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Friday, November 30, 2012

Extroverts Often Just Plain Rude

Just noticed that the film "Quiet - The Power of Introverts, Episode I" -- inspired by Susan Cain's book "Quiet - The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" -- was put up on youtube 3 days ago and has accumulated over 300,000 hits.  And it's narrated by a computer-generated voice.

Did a quick Google search and didn't find any obvious links from popular sites, so it's likely that it spread that quickly just through social networking.  Pretty impressive.

This is just Episode I, but it seems to make the main points from Susan Cain's book, which I read and liked some time ago.  The main point is that the modern world favors and rewards extroverts and often dismisses introverts as "shy" and "boring," whereas introverts are often simply "better" than extroverts.

I remember having only two beefs with the book -- one was her gushing (well, it was gushing for a self-declared introvert, anyway) description of Tony Robbins, but I suppose reasonable minds can differ on that.

The other was her failure to even mention the one thing that I find most frustrating about being an introvert in an extroverted world:

Whenever I am in a meeting with more than about 5 people, I find it almost impossible to get a word in edgewise.  And the reason is simply this -- extroverts (and, presumably, all of those introverts pretending to be extroverts) simply don't wait for a speaker to finish talking before starting to speak themselves.  Sometimes it's a blatant interruption, but more often it's a matter of jumping in at the precise moment that the speaker is winding down and it's clear that they've made their point.

This might not be so bad if the jumper-in always stayed on the same topic that the speaker had addressed.  If that were the case, then all the extroverts could talk themselves out on the topic, and then, when they are done, the introverts could jump into the pause and add in whatever the extroverts overlooked.  But what often happens is that the first or second extrovert responds to the original topic, and then uses the "floor" to change the topic to something else.  This necessarily leaves all of the introverts in the room in the dust -- it is often simply too late to revisit the earlier topic, because the meeting has moved on.

And it's not always just a random jumper-in who changes the topic.  Often it's the person who is nominally in charge of running the meeting him or herself.  That person often ends up thinking that the meeting is being held for their benefit, and they often think that they know when one topic is "played out" and it's time to move on to the next one.

In such cases, I usually end up having to make a decision -- was the extra thing that I had to say so important that I need to bring it up specially at the end of the meeting?  Do I need to circulate it in writing?  Or do I just let it go?  Either way, I end up looking somewhat inept.  Often the point is a good one, but it's not necessarily worthy of bringing up later in the meeting or in writing.  And the bottom line is I've gone through another meeting, looking like I've had nothing to contribute.

Any book that one reads about communications and running meetings etc. makes it clear that this "extroverted" behavior is not just counterproductive, but it's also just plain rude.  Those of us who've read those books and actually allow other people to finish their sentences end up seeming like dummies, compared with the people who got in there and really "contributed" to the meeting.

Here's what's most annoying of all.  Often, I will see a critical point at a very early stage in the meeting.  I will try to express it -- even to the point of starting to speak as someone else is winding down -- but I get beaten to the "interruption" punch by another extrovert.  And then some extrovert starts talking -- usually without thinking, usually just to hear him or herself talk -- and then, after rambling this way and that, stumbles on my idea!  That's the most frustrating of all.  The extrovert who stumbled on the idea by subjecting the rest of us to his "thinking out loud" then gets credit for the idea, even though I had it first, and my politeness -- my observance of the rules of engagement for proper meetings and conversation -- prevented me from articulating it and getting the credit (and saving the meeting a lot of time).

My solution would be as follows:

People in meetings should not only be able to talk, but they should also be able to type their thoughts out on their tablet (or whatever) and project those thoughts on a screen -- or just the wall -- as they occur to them.  That way, every voice would get heard, and everyone would get the credit due to them.

Technologically speaking, we are already there.  One could simply use virtual meeting software - i.e. a chat room type thing -- and project it on one screen at one place in the room.   Or, since everyone would be "in" the chat room already, projection might not even be necessary -- everyone would see the point on their laptop or tablet.  This would almost certainly make meetings more productive, and it would go a long way to leveling the playing field between introverts and extroverts.

If nothing else, an introvert could tell the meeting chair that he's got something else to contribute on a particular topic, so the meeting chair would not be tempted to move the topic on himself.

And since meetings like this are often the way that senior managers evaluate their subordinates, it will result in introverts getting more of the recognition that they deserve.

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