A blog about introversion, extroversion, and performance.
As a mentor, consultant and trainer I am constantly challenged with finding ways in which to make participants in my sessions feel comfortable. Different personality types respond to different approaches; matching appropriate approaches to the right personality type requires a sensitive approach.
I am also interested in how different personality types contribute to or experience workplace culture. Issues such as employee engagement, maintaining a healthy workplace culture and contributing to innovation are a fascination (and even challenge) to many organisations right now. Any workplace will be comprised of a community made up of a diverse array of personality types. Finding the right balance of management approaches is complex.
I first started learning about managing teams, and eliciting ideas and applied efforts from those teams, when I started working as a performer, choreographer and dance teacher in my early twenties (a very long time ago now!). These early experiences were important: lessons learnt in handling people who were involving themselves in creative activity, something that requires experimentation and its attendant vulnerability, have turned out to be transferrable into situations which are not about making theatre.
Some observations about introverts and extroverts.
Speaking (perhaps very) generally and crudely, I think that people assume that extroverts have it all over introverts when it comes to performative activities such as acting in a play, taking part in a role play, MCing an event, giving a speech or even just getting involved in a group activity or game. And, indeed, where the activity in question is slanted towards a group activity that calls for spontaneous action within that group, perhaps they do. It is well documented that extroverts enjoy and feel stimulated by group activity, that such things can give them energy, stimulation, and a sense of meaningful connection, whereas the poor old introverts feel drained, burdened or constrained by it. And I guess that, leading on from this, people might assume that introverts have a natural handicap when it comes to any kind of public display or performance.
But here they would be wrong.
A trip down memory lane (bear with me here…)
I am an introvert myself, but was involved in the performing arts professionally for about 20 years. I started off as a dancer and choreographer, with a little dance teaching on the side, and then moved into working in arts management while still doing a little acting and choreography to ‘keep my hand in’. During this time I had plenty of opportunity to track my own evolution as a performer as well as teaching, directing, creating on and producing for other performers. I believe that no personality type is, by default, advantaged when it comes to performative activities. I have seen, in turn, brilliant, good, average, and plain bloody awful performers belonging to both introvert and extrovert personality types.
Where the differences really kick in is in the way different personality types approach developing their capacity for, or participating in, performance or display. And again I will have to generalise here as the creative process of developing performative material varies so much and is such a personal individual thing. Extroverts may favour workshopping in groups, or participating in group exercises to experiment with different dynamics or techniques within the rehearsal room. I get the sense that the frequent interaction with fellow performers helps them get the right level of energy or ‘pitch’ for their performance; lots of dialogue with others helps them to arrive at insights and refine their approach.
As an introverted performer I simply loathed those noisy games and exercises; when I had to do them I would feel my brain shut down, my feelings shrivel up and my imagination be swamped by feelings of anxiety and tiredness. I loved a damned good natter about my process but only after I had had time to sit with my feelings and reflect about what I was doing. A quieter, more reflective rehearsal or workshop process worked for me and other introverts, one which gave time for being alone to absorb thoughts and reactions and to let creative insight well up from inside.
Tellingly, to prepare for curtain up, I would see extroverted performers use various activities or interaction to get their energy ‘up’ while I and other introverts would use any excuse to sneak off to a quiet place to gather energy in. In front of an audience I have seen extroverted performers push their energy out over the footlights, chasing down the audience reactions they wanted like hunting dogs going after prey. Introverted performers, when anchored by carefully nurtured inner energy, could quietly but powerfully hold the stage and allow the audience’s attention and reactions to come to them. Both these different performative energies can be equally charismatic, engaging, and brilliant in the hands of good performers. And they can fail miserably when manifested by untalented or unskilled performers: extroverts can be noisy and bombastic (sound and fury signifying nothing); introverts can be tepid and dull.
Again, I will confess to generalising horribly. I have seen performers who I knew were introverts gleefully perform extroverted characters or material with razzle dazzle and high energy. I have seen raving extroverts turn in performances that were understated, unembroidered by any kind of showing off. But the paths and the processes those performers took to interpret their roles often drew on rehearsal and creative techniques that favoured their personality types. As an example, I have lost count of the number of introverted performers who used to agree with me that it was not necessarily a problem performing crazy onstage roles because the roles were not us, they were the character that we could put up between us and our audience.
So… why have I been rabbiting on about this in a business blog?
It’s because I want to ponder, for a moment, the activities and exercises we use when we ask people to attend workshops or other types of training. In the past, when I have myself participated in workshops (ranging from dance and theatre workshops through to workshops developing professional skills) I feel that I have seen a pattern whereby any kind of audience engagement or group activity seems to pander to the extroverted side of the spectrum.
Every time some presenter or trainer instructs us in the audience to “stand up and…” I mentally groan and shudder. I know that the intent is to loosen us up, make things fun, or take us out of ourselves but it doesn’t work this way for us introverts. It makes us tense, uncomfortable and inhibited. Breaking up the tedium of a workshop is fine, flipping the training experience and challenging workshop attendees to actively participate is something I love to do. But please don’t conflate audience participation with loud or crazy; mix up the chatter with moments of quietness or self-reflection.
And just because someone in your meeting or workshop is quiet, please don’t assume that they lack creativity, or that they are unconfident, or that they need taking out of themselves, or loosening up, or ‘corrected’ in attitude or behaviour in any way shape or form. Any attempts to do so will come across as patronising, overbearing, or even just well-intentioned but misguided.
If you want to make any human being feel inhibited and uncomfortable in a group, make a special effort to influence their behaviour and / or draw attention to what you consider to be their deficits.
Somewhere along the line extroversion has come to equal craziness has come to equal enhanced or elevated creativity. But this is just not true. Everyone has some innate creativity; as a species human beings are actually extremely creative. But different individuals access their creativity in different ways and feel comfortable sharing their insights under different conditions. For me, the challenge of being a trainer is to develop sessions that have a good balance of types of activity that allow different personality types to come to themselves, feel comfortable, and to be able to focus on the task at hand rather than being distracted by feeling uncomfortable or confronted.
My blog next week will be about one of my favourite ways of drawing both introverted and extroverted people into participating comfortably in a workshop: storytelling.
“Musician, actor, icon and entrepreneur. David Bowie was an innovator in every way. He stepped into the vacuum left by the Beatles’ break-up in 1970 and developed an array of strategies that have gone on to become the common sense of popular culture and of business itself.”
“Through his Ziggy Stardust persona, Bowie united the visual and narrative conceits of science fiction with those of pop in a way that allowed him to at once be and yet not be that invented character. Having gained an audience, it was then a business masterstroke to kill off this successful creation and to trust that his audience was now primed to accept and delight in successive incarnations and their associated musical genres.
This allowed Bowie to always be “himself” (whoever and whatever that was), while enjoying the licence to pioneer different genres of music – whether electronica, funk or emergent dance music. He combined print, stage and video design to create symbolically rich and dramatic settings for his different alter egos, using them to carry and complete his latest incarnation.”
I liked Jones’ choice of Bowie as a case study of an innovator in both the business and creative fields; Bowie’s output clearly does demonstrates how canny and imaginative uses of “visual and narrative conceits” underpin strong branding that positions you as an innovator in the eyes of your stakeholders.
Jones’ highlighting of the way Bowie’s performative personae and musical styles kept evolving is also insightful; during Bowie’s life innovation begat more innovation and his “audience was… primed to accept and delight in successive incarnations.”
I love a good writing exercise of any kind; I am especially fascinated by the challenge that comes from enshrining an organisation’s vision, mission, goals and operations within a business plan.
If you think about it this is often a process of translation: a business plan writer has to take ideas and frame them as tangible processes and measurable outcomes. Here are some things to bear in mind while you are undertaking that translation exercise:
Write using plain English: No weasel words please and leave out the jargon. Ask yourself if an industry outsider could comprehend the plan as easily as an insider.
Use templates but don’t be ruled by them: A huge array of resources are parked on the internet and available to us via a Google search. Some of this knowledge exists in the form of templates. I dearly love a good template, they provide an excellent springboard and framework on which to stick your ideas or even to guide your thinking.
But don’t be afraid to play with templates. Consider writing the way they suggest – as a challenge to your own thought processes – but then change to suit you. Change the vocabulary, the structure (and thereby the flow of ideas), leave irrelevant headings out and substitute your own. Do what is necessary so that your plan truly reflects your organisation and its culture.
Cross reference: The different components of a business plan should ‘speak’ to each other so that the plan is a coherent thing driving towards an end goal and reflecting a unifying vision. As you write different parts of the plan – financial, marketing, operational, legal, management – take the chance to review other sections of the plan and ask yourself if what you have just written will support or negate them. If you are overseeing a team of people who are developing the plan then this is an excellent chance to get them to consider, and understand, each other’s contribution.
Review and update: Good plans have a tendency to gradually start rendering themselves obsolete from the moment they start being implemented. This is because good plans set things in motion and affect the conditions they define and respond to; they create change.
When you write your plan build in a schedule to review your plan and design processes whereby you can harvest feedback and update your plan so that it can continue its work in creating, exploiting and directing change.
This article was written as an adjunct to my presentation on How to Make Your Business Plan into a Living Document at the 2016 Collins & Co. NFP Conference.
This article by Art Markman (@abmarkman) resonated with me a lot. I am a long time fan of asking ‘why’ – never as a way of undermining others or disagreeing by stealth (something that Markman discusses in his article) – but always as a way of trying to get to the bottom of things, to learn and understand. But – Yikes! – it used to get me in trouble when I ‘worked for the man’. I learnt that not everyone is as comfortable with ‘why’ questions as I am.
One of the reasons why I became Dangerous Meredith when I decided to hang up my shingle as a self employed consultant was to provide potential customers with a business name that was a conversation opener that allowed people to ask ‘why?’: “Why did you call yourself Dangerous Meredith”? This would allow me to let them know that I tend to ask the ‘why’ question myself a heck of a lot. Whether or not they found this to be ‘dangerous’ was up to them…
Anyhow, enough about me. Read this article; it’s beaut.
“We need to reclaim ‘Why?’ as a positive force in the workplace. That requires that we start to tell our colleagues about the importance of maximizing the quality of the causal and explanatory knowledge around us. It also means finding another method for disagreeing with coworkers while still being collegial. Finally, it is crucial that when people start to use the question ‘Why?’ at work when they really mean ‘I disagree’ that we highlight that and work to state disagreements more explicitly.” – Art Markman
How do you undertake the planning process so that your business plan lives and breathes as a dynamic document?
Dust gatherer, door stop, tea pot stand…
Business plans the size of regional phone directories. Business plans as compendiums of weasel words. Business plans as mindless tick-the-box compliance exercises. Business plans that leach time, labour and resources to write but which then get consigned to the bottom drawer to gather dust.
I love the planning process. During my travels through the Not for Profit sector I have seen how good plans can anchor, inspire and support meaningful action, and how bad plans can undermine the efforts of even the busiest and best intentioned organisations. In both small organisations and large I have seen the part good plans play ininforming governance, culture and an organisation’s ability to deliver or innovate.
But I have seen plenty of bad plans, those that have been undertaken with inadequate consultation, festooned with weasel wordage, and / or written with an ear to what sounds either impressive or safe rather than doing the following:
Manifest your culture and values:
A good business plan should be a first step to making these important things tangible, both through explicitly articulating them and implicitly describing them through the processes and conditions your plan records. Of course, consultation with your stakeholders, internal and external, is vital to ensure that what you are writing aligns with what is real.
Support planning for change and / or times of uncertainty:
Working in the NFP sector can be a white knuckle ride of adapting to uncertain conditions and lack of resources. As well as anchoring strategy and operations a good plan can, and should, define the times and space (cultural, physical and timewise) for reviewing, analysing, creating and implementing necessary change and managing risk.
Mapping creative and innovative thought against the planning process:
Following on from the above a good plan can also create space for creative thought and then innovation, pin pointing those phases and operations that either need and / or will support this.
These are just three areas of focus that could help transform a business plan from being a moribund obligation into being a dynamic document that supports, rather than burdens, your work.
This article was written as an adjunct to my presentation – How to Make Your Business Plan into a Living Document – at the 2016 Collins & Co. NFP Conference, March 2016.
I am currently offering a service called Conversations of Intrigue. These Conversations are facilitated discussions revolving around extracts from literature that serve as a filter, prompt and point of inspiration about workplace culture. Reading and talking about literature offers us the chance to use not just our intellects but also our imagination and emotional intelligence. Writer Victoria Dougherty has written this post about why men should read more. All of her reasons are super duper, but, thinking about my service, I particularly resonated with reasons:
“10. Fiction teaches you how to think rather than merely what to think, and this is one of the crucial differences between a leader and a follower.
9. It will make you better at your job…
3. Because in reading fiction, we are able to absorb a greater truth instead of an assemblage of facts.”
According to recent statistics, men have all but stopped reading fiction. Do they watch great television? Yes. Do they read non-fiction? Some. But the novel – that great interior journey – seems to have been lost to them.
It wasn’t always this way.
The path from boyhood to manhood used to go something like this: Boys got dirty, played with plastic guns, disturbed bee hives, and wandered the streets of their neighborhoods with their buddies un-chaperoned. By adolescence, they were expected to be rowdy and wild – maybe dabbling in the rebel art of cigarette smoking, drawing a sharpie tattoo, and practicing the skill of talking girls into peeling off their panties (beginning with the whole “I’ll give you a cookie” approach and graduating to “Come on, baby, you’re just so beautiful –I need you!”).
Next, somewhere in their twenties, boys began dressing like men – assertively and with a…
Hearken also means to listen, but with urgency and focus. It was a word that called to people to draw around a fire that kept them warm from snow and safe from wolves and called them to listen to sagas about bloodcurdling monsters and epic tales. People hearkened to life saving advice, shouted warnings and imperative commands. This word was born of circumstances, I like to think, that demanded that you damn well listen with every fibre of your being. If you didn’t you could miss out on something vital, something that helped you sustain body or heart or soul.
Because it is a silent activity we are in the habit, nowadays, of thinking of listening as a meek and subservient thing to do. It is the speaker who is seen as being dynamic and ‘holding the floor’ – that a speaker holds a floor and speaks words that claim our attention speaks of a form of possession, even if momentary. When we talk about this we are describing someone who is momentarily holding a place of psychological ascendancy within our conversation. Is this why so many people are such poor listeners – are they desperate to claim ascendancy, impatient to be gabby, to fill the silence with something, anything?
Listening is not passive. I learnt this during a former professional incarnation when I was a dancer and actor. There is nothing passive at all about really watching or listening – really tuning in – to someone else’s flow of ideas. I understood this when I was a performer, physically active in front of crowds of people who were verbally silent but, as a result of their intense attention to me, oh so present and influential participants in the performance.
Good listeners confer power on the speaker or performer; this is not something to be claimed by the speaker but rather elicited, bargained for with quality content and respect for the listener.
Listening – momentarily suspending your disbelief and really tuning in – is an adventure. Good listening involves risk because you open yourself up to challenging ideas, surprising news, and maybe dark stories.
As a performer in the past, and as a trainer and conversation facilitator now, I am interested in those moments when people stop listening and start to hearken – to take in knowledge or ideas with a sort of hunger, or to comfort another with their human focus when that other shares their story.
When we come together – professionally or socially – and as we trade, minute by minute, our roles of speaker and listener we need to handle our communication with care; we need to allow each other the chance to hearken – to listen as an act of drawing close and warming our hands by the fire.