On the Need to Speak Up!


Based upon psychological surveys of well over a million people, we can safely conclude that about half of us tend to gain our energy and focus our lives primarily inside, on our inner thoughts and feelings.  Folks who tend toward “introversion” are not all shy, but it is as if we have an on going experience – of both thinking and feeling – that is introverted.  While our counterparts, the “extroverts,” tend to express their thoughts and their feelings, and be caught up in external happenings, those of us who prefer introversion spend more time and energy reflecting, weighing, considering, and mulling.

Last week I was working with a start up company, and according to the Myers-Briggs instrument, as well as the participants’ self-description, six of the eight tended toward introversion.  To a facilitator (or a boss running a meeting), that can be quite challenging.  The participants’ faces were not very expressive, for it was as if their mental energy was folded in, and they were probing, wondering, perhaps debating in their own minds, and measuring ideas against their experiences and intuitions.  Similarly, their emotional side was well contained, so often their faces did not show enthusiasm nor frustration nor rebelliousness.  I had to guess.

In your own minds’ eye, you might imagine the team you work with, and have a pretty good guess as to which members prefer an introverted approach to life.  Meanwhile, if you prefer introversion, it might be helpful to know that much more often than you imagine, people are unsure of what you are thinking or feeling.  That can be challenging.  So a word of advice to introverts and to those who work with introverts*:

To those who tend to introversion I’d say: work hard to ensure that the team gets the full value of your ideas and feelings.  You may think a boss or one of your coworkers is great, but unless you tell them they may never know it.  You may think you have an idea that’s good, but your natural instinct will be to keep thinking about it to get it right.  But sometimes it’s important to share it – even if you don’t think it’s all thought out – so that others may benefit from it in their thinking.  In short: get it out, express it, share the valuable thoughts and feelings you have inside!

To those who work with us sometimes frustrating introverts I would say: ask us, draw us out, and gently remind us that we have something to offer and you would love to hear it.

Introverts need to be reminded to share the value in order to…

Lead with their best self,


  • Hi Dan!

    As usual, you do a good job clarifying your points. I have an opposite problem that perhaps you can tackle another day. I am an introvert, as are 75 – 80% of my staff. The problem in the other 20-25% some people is the opposite, and they freely share every thought that comes out of their heads wihtout thinking of how it sounds or what it’s impact might be. I tend to hold very few staff meetings becuase it ends up being all about the lastest round of challenges of the most vocal people weather at work. To hear them, you would think they did all the work, and the other staff get pretty resentful. I find it is much more effective to meet one on one with my staff. However, in doing so, we do lose some team building nad cohearson. Any ideas on how to graciously ask the extroverts to be quiet and just listen and observe for 90% of the time, wait til it is their turn. They must comment on EVERYTHING.


    • Hi Nancy,

      I think you do a nice job in articulating this problem, or “opportunity for improvement.” Most of us have probably seen this type of situation. If I might make a suggestion, don’t let this situation be the elephant in the room. Politely acknowledge what’s going on. I think one (of many) ways to do this is to mention it at your one-on-one meetings with your staff. Further, I’d suggest actually building it into the goals and objectives of those who are most vocal. I think it’s very reasonable to incorporate a soft-skills goal of “good listening skills” into their objectives, if it isn’t already. At whatever point you then do reviews (e.g., midyear and year-end) you can address this as part of their evaluations. I’m sure that from the Myers-Briggs model, you recognize that the vocal few aren’t trying to be disruptive; it’s just their way of communicating, just as many of us have to process the information before we speak up. It might be helpful to mention to the most vocal folks that those people who don’t speak up so readily also have some good ideas.

      Thanks again for your great question. I hope my response is helpful to you.

    • Nancy,
      Thanks for offering the yin to the yan. I think you have outlined the major point of resolution: “graciously ask the extroverts to be quiet[er] and just listen.” I think it might be very helpful to do some Myers-Briggs work, because then people will understand that there’s no right way, no judgment about being internal-in-thought, or extraverted-in-focus. They’re just two different ways of being that require awareness of both oneself and others.

  • Dan – You are so right about the need for Introverts to more actively put forth their thoughts and ideas. We have used the Myers-Briggs with literally thousands of leaders and their team members over the years. The difference between Extraverts and Introverts and they way they communicate (or do not communicate!) causes significant problems in organizations every day. The “rich inner life” of the Introvert often is kept inside their head and not shared with the team. The Extraverts’ preference for “thinking out loud” causes them to fill the silence with talk and confuse or even overwhelm their listeners. Combine that with the Extraverts’ habit of interrupting others and stepping on the ends of their sentences, and you have a recipe for conflict and resentment. No wonder we Myers-Briggs practitioners keep so busy!

    Best regards,

    Paul Knudstrup, President
    Midwest Consulting Group, Inc.

    • Hi Paul,

      Good stuff! I especially like the idea that a management tool like Myers-Briggs recognizes my “rich inner life.” It sounds almost spiritual to me, but I’ll take it!

      Am I correct that in addition to being a “recipe for conflict and resentment,” that if introverts and extraverts learn of the different ways in which they communicate, their diversity can actually enhance each other, just as if they were of different backgrounds, races, nationalities, or genders?

      (And for what it’s worth for other readers, I see from my Funk & Wagnalls that either “extrovert” or “extravert” is a valid spelling.)

      Tony Ettwein

      • Tony – You are so right – from my experience the main benefits to using the Myers-Briggs are (1) increased self-knowledge and awareness, and (2) an improved understanding and appreciation of the differences among the human population. We find the MBTI to be a significant resource in helping teams be more productive, improve communication, and increase appreciation for diversity.

        Some research indicates that the way an impulse or input functions in the brain of an Extravert vs. the brain of an Introvert is significantly different. I suggest a wonderful book titled “The Introvert Advantage: How To Survive in an Extravert World” by Marti Olsen Laney. It helps we “E’s” better understand the “I’s” and helps Introverts appreciate their special gifts.

        You are also correct about the spelling – Extravert was Carl Jung’s preferred spelling and we MBTI practitioners use that spelling as a general rule.


  • We extraverts don’t have a clue what we are thinking until we speak it. Whereas, intraverts are the thinker-processors who rarely will tell you completely what they think/feel about the subject at hand.

    Like all of us, executives make their decisions in an instant based on their gut instincts.

    As a thinker (MBTI = ENTP), I have come to believe that all of our decisions are instinctual and we rationalize and justify these emotional actions analytically—in our neocortical brain like a well programmed computer.

    This from-the-gut decision-making finds support in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink (Little Brown, 2005), which promotes decision concepts around what Gladwell refers to as the adaptive unconscious: “Decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.”

    Actions taken in “a blink” often are based on years of experience and insight that has been thoroughly digested before that seemingly instantaneous decision. In the corporate environment, years of corporate information is being systematized in Business Intelligence (BI) structured databases and various applications to leverage the aggregation and digestion of the organization’s collective and adaptive experience. These BI applications use statistical and quantitative analysis, including explanatory and predictive models, to drive management decisions and actions.

    Management consulting firms and BI technology companies identify management information for global decision-making as their number one priority. “In a study we did last year, 53 percent of the executives surveyed wanted better information for management decision-making,” reports Jeanne Harris, director of research at the Accenture Institute for High Performance Business and coauthor of Competing on Analytics (Harvard Business School Press, 2007).

    • John,
      As usual, you are a font of knowledge – true to your ENTP characteristics!
      Gladwell also demonstrates how our “blink” of an eye conclusions can be dangerous, e.g., as he shows how insidious racial and other stereotypes are. It’s been a while since I read Blink, but doesn’t it seem that Myers-Briggs analysis is a wonderful counterpart to the downside of blink-judgment? If I always focus on “relationship” as an F, or if you tend to focus on “systems” as an NT, shouldn’t we ask: in THIS context is my tendency or preference helpful or not? Sometimes, the F(eeler) is just what’s needed, sometimes the E(xtravert) who loves to bring closure (a Judger in Myers-Briggs terminology) is just what’s needed. But some situations pretty clearly ask for the opposited of our in-a-blink preferred response.

  • Hi Dan,

    Many (most?) of my executive coaching clients are extraverts. One of the things they resist doing is allowing introverts to respond. Introverts often do their best thinking by “going inside” and then expressing their thoughts – which takes time. IF the leader has the luxury of time, I request that they allow this time for the introverts on their team to do their best thinking. Not always possible, but this is a respectful way of getting input from those who need to think.

    Similarly, extraverted leaders often need to learn to hold off on speaking and just listen. The tendency is to speak first, think later – which can overwhelm or shut down a team. We work on learning to ask great questions, accepting silence and letting go of the need to always give an opinion. This allows the wisdom of the group to come forward.

    Thanks for facilitating a great discussion.

  • Perhaps one fact which ought to be considered, especially when delving into the infinitely complex human mind and attempting to classify its functions, is that people change over time. I had the opportunity to take the MBTI several times over the years and in a variety of work situations. It has been a very long time since the last testing, and I do not remember my four letters…basically because they changed over time and with directed experience.

    When first tested, I was a painfully analytical and judgmental introvert…a government employee and a non-squeaky cog in the great bureaucratic wheel. I wrote memos to pass along my thoughts only after careful consideration and reflection. Those tendencies still war within me, but I was able to force a change simply by placing myself in public situations where I had to think on my feet and respond quickly. For example, I did a live, call-in question and answer show as my first foray into the danger zone. When I didn’t die from the experience, I found it possible to push even further.

    Now, as you can attest I am certain, reticence is no longer a problem for me. One thing has helped tremendously, and that is opportunities like this one, to write down my ideas and comments to be shared for all the world to read. For many, it is less threatening than simply speaking up at a staff meeting, and there is an opportunity to state your case completely before being shouted down by the Extroverts. In the few classes I taught at the university, I always supplemented the in-class discussions with on-line discussions and figured both into the participation part of the student grades. Some students who had difficulty expressing themselves in class simply blossomed on-line.

    The point is that many introverts may be helped out of their self-constructed shells by being given alternative methods to participate and contribute to the team. Once they reach their comfort zones, you may find them sharing more than in the past. Truly a chance to lead them out…

    Mick McKellar

  • Dan,

    I came upon your RFL today. The timing could not be better for me. I have just moved over to Buffalo to serve as the first lay president of Canisius High School (the Jesuit high school in Buffalo). I have a leadership team of six people,all of whom I do not know very well. At this morning’s meeting I was caught up with trying to get a good read on my team as we discussed a number of topics. One person in particular had me in a quandry because I just could not read her. Having just read your RFL I now have a clearer idea as to how to approach this person and all of my team. I need to invite her in and to ask her to share with us what she thinks about all of this. I also need to stop jumping to conclusions about people when I can’t read them. Why do I usually jump to a negative conclusion here? Maybe she does agree with me on this item but she needs more time to think it through. As always thanks for your good work. Peace. john

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