Last week I gave a presentation on our research into positive outliers to a group of public sector project managers. It included the finding that all these high-performing project managers had this leaning to people. I explained how this lead me on the journey first to write my book Practical People Engagement and then to develop the online coaching programme Exploring People Engagement.
During the Q&A, one manager asked me how many of the high performers were extroverts, and whether the Positive Outliers all had the advantage of their personality style. Well, we didn’t actually test for extroversion in our research. But there are some reasons why I would not agree with the general assumption that extroverts are better equipped to engage with stakeholders, and so would be distinguished by a leaning to people.
First, the positive outliers were all learners. They demonstrated in their language and by their explanations that they were self-aware, self-reflective, and to some extent experimented with different approaches. They had learned that spending a significant amount of their discretionary time moving towards key stakeholders around their projects and programmes paid off, seemed to pay off handsomely.
Then I quoted another research study from Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania which looked at introversion-extraversion in a sales environment, specifically a call centre where they made outgoing sales calls. The people who were the most successful, as measured in terms of revenue generated, were those who were neither extreme extroverts nor extreme introverts. What emerged was that these ambiverts, people who score somewhere towards the middle of the range between introvert and extrovert, performed better. It seemed that they were better placed to Influence people, in this case, to buy.
Graph from the paper by Adam M. Grant, Wharton School
Also, it is clear that there are certain aspects in this call centre workflow where the extroverts have a clear advantage: the decision to make a cold call, for example, is something perhaps that is easier for an extrovert to make than an introvert. That much is obvious. The introvert would need to establish this as a learned behaviour, say by establishing a routine habit or discipline, whereas it might be seen as energising and attractive to the extrovert.
But then, during the sales conversation itself, a key part of influencing is the paradox of being a good listener. And it’s here with introverts tend to have an advantage. It seems that the ability to reflect and match the person you’re speaking with, to adjust to their style, their tempo, their language, is a skill that is very persuasive. Whereas the extroverts might tend to ignore these clues.
I explore in both my book and the online coaching programme this whole idea that engaging with people is a multifaceted skill. When we engage with people, when we identify the stakeholders, when we study them, when we talk with them, when we make our pitch to them, there’s all different aspects of social skill in operation, but really across the whole spectrum of introversion and extraversion.
So is it a disadvantage to be an introvert? Well no. I would plead that in my own case, I have consistently scored as an introvert in MBTI assessments.
So is there something deeper at stake in this? It is possible whether or not people bring a growth mindset to this whole subject, or whether they bring self-limiting beliefs such as, “I could never do this people thing as I’m an Introvert.” In my short e-Book, the 7 Keys to Exceptional Performance, I identify the growth mindset, as set out by Carol Dweck, as a key attribute of the Positive Outliers.
The Seven Keys eBook
Revealing the Seven Key Areas that High Performers Pay Attention
Whether introvert, extrovert or ambivert, the Positive Outlier will bring a growth mindset to the challenge of leading and influencing people, will reflect, learn, and expect to grow in their effectiveness. And it seems they do.
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