with taking care of your own needs.
Regardless of the topic we teach, my team and I constantly find ourselves helping people strike that magic balance of courage and consideration, of speaking and listening, of caring and sharing. There is no wrong place to be on the introvert/extrovert continuum. There are skills that come more easily to you depending where you are. It is relatively easy to acquire the skills you may lack, if it will help you reach your life’s goals. Balance is accessible to nearly everyone and to every organization who finds value in better relationships.