Introversion has become a hot topic of late. You can hardly get online these days without stumbling on often-peevish introverts letting the world know that they are no longer cowed by extrovert domination. (Full disclosure: I’ve been among them since I started writing on the topic in 2009.)
But amidst those voices you can also find the upbeat voice of extrovert Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, a leadership consultant and global speaker who has dedicated her career to helping introverts realize their leadership potential. Kahnweiler’s previous books include The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength and Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference. Now she has released The Genius of Opposites: How Introverts and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results Together, a book aimed at professionals trying to understand how to best communicate and work with people on the other side of the introvert-extrovert continuum.
Both introverts and extroverts can benefit from the wisdom in The Genius of Opposites, in which Kahneweiler doesn’t offer solutions for specific problems, but instead suggests ABCs for taking a broader view and reframing potential conflicts.
“Accept the Alien,” she writes. “You can’t change your opposite, but you can understand them. Once you are able to accept this fact, you are in for much less stress.” And according to Kahneweiler, you don’t have to avoid disagreement, but rather “bring on the battles.” Disagreements, she posits, can help you “arrive at better outcomes because you challenge each other to come up with better solutions.”
Using interviews with dozens of introvert-extrovert teams as well as examples drawn from famous collaborations, Kahnweiler packs the book with anecdotes. With the likes of movie critics Siskel and Ebert and musicians Hall and Oates, she shows how people have worked through personality-related problems to great success.
One team she highlights has developed code phrases for when communication begins breaking down. “We’re missing each other,” is when they can’t seem to meet on a concept. And there’s “Let me go on a tangent,” for when one of them has to take the conversation briefly in a new direction — a phrase instigated by the extrovert but soon adopted by the introvert as well.
Another introvert-extrovert team has divided duties so that the introvert deals with longtime clients, with whom he is comfortable, but leaves sales and “meet-and-greet” interactions to his more gregarious partner.
Still, not every moment is rosy. Kahnweiler also writes about a pair of architects who suffered through days of discomfort due to personality clashes. The extroverted architect popped into the introvert’s office with a lot to say one day, and the introvert couldn’t quite manage to put on his usual happy face. He scowled, she stomped off, offended — all because she didn’t realize that he wouldn’t always be gracious about interruptions.
All introverts and all extroverts are not the same, so Kahnwelier doesn’t try to provide pat solutions. Instead, she offers ways of looking at differences as strengths rather than obstacles. Nothing in here is groundbreaking, in the sense that after you read her suggestions you’re likely to think, “Well, of course!” But with clear language and well-chosen anecdotes, Kahnweiler helps you pinpoint where professional relationships are strong or breaking down, speeding you toward insight. (In terms of introvert-extrovert differences, that is — which are of course are only part of the equation in any relationship.)
Working with Kahnweiler’s ABCs requires self-examination — what assumptions and biases are you bringing into the collaboration? — as well as patience, tolerance, an open mind, and a sense of humor. It requires recognizing when a challenge is related to how something is being handled rather than what is being done. The payoff is that introvert-extrovert diversity, as much as any other kind, broadens and enhances what a business can provide for its clientele. It opens, too, the possibility for true innovation — the kind that divergent views can lead to.
Sophia Dembling is author of Introverts in Love: The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After.
The Genius of Opposites: How Introverts and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results Together
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, August 2015
Paperback, 168 pages