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Introverted and extroverted leaders: Bring on the battles

4 min read


Liz and Ricky are two best work buddies at an industrial supply company in the Midwest. But it wasn’t always like that.

Early on in their careers, they once stopped talking for a week. A minor disagreement turned ugly when Ricky, an extrovert, took action without mulling things over and Liz, an introvert, kept her feelings inside. Learning to talk over situations taught them that conflict was normal, necessary and natural, but it was how they handled it that really counted.

My research on introvert-extrovert pairs in the workplace has shown that the relationships of high performing duos like Ricky and Liz don’t just happen. Even as leaders with experience under our belt, we can let those with different styles crawl under our skin. Introverts don’t talk fast enough. Extroverts won’t stop interrupting. And under stress, introverts tend to shut down and extroverts go into overdrive. That is when potentially productive conflicts become stalemates.

But when introverted and extroverted leaders take a step back and approach conflict in a healthy way, they can achieve extraordinary results. They key is to focus on the results they are both trying to achieve. They either avoid talking about the tough stuff or get in each other faces.

My research has shown that a key aspect of “The Genius Opposites Process” is “Bringing On the Battles” — when you see disagreement as necessary to arrive at better outcomes because you challenge each other to come up with better solutions.

So what are a few payoffs of “Bringing on the Battles”?

  • You blast apart your assumptions and biases, ultimately reaching a stronger result.
  • You pull out the best ideas from each other. It is like blending two brains into one.
  • You provide your customers with a wider range of viable options.

Through the past 30 years of consulting with and coaching opposite teams, I have found they take these five steps to address conflict.

  1. Remember energy differences. Accept that your partner’s introverted energy may wane from too much people time or your extroverted colleague might get too hyped up during conflict. Factor in breaks and timeouts to keep you moving toward a resolution.
  2. Say what you want. If you need to find a private space to really, then tell them. Or, if you need your opposite to let you spill out your thoughts, say so. Mindreading doesn’t work here.
  3. Manage crises together. Draw on the partner who is better suited to meet the problem at hand. Figuring out the logical way through may be your strong suit, while your opposite’s strength might be calming down the customer. Errol and Anthony, Australian business partners, found that in one crisis, extroverted Errol was particularly effective at turning a troublesome client around by drawing on his natural relationship skills.
  4. Bring in a third party. Sometimes when you reach an impasse, no amount of discussion will work. The best action you can take is to bring in a neutral party to break through the emotion and help you find a win-win solution. Once, when my introverted spouse, Bill, and I were co-authoring a book, we got stuck. I was taking my time and Bill was ahead of deadline. We called Ailsa, our English editor, who gently suggested that Bill relax and I get moving. It helped to have a third party tell us what we already knew.
  5. Walk and talk. Consider moving your conversation outside the doors of your office. Extroverts think aloud. Talking out their ideas while walking around helps them gain clarity about their positions. Introverts respond to the relaxed pace and conserve energy by not having to respond face to face. New ideas spring up and solutions emerge together. An added benefit? Getting some extra stress reducing exercise!

In the hands of committed opposites, bringing on the battles can lead to original solutions and breakthroughs that benefit both opposites and their clients. Try on one of these strategies today and observe the difference it makes in your impact as a leader.

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.” In addition to her latest book, “The Genius of Opposites,” she has written two best-selling books about introverts (Quiet Influence and The Introverted Leader).

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