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Introverts in Product: Work with Extroverts
"As an introverted product manager, how do you effectively work in an environment full of extroverts?" Asked readers.
Great question. One that myself have been wondering and figuring out throughout my career, and what I'm still striving for getting better at to this date. I'll dedicate this post to share my thoughts on this topic.
For those of you who have not read about my previous articles: The Introverted Product Manager: Challenges, The Introverted Product Manager: Advantages, I'd suggest you give them a read. Because I'll try not to repeat the points I made!
Lets face it: there are a lot of extroverts out there! Our friends, in our close family, at work, at conferences, on the streets and beaches. I don't have clear statistics showing the percentage, but the perception makes sense. Extroverts are more known to us precisely because of their extroversion!
So the reality is, that regardless of how introverted we are. We'll have to live, play, work, and friend with some extroverts. We might as well be comfortable with it, right?
In product management, it can't ring more truth. Product managers not only work with other product managers (a lot of which are extroverts), they work with all roles cross functionally. In person lives, you can choose not to friend an extreme extrovert, or only be close with introverts. In product, it's your job to work with all personalities.
What are some typical concerns or challenges working with extroverts? Lets break down the original question into several more granular and specific ones, and for me to share my thoughts and my approaches.
"As an introvert, can I really survive in the world of extroverts, especially in product?"
Yes you can not only survive but thrive. You just need to be conscious about and be comfortable with the personality differences and your own inclination. Don't get pulled into attempting to become someone you're not in case and just because majority of your peers are extrovert inclined.
"How do I best connect with my extrovert colleague?"
Use your advantages and preferred ways to communicate and connect! (and it's no difference with extrovert or not). For me, it's a lot of one-on-ones, prepare in advance by looking into their background and thinking about questions, and listen attentively in the conversation, and really show your deep interests in getting to know them. You can match their tones to the degree you're comfortable (as conventionally suggested as social tips), but not to go beyond it.
"How can I be heard in a room full of extroverts?"
First lets realize that there are factors that are in your control, and others that are out of your control. Out of control things are like other people's personalities and the culture of the team/company. Sometimes these things can be quite frustrating, such as when you work in a culture where the loudest voice always wins or diversity is not well respected. While you do own the decision of where you work, you often can't immediately change what's right in front of you. Focus on what you have in control, such as how you prepare, raise opinion, communicate, and follow through.
I weigh heavily in cultural fit in my own job seeking, and I'm fortunate to have worked in great cultures that not only allow but empower all voices. But nonetheless, as a deep introvert in product, I still find myself having to figure out the best way to make my voice heard. Because I realized quite often, louder voices better heard is not always a deliberate cultural decision. It could be an unconscious nature or tendency. Without strong and constant reminders in a highly inclusive culture fostered by the company, people tend to forget the importance of enabling equal voices across different personalities. In plain English: people subconsciously don't give a damn about your personality and why you don't speak up.
So how do I do it?
Build Allies: connect with key folks in advance (e.g. one on ones), before say, a high stake meeting. The goal is not necessarily to preempt and get them to fully buy into my points. It's to give myself and people opportunity to best understand each other ahead of the meeting, so that 1) I can anticipate debate and prepare, and 2) they'd know my opinions upfront whether or not they agree with them. The magic on the latter would be that in the meeting, people would even solicit my opinions without me asking, if they do know that I have opinions and what they are. Also, building allies should be continuous as a part of your work, not only "right before" the meetings. The connections will smooth out a lot of tensions and tough discussions.
Raise My Hand (Not Voice): I found it effective to "visually" indicate that I have something to say, especially when there's zero pause between voices around the room and people keep on talking over each other. Of course, depending on the culture and how heated is the conversation, it's not guaranteed that you'll ultimate get your chance to speak. But it does serve the purpose of: 1) showing you have something to say (and that it's important enough that an introvert like you bother to want to say it), 2) reminding people to take a pause from the fight-to-speak mode, and start paying attention to those around them.
Influence the culture: Culture is shaped collectively by everyone on the team / in the company, and largely driven by the leadership. But remember, you're at least a part of it. And especially as PMs, we're very much leaders on the team, and we should take it upon ourselves to influence the culture for the bette (e.g. to be more collaborative and inclusive). This is not only for ourselves to get our voices heard, but also for many other team members who have the same (or even bigger) struggles.
"How can I compete with extroverts?"
First of all, I believe this might not even be a good question to be hung up at. I'm personally a strong believer of the world of abundance - where there are lots of opportunities for all of us to be successful. So rather than thinking of it as "how do I get victory over my extrovert peers", I'd encourage you to see it as "how to partner with and learn from your extrovert peers", and make both of you more successful than if you would've been alone. E.g. how do you complement each other with your strengths and weaknesses to maximize your impacts as a team which in turn will create more opportunities for all of you to grow.
I know I know, it sounds idealistic and there is cruelty in the real world. It's true. Nonetheless, I'd encourage to not focus on thinking "competition" vs others, rather than keep leveraging your strengths and bettering yourself. That's the best possible strategy to stay competitive (in product and wherever your aiming to get to).
"What if I've tried and tried, and it just didn't work out?"
So you've done your parts and what I said above. Things are not improving and you feel where you work is the world of only-extrovert-wins. It might be the case that it's really not the place for you because of what you can't change, and that it's time for you to move on (and remember it's not a big deal or "your failure" even if it's the case). But before you do move on, I'd encourage you to do one last thing. Carefully reflect and understand "why it didn't work out". The goal is NOT to blame it on anyone or yourself. The goal is to break down into clear reasons, so that 1) the parts you have in control, you'd know how to improve in your next role, 2) the parts that you don't have in control, you know what to avoid in your job seeking.
Don't always just by default assume everything is due to the introversion/extroversion differences. When a job goes wrong, usually it's much more complicated and mixed with more factors. Break them down is crucial.
I know there's a lot above! Let me leave with you the principles I believe applied to all of these questions:
Be confident, be open and flexible and be yourself.
Be confident that you CAN do well in what's seemingly challenging.
Be open about connecting with all personalities and flexible in your approach given the situations.
Be yourself and not give in to the temptation of becoming someone else in order to fit in or succeed. (Improve yourself instead!).
As always, I'd love to hear about your stories! Leave a comment below or contact me!