Have you the energy?

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Part 2 of 5 of Managing to Manage? – How understanding MBTI® can help

Being a manager can be exhausting. Whether you manage an entire practice, a department or team, or simply yourself and your work, the demands on your time and emotional energy will be high. Particularly in the current climate of cutbacks, restructuring and heightened uncertainty, the world of management can be an draining place to be. It calls for levels of endurance more suited to a marathon than a sprint. So a good question to ask yourself is “have you the energy for it?”

Whatever your energy levels, you probably feel you could benefit from having a little bit more. If this is true for you then the MBTI® extroversion-introversion dichotomy can be of assistance. Understanding if your are extroverted or introverted helps you identify which activities are likely to leave you energised and hungry for more, and which experiences will probably leave you feeling wiped out. This knowledge will also help you interact better with others and help make your working relationships energising rather than exhausting.

In this article (part 2 of 5 in the series) I explain the key characteristics of extroversion and introversion, help you identify which may be your preference, and offer some easy to implement actions to help you put this learning into practice.

How are you feeling today?

Are you exhausted or energised? Do you feel tired or turbo-charged? Perhaps you’re sitting somewhere in between? Whatever your energy levels, you probably wouldn’t mind a little bit more. Whether you manage a team, a service, a department, a practice, or simply yourself and your work, management is often a tiring experience. Competing demands, ever-increasing workloads, and budget cuts are all too often thrown in your direction and we haven’t even mentioned the people bit! Miscommunication, misunderstanding, competing egos, company politics and ‘personality clashes’ can all make management a daily endurance test. So have you the energy for it? And if at times you feel like you don’t, or at least you would like to feel a little more energised than you do, then a look at the MBTI® extroversion-introversion dichotomy can help.

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What is this dichotomy about?

‘Extroversion’ and ‘introversion’ are widely used terms and tend to be associated with how sociable people are. Extroverts are usually seen as ‘people who like people’ or the ‘life of the party’, whilst introverts are often regarded as quieter souls who like to keep themselves to themselves. From an MBTI® perspective however, the terms ‘extroversion’ and ‘introversion’ have a deeper, more intricate, definition which consequently allows for a more meaningful level of application than simply ‘Bob likes to be around people and Sue doesn’t!’.

The extroversion-introversion dichotomy is about your preferred ‘world’. Those with a preference for extroversion tend to enjoy the world around them and are energised by external stimuli – this is often other people but can also simply be a busy or energetic environment. For extroverts, time spent interacting with the world around them is usually considered time well spent. For example, extroverts may find team meetings an enjoyable experience because they are able to interact with colleagues, bounce ideas around with other people and talk through what’s on their mind. For an extrovert, an idea isn’t fully formed until it is spoken out or, at the very least, written down. Quite simply, for an extrovert the idea needs to be externalised. From an energy perspective, extroverts are often described as solar-powered – drawing upon the outside world to keep their energy levels high.

Those with a preference for introversion tend to enjoy the internal world of their own thoughts and ideas. They are often energised by time spent by themselves where they have the space to think and reflect. For example, introverts may enjoy time spent in research or relish the opportunity to close the office door (if they have one of course!) to do some creative thinking. For an introvert, an idea will only usually be shared with others when it has been properly formed and thought through. In a team meeting scenario, whilst your extroverts are talking through their ideas and opinions and bouncing off each other, your introverts will often be sitting back, listening to the conversation and, only when ready, share what they think with the group. To continue the analogy used above, introverts are often referred to as battery-powered – drawing upon the inside world whenever they’re running low on energy.

Is this all there is to it?

How energised you feel is of course down to far more than MBTI®. Proper sleep, a healthy diet, exercise, fresh air, a stimulating work environment, and work/life balance or blend all go into the mix. MBTI® cannot replace the need for all of these things but an understanding about extroversion and introversion does give you insight into the kinds of activities that will tend to leave you drained and those that will tend to leave you energised. This knowledge can then be used to the advantage of yourself, team, and clients.

So which am I?

The best way to try and discern which you might be is to receive some feedback from a registered MBTI® practitioner who can help you identify your preferences. In order to get the most out of MBTI® it is strongly recommended you do this. However, if you aren’t in a position to do this in the near future, as a start, you may like to reflect on the following questions:

Q. Do you tend to think through your ideas or talk them through? Are you ‘think, say, then think some more’ or ‘say, think, then say what you’re now thinking’?

A. Introverts tend to identify with the former, extroverts the latter.

Q. How long would you consider to be too long to spend in your own company?

A. Extroverts tend to answer in terms of hours, possibly days. Introverts tend to answer in terms of days, possibly even weeks.

Q. What kinds of activities at work do you often enjoy or find stimulating? Why is this?

A. Introverts may answer in terms of having time/space to get things done or think things through. Extroverts may answer in terms of catching up with people, or having a great team meeting.

Q. How would you celebrate a successful day at work?

A. Extroverts often answer ‘by socialising with friends or family’. Introverts may answer ‘by buying a favourite bottle of wine or renting a movie to enjoy at home.

Q. What hobbies do you enjoy and why?

A. Introverts often answer with activities that can be enjoyed alone or if it’s a group activity, the reasons given are usually not related to the team interaction side of things. Extroverts often answer with team sports, evening classes or interest groups where they are able to meet new people, socialise, and learn from others.

In all the answers given, it is the reasons behind the answers that helps you discern whether the evidence is pointing towards extroversion or introversion. For example, both extroverts and introverts may love playing football or hockey on Saturdays but for very different reasons – one may say ‘it’s the enjoyment of playing as a team and the post-match socialising’ whilst another may say ‘it’s the only time I get to focus on one thing at a time – I’m there to play a position and can enjoy focusing on this without the kind of distractions I often get at the office.’

Sometimes I feel like an extrovert and at other times an introvert – what does this mean?

You can and do use both introversion and extroversion. You may well have a mix of extroverted and introverted answers to the questions above. It is advisable to look at the balance of evidence to help you decide which you think you are as well trying to identify if there are specific reasons why you’re acting introverted or extroverted in a particular context. In some situations, past experience would have taught you that an introverted approach works best or that a particular client responds well to you displaying extroversion. Equally, lack of experience, feeling ill prepared or a dominant colleague may make a typically extroverted person retreat inside whilst the silence of others, or the demands of the moment, may make a typically introverted person step untypically into the limelight.

Is it possible to tell who is an extrovert and who is an introvert?

People will display behaviours that may give you ‘clues’ as to what their preference is but be careful not to assume their type. An individual has at their disposal much more information about themselves than you will ever see. It is easy to be fooled into thinking that a colleague who is a competent public speaker must be an extrovert or a member of staff who enjoys research must be introverted. MBTI® is not about ability or skill. The best way to discover the type of those you work with is to participate in an MBTI® team day where people are willing and supported in discussing their type and learning together how to improve working relationships.

How does this help me manage?

Your energy levels will have a direct impact on how well you manage. If you are feeling drained, worn out and in constant need of a holiday you are unlikely to be making the best decisions, delegating effectively, managing change or stress well, motivating your staff, nor catering to the needs of your clients as well as you could. Think through how to keep yourself energised and motivated in the workplace, and see this take place in practice, and you stand to gain all of the above. Broadly speaking there are three levels of application – with yourself, with your colleagues and staff, and with clients. Below I offer some ideas on how you can use your preferences for extroversion or introversion at work for the benefit of all:

If you are an extrovert, consider doing the following:

  • Set up regular catch ups/meetings with people, ideally face-to-face. You will tend to find these experiences enjoyable and consequently energising. Too much time alone and you may well start to feel isolated and begin to lose drive and focus.
  • See clients at regular intervals so your energy from the last meeting carries over into the next.
  • Identify a trusted friend or colleague who you can talk through work issues with – externalising your thoughts will help form them in your mind and consolidate how you feel about the situation.
  • Put yourself forward for projects where you get to meet new people, engage new ideas, facilitate/participate in meetings, or communicate to others.
  • Take yourself to a more energetic and busy environment compared with your office if you want to do some creative thinking.
  • Factor in sufficient time in meetings and catch-ups to ‘talk through’ your ideas / items on the agenda. You may well feel ‘cut off’ or ‘unheard’ if you don’t do this.
  • Allow other extroverts in your office or team sufficient time to talk through their workload or issues they’re facing. Extroverted colleagues may not necessarily need answers or solutions from you, sometimes they may just need to externalise what’s in their head.
  • Invite introverted colleagues or staff to share their opinions and insight without putting them on the spot for an immediate answer – perhaps raise with them what you would like their views on before the meeting to allow some ‘thinking time’.
  • Run your presentations by an introverted colleague so you know you’re not ‘saying’ too much – both in terms of delivery style and content.

But also be careful of:

  • Doing all the talking in your catch ups/in meetings. Extroverts can sometimes want to ‘chip in’ when the other person is talking. It is important to listen first, then to talk!
  • Never spending time alone to think things through for yourself. You don’t want to be considered as not having any ideas of your own.
  • Spreading yourself too thin or being seen as an office ‘chatterbox’ – it is just as important to invest in deepening existing relationships as well as acquiring new ones.
  • Neglecting/putting off important tasks that are best done alone.
  • Overloading colleagues, staff or clients with too much information when face-to-face or on the phone – if they are introverted they may appreciate a letter or email when a response can be formulated in their own time and offered when ready.

If you are an introvert, consider doing the following:

  • Set regular times in your working week where you allow yourself time/space to process information/reflect on progress. You will usually feel energised by these experiences.
  • See clients at the start of the day, or at least not after a string of other commitments. You will give them a better service if not feeling drained by ‘endless meetings’.
  • Where possible, space out your meetings or catch-ups with colleagues, staff and clients to allow yourself to re-energise in between with your own thoughts and ideas.
  • Put yourself forward for projects that require time spent on research or concentrated effort without too much interaction/reliance on other people.
  • Take yourself into a less hurried or frantic environment compared with your office when you need to do some concentrated or creative thinking.
  • Allow extroverted colleagues the time/space to talk through their thinking and don’t expect their first thought to be their final thought on the matter.
  • Plan your time so you can formulate your ideas as much as possible before being asked for input – ask for any available information to be sent to you before the meeting.
  • Run your presentations by an extroverted colleague who can let you know if you’re not ‘saying’ enough – both in terms of delivery style and content.

But also be careful of:

  • Being regarded as trying to avoid meetings or catch ups – especially if you manage others.
  • People thinking that you’re not listening or paying attention. Introverts can sometimes not give enough feedback signals when listening to people – particularly if the speaker is an extrovert.
  • People feeling unaware of what your points of view are – especially on major projects or on issues you’re expected to be vocal about.
  • Neglecting/putting off important tasks that require a lot of interaction with others or frequent communication to the rest of the organisation or to clients.
  • Allowing others to ‘take over’ the conversation or meeting.
  • Being considered as ‘disengaged’ by staff or clients, because you’re not saying much as they may be expecting.

Should I always stick to my preference?

No. Good type development is not only making the most of your preferences but also encouraging your non-preferred side. Ideally you would have both your extroversion and introversion equally at your disposal so you can pick and choose when to use each. This said, be careful not to force your non-preferred side or expose yourself to situations that frequently ask for you to act ‘out of preference’ – you will find this stressful and energy-sapping and your performance as a manager could then suffer.

What about stress?

When under stress an extrovert can sometimes exaggerate their extroversion which could result in externalising more than is appropriate or helpful to themselves or others. For introverts, stress can sometimes cause them to exaggerate their introversion and to become withdrawn or reluctant to communicate/participate. When under extended periods of stress, or extremely stressful situations, you can experience what MBTI® practitioner’s call ‘in the grip’. Put simply, this is when your usually dominant parts of your personality are held ransom by your less familiar, less utilised ‘inferior’ side. This could result in unusually direct outbursts from a introvert and long periods of silence and brooding from an extrovert. Management can be stressful so it is important if you are recognising unhealthy levels of stress in yourself or in others to seek support – this could simply be talking things through with a colleague or HR but if needed many companies today have what’s called an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) where confidential support is available.

What to do now?

You have lots of options with how you choose to apply all the above. The considerations offered to both introverts and extroverts are deliberately straight forward and easy to implement. Try them out and see which ones work for you and also which ones work for those around you. Those with a preference for extroversion may enjoy talking through what I’ve discussed with friends and colleagues. This will help consolidate what you think about what you’ve read and help you formulate how to best put it into practise. You will also probably feel energised by talking about MBTI®, and interacting with it through experiences and conversations rather than simply reading about it! Those with a preference for introversion may find it helpful to take time to reflect on the ideas presented and even to revisit the article for another read through. Better still, using MBTI® as a starting point, both introverted and extroverted managers should be encouraged to learn from their own experiences, and from each other, about how to more effectively manage themselves and others with a view to keeping their energy levels not only in check but fully charged. This will help you complete the management marathon intact.

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