Introverts as Collaboration Partners

Today I’m delighted to bring you my good friend and colleague, Naomi Karten, as our guest-blogger. Naomi is a witty and prolific writer with important information for  introverts and extraverts.  I hope you’ll follow the links in Naomi’s bio at the end of this post. Debbie

Naomi Karten

Not everyone believes I’m an introvert because I’m a professional speaker and also because I can get pretty extraverted in some situations. But I’m a lifelong introvert. It’s easy to find me at a party where I don’t know anyone. I’m the one at the bookshelf scanning the books.

When I first started writing about introversion, there were a few books on the subject and not much else. Now, there are blogs galore, a steady stream of tweets, articles, and numerous books. Not so extraversion. There’s not much at all on extraversion outside of academic/research circles except in the context of both introversion and extraversion and their interaction with each other and other aspects of our personalities.

Why is there so much on introversion and so little on extraversion? The reason, I think, is that introverts struggle to make their way in the world in a way that extraverts don’t. And that struggle can easily affect the quality and success of collaborative efforts.

Think about it. Introverts who collaborate with extraverts may have to contend with people who yakkety-yak non-stop (as some extraverts do), people who have seemingly boundless energy (as many extraverts have), people who get energized by interaction (as so many extraverts do), and people who excel at thinking out loud (practically the epitome of extraversion). Challenges, indeed, for many of us introverts.

photo by katrinket

Of course, there are huge upsides to collaborating with extraverts. Their energy can be infectious. When I’m with extraverts, I become more extraverted because their energy energizes me. They are comfortable in social situations (at least, that’s how it appears to us), and that’s something that can enhance collaborations. Their thinking out loud can generate ideas that we introverts may have also, but we have a tendency to want to mull them over before we speak – and perhaps edit them, revise them, modify them, rethink them, and edit them yet again before we say anything. It’s not that we’re withholding ideas, of course, just that those ideas have to find their way from brain to mouth. Extraverts seem to have a direct connection between brain and mouth. Even though that sometimes drives me crazy, the truth is I often envy it.

If we introverts want to collaborate with extraverts, we have to take some responsibility for what we need. For example, we can explain that sometimes we need to take things in and reflect on them before responding. If someone asks a question or requests our opinion, we don’t need to feel forced to respond immediately; we can ask if we can take a minute (or an hour) to respond. We can incorporate some quiet periods during face-to-face collaboration and arrange some cave time to recharge. And if extraverts go on at length, so that our brain is about to burst, we can ask for a time-out. We can even do that before our brain is about to burst.

We can also do some things for the extraverts, especially those to whom we are a mystery (which is most of them, I think). When extraverts are speaking, we can show some facial expression so they know there’s someone home; seeing blank stares on our faces doesn’t give extraverts the feedback they need. We can welcome approaches that extraverts thrive on, such as brainstorming (provided, of course, we intersperse it with some quieter approaches). We can be more forthcoming than we might otherwise be, so that we don’t give the false impression that we’re not team players or are not willing to do our part. We can tolerate, and maybe even enjoy, the on-and-on-and-on communication style of our extraverted collaboration buddies, recognizing that in the midst of all that thinking out loud are great ideas that will further our efforts together.

Extravert/Introvert by e³°°°'s photostream

Basically, I believe that introverts and extraverts can collaborate – and can do so successfully if:

  • Early in our collaboration, we each explain our communication and work style as it relates to introversion and extraversion, and discuss how our styles are similar or different. This will go a long way in helping us understand and appreciate each other.
  • We collaborate not just about our project, but also about how we can work together in a way that maintains respect for each other – and ourselves.
  • We give each other permission to raise concerns about how we are getting along so that we can make adjustments in support of our collaboration and our relationship.

Now, I have to go back to the cave.


Despite being an introvert, Naomi Karten has delivered seminars and presentations to more than 100,000 people internationally. Get information on her downloadable guide here: How to Survive, Excel and Advance as an Introvert. She has also published several other books and ebooks and many years of newsletters. She blogs. She tweets. She’s published more than 300 articles. All of these are easier for her than picking up the phone. She’d enjoy hearing from you (by email, of course) at

4 responses to “Introverts as Collaboration Partners

  1. Naomi,
    Thanks so much for such an excellent summation of some of the ways that extroverts and introverts interact in the workplace. So true that sometimes their rubbing up against one another generates more heat than light. Interestingly some of the early work on personality theory ( suggested that the opposite of extroversion was neuroticism. That may have contributed to a perception that introverts don’t cope as well.
    So much in your post rang true for me as an introvert, and I liked your suggestions for taking some personal power by asserting the right to take a minute. A technique that I also founds helps, and I usually ask permission or the other person first, is to take notes, at least part of the time. This serves several functions. It gives my brain some time to assimilate the incoming information. I benefit from multi-modal info intake… auditory and visual, and I hope it communicates to the other person that I take what they are saying seriously. People that I have an extended relationship, come to understand that I am a note taker, and on the heels of taking notes I am able to be more in the moment, and do better with the spontaneous give and take of conversation. If only people were to take your point to talk about how to best work together, a great deal of miscommunication and misunderstanding could be avoided. “Lets talk a little bit about what we need from one another to do our best work together.” The default position is often just to assume it will happen automatically, and as a result, people in collaboration sub-optimize.
    I just singed up for you blog and look forward to checking out some of your tweets.
    Thanks again and best regards,

  2. Naomi, your guidelines for helping Introverts and Extraverts collaborate are fantastic! From personal experience as well as from facilitating numerous team building workshops using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), I’ve observed that the Extraversion-Introversion dichotomy is frequently the source of, at the very least, misunderstandings and in some cases outright hostility in the workplace (and in life in general). The failure to appreciate the different preferences and co-create a way of working together that honors the strengths inherent to each one can be a recipe for frustration. Thanks for sharing your insights!

  3. Good article, Naomi. The communication issue can easily devolve into a “style over substance” issue, or a “visual is better than words” issue, which bogs down the forward motion of collaboration. Everybody needs to contribute in ways other people in the collaboration can appreciate.

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