Around the Web: June Blog Roundup

As many of you may know, my writing isn’t just confined to this space. Today’s post is dedicated to sharing highlights of other pieces I’ve written elsewhere.

I parlayed my love of PBS Kids’ Curious George into a series of lessons for the Lead365 National Conference blog:
Leadership Lessons from Curious George

Also for Lead365, I looked back to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and a lesson on quiet but impactful leadership:
Standing Up for the Gold

This month’s Niche Movement post focuses on Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin:
Reframe and Recommit
(I’m also excited to announce that their first book, which features excerpts from some of my NM posts, is now available for purchase! Congratulations Kevin!)

And for Talking Points Memo, I explored the need for a majority protagonist on Orange is the New Black, in light of strong storytelling and a current events narrative that has made these stories more accessible:
Does Orange is the New Black Still Need Its Blond, White Star?

For a better look at what I’m up to and where, check out the Writer page!

The CATASTROPHE of Creative Relationships

I spent three hours of my past weekend laughing at the smart and wickedly funny Catastrophe (now streaming on Amazon Prime). Starring a comedian I have expressed my appreciation for previously, Rob Delaney, and Sharon Horgan (of the UK’s Pulling, IFC’s deliciously awkwardThe Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, and a cameo on Moone Boy), it tells a sweet and quietly hilarious story of an ad executive and a teacher brought together by an unexpected pregnancy.

Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan

IMAGE CREDIT: The Guardian

I love this show a great deal, six episodes in (Britain, we have GOT to talk. I need more now please). But what I love even more was how it came about. I recently finished Powers of Two, Joshua Wolf Shenk’s meticulously researched and insightful chronicle of creative partnerships, and I couldn’t help but draw connections between his stages of collaborative work. Both Delaney and Horgan are brilliant in their own right, but together? They’ve created something equally emotionally and wildly funny.

Stage One: Meeting

As someone who has used social media to make many meaningful connections professionally and personally, I love that this collaboration started in much the same way. Delaney, once named “the funniest man on Twitter,” reached out to Horgan largely as a fan of her work. The relationship that they cultivated as a result of that initial outreach led to talk of collaboration, development of a pilot, and now a show- currently filming its second series in London. My takeaway from this? Reach out if you like someone’s style, or admire someone’s work. I’ve mustered the courage to do this a few times, and am so pleased with the results that the strategy has provided.

Stage Two and Three: Confluence + Dialectics

Shenk talks about starting the process of creative partnership by identifying your “person.” He says, “find a stranger who gets you or a friend you think is strange.” If you’re familiar with Delaney or Horgan separately, you’ll find that their senses of humor are (a) very different from their contemporaries, and (b) very different from one another. But their confluence on the show yields a beautiful mix of frankness and sweetness– caring without seeming artificially constructed, and truthfully funny without seeming gimmicky. Be they mutually understood strangers or strange friends (I suspect the former evolved into the latter), the resulting relationship created a tone for the show that is unlike other shows of the same ilk.

As an example, consider its British contemporary Pramface, a show with a similar premise but younger characters. Setups and tropes that bring the characters’ families together and challenges the main protagonists’ romantic relationship are noticeably absent on Catastrophe:

“I think that [normal romantic] stuff makes our hair stand on end, and it’s about finding ways to show the romance without hammering it home and the way you can do that is sneaking it in or using more creative ways”

-Sharon Horgan

In their place is a more realistic portrayal of what could be happening in these characters’ lives: when you move for a relationship, who do you hang out with and how do you work? What do your current friends think about your relationship? When an unexpected event brings you together, how do you sort out what you mean to each other? These are next-level questions that most comedies address in a more flippant way. But much of the emotional heart of the show comes not from standard sitcom setups, but the questions that most comedies in this genre simply fail to address. It’s a unique conversation that was an agreed upon principle that the show has excelled at. As you aspire to collaborate on creative work, think about how you can make the conversation around your chosen pursuit, a unique one.

Stage Four: Distance

As with any relationship, time apart is healthy- Delaney gets his through nationwide tours and standup, while Horgan gets hers through acting and writing on other projects. The distance and difference of background, as well as diversity of experience while creating the final product, makes the work richer and allows inspiration to seep in from a number of places. Just as solo work benefits from closing the laptop and walking away for a few hours (or days…or weeks), creative partnership is better for the other pursuits that each party elects to engage in. Horgan and Delaney both admitted to mining their respective lives for material to inform series one. So Rob, Sharon, in the highly unlikely event that you’re reading this…you have my (unsolicited and unneeded) permission to take the time. Series two will be better for it!

Stage Five: Interruption

Presently, interruption isn’t in sight for Horgan and Delaney. Series two is in production right now, so we’ll be getting more Catastrophe. However, this is not the case for all shows. I think about partnerships that have ended acrimoniously (as with Neal Brennan and Dave Chappelle, a creative pair that eventually could no longer collaborate), as well as ones that came to a natural end (more so the case for John Lennon and Paul McCartney, despite persistent rumors). But if I had to speculate how Catastrophe would come to an end, I feel like the creative pair responsible for its creation, will have as much control over its conclusion- and will end it on their own amusing but touching terms. In the meantime, as you examine your own creative relationships, I would encourage you to take similar control over your own fate. Some partnerships will reach a natural conclusion, and can end without contention or explosiveness. Take stock of the work, take stock of the relationship, and decide if you have one more in you. Odds are, the world needs it just as much as I needed the three hours of laughs that Catastrophe gave me.

Who are your creative “better halves”? What are you working on? And have you watched Catastrophe? I need someone to talk to about it!

Make Your Failures Funny

If your girlfriend dumped you for a magician, how many people would you tell? How long would you talk about it? Most people, finding it embarrassing (sorry to my magician friends), wouldn’t tell anyone. But when I saw Brent Morin last week, man, he was telling everybody. And yet, most of us would never spend an hour discussing our failures with anyone who wasn’t paid to hear them.

Comedian Brent Morin, onstage at Laugh Boston

Try and tell me this kid’s Undateable. I mean, seriously.

The Undateable comedian (this is the name of his show, not the state of his prospects) brought to light something very important for me last week in interviews promoting his headlining weekend at Laugh Boston: “comedy is about failure.” And, in a great many ways, he’s absolutely right. Consider the alternative for a moment: Christian Finnegan, after an 80+ lb weight loss, has no jokes about it in his act and says often “Success, in general, isn’t funny.” Or consider my other comedic encounter of the week, Kevin Hart. Few would argue things are going really well for him. Despite his recent (albeit absolutely deserved) blockbuster success, most of his stand-up is about him being embarrassed- by his parents, his friends, his children, and even once a raccoon.

But back to Brent. Why does his take on comedy as a means to express failure matter?

Because comedians have found a way to talk about failure in a way that most of us haven’t.

This isn’t about encouraging people to fear failure less, or to actually fail more. Most of us already find ourselves failing often. In fact, by the numbers, we have to fail more than we succeed. We have to apply for more jobs than we will ultimately be offered. We will date more (in some cases, far more) people than we choose to settle down with. We will meet more people than we will ultimately choose to keep in our friend circle. We will be bad at lots of things before we find what we’re good at! And yet the majority will balk at the idea of discussing this perfectly normal and incredibly common phenomenon. As so many of us are learning, this practice is disingenuous at best and dangerous at worst.

So what’s the alternative? Borrow a page from the playbook of so many comedians before you, and find a way to make your failure funny. Joke about it. Laugh at it. Giggle so hard mid-story that the shame, guilt, or embarrassment is replaced by an understanding that failure is a part of life.

Accept it. Yep, it happened to you. No avoiding it, no wishing it away, it happened. You failed. I don’t minimize this step by any means- after all, acceptance is the last step in the five stages of grief for a reason- but I place it first because nothing constructive can happen before it.

Normalize it. Most of the time, we find shame in failure because we think “Who does this?” or “Who does this happen to?” The answer, at least for now, is you. But chances are, the answer is “also, a lot of people.” Tripping in public, getting turned down for a job or a date, or even fumbling a speech (or hell, a comedy set!) in front of others can- and does- happen ALL the time. The first step is to recognize that fact. You won’t see it as a top story on Facebook, or adorned with hashtags on Instagram, but those moments are very real for everyone. Recognize that and you’re well on your way.

Step back from it. Notice I don’t advocate “running away from it.” But step away, and don’t hold it so tightly. That tight grip is often where a lot of shame, guilt, embarrassment, and instinct to hide lies. Once it’s loosened a bit, you can see it with the benefit of hindsight. You’ll see that in the grand scheme (“will it matter in ten years”) it will likely be a blip on the beat of your life, and you’ll perhaps even see that it could have happened to anyone. If it helps, imagine it as having happened to someone else! A friend, a famous person, or a fictional character known for similar missteps. This may take some time- there is such a thing as “too soon?” to laugh at something, but this step away will help move the process along.

Now, laugh. It’s next to impossible to identify why something is funny and something else isn’t. But I really like Peter McGraw’s “benign violation” theory, which ultimately means that the best jokes are ones that identify something out of the ordinary or unexpected, without being too dangerous or disturbing to laugh at. As an incredibly odd example: Raisins aren’t funny, aside from these ones. Cancer also tends to not be funny. However, finding a “mole” on your skin and being nervous that it’s cancer, but finding out a moment later that it’s a raisin? That has more potential to be funny. Examine your situation to find the intersection of everyday and a little weird, and see if a smile doesn’t at least cross your lips when you find the sweet spot of normal (as failure is) and unusual.

How will you laugh through your next failure? What makes you laugh? And seriously, who wouldn’t at least try to date Brent Morin? Just look at him.

DWI: Dating While Introverted

If you ask me as a highly nonprofessional medical authority, I had two small strokes en route to a date last week. This probably isn’t true, but that’s how I felt. As I told a friend of mine who found this fact hilarious, I didn’t get a public speaking fear, or a fear of heights, so somebody up there said: “Make her terrified to date! Really make it tough!”

In truth, it may not actually be a fear. I don’t date often, so most of my trepidation is likely a lack of exposure. But, as importantly, a great deal of the early dating experience runs counter to the honored tenets of introversion- deep conversation, time to process thoughts, and energizing scenarios. First dates, unless truly outstanding or designed accordingly, don’t have much of that. They’re hotbeds of fumbling small talk, stating of benign opinions, and generally one-on-one (not in and of itself problematic, but tougher with people we don’t really know). For those who can find energy in the process of meeting new people, this can be a hard space to operate in. But I’m starting to learn what I need to operate in this space, and offer a few tips to those that may find themselves similarly ill at ease when dating.

Friend-approved can help. If I had to pick a way to fall in love, it would be with someone who I was friends with first, and then the relationship gradually evolved into a romantic one. I’ve picked apart why this strategy is preferable, and recognized that the energy expended to get to know someone is subject to a kind of sunk-cost bias. I value the relationships that don’t force additional valuable energy, and so these types of relationships are literally easier to enter into.  Similarly, I find that I treat dates that are with “friend-approved” individuals to be far less stressful to enter into. Someone I already know and trust likes you? I can rest a little easier. With that said, these situations are only eased if the company you keep is high-quality. So, y’know, watch out for that :)

Seek home-court advantage. If after all the fumbling of “where do you want to go? don’t know, where do you want to go?” you get to pick the site of the first encounter, it can be a tremendous point in your favor. Being somewhere that you’re comfortable, or at least have been before and can minimize the stress points (What will I eat? Where are the bathrooms? In extreme cases, where are the quick exits?) that are already accompanying a highly stimulating time.With that said, this does not mean a place where you’re a “regular.” That can create a power differential for one person that could make the other person [more] uncomfortable. It can be a welcome bonus if you’re dating a fellow introvert and its somewhere you’ve both already been.

Create small goals for success. I come off as incredibly guarded on dates, especially early on. Fearing talking too much, I spend a lot of time listening (a natural strength), and less time reciprocating in kind when questions are turned back toward me. But I recognize that this tendency (a) isn’t unique to me, and (b) isn’t particularly helpful in an arena where the goal is to get to know someone. So I try to pick a few stories that I’m comfortable with- ones that are a little memorable, or funny, or unique, and work them in. I don’t have to dominate the conversation, and my whole life story isn’t out there, but I’ve shared what I can and done my best. Just as with networking, I don’t have to meet everyone in the room; a few people is okay. And whoever I’m seeing doesn’t have to know all of me at the initial encounters, but he does need to know enough about me to decide whether or not it’s a worthwhile enterprise to continue. Which reminds me…

Don’t stress the follow-up. This is the hardest part, without question, but stick with me! My next invention (or comedy sketch about an invention) will address the time and stress we as humans place on when you can text people back. How soon is too soon? What do I say? Will they think I like them? Off the bat, with that first one- you liking them, and them knowing it, is the point. So don’t worry about it :) As for timing…I start with a gracious thanks when I get home from the outing, and then maybe something a day or two later as something in my day reminds me of them. But other than that, the rule I’m working to adopt- if you want to talk to someone, just do. No game play, no calculating, just do it. And if the response time on their end is getting you down? Might I suggest the introvert bestie function- game or airplane mode. Your phone’s on, but you can go about your day without waiting for a message to come through. It can be particularly helpful when you’re trying to focus on getting something else done :)

I’m far from perfect at this, and there are likely many more stroke scares in my future. But as I learn more about how I operate in this relatively new-to-me arena, and honor who I am and how I work, I have to trust that it’ll get easier.

What tips do you have for dating as an introvert?

Catch_cats_3

Seeing I to I

This week marks the launch of Susan Cain’s lifestyle site for introverts and those who appreciate them, Quiet Revolution. In honor of their arrival, I’m electing to write about a topic close to my heart: inter-introverted communication.

I have written at length about introversion for a few years now: how it works in relationships, friendships, at the office, and much much more. But after years of writing on the topic, and a lifetime of living in it, I realized something really important that I had neglected to address.

Most of my writing about introversion, and most writing on the topic in general, shares counsel or an inside look at introversion in comparison to extroversion. While this was a useful enterprise for those extroverts that did need to learn how their introverted counterparts learned, thought, and worked, it may have perpetuated a dangerous assumption that must be dispelled: not all introverts are created equal.

Framing the dialogue as one type versus another implies that there are two monoliths pitted against each other, with unilateral commonalities on each side. But in recognizing that there are differences amongst introverts within their own camps, we must also necessarily recognize that some within the same group may need help interacting with those around them. Further, many introverts have mastered the skills required to thrive amongst extroverts, but have not had similar license to cultivate the skills to authentically interact with introverts in a manner that comes as naturally. Should you fall into the latter camp, I have a few tips that may help you ease into (what I hope is) a more welcoming landscape for our kind:

  • Don’t assume! Just as I often encourage extroverts to make assumptions of how introverts will act; or, conversely, assume certain behaviors imply introversion; I would encourage introverts to not assume that everyone “introverts” the same way they do. Many factors could affect how the common trait of recharging looks from one person to the next: some will choose to replenish their energy in complete silence, while other can do it with a small group of like-minded people, engaged in deep conversation. Both methods can be effective, there isn’t a wrong way to do it!
  • Remain prepared to assert yourself. A common frustration for introverts is that things they broadcast frequently in their own minds, has to be articulated to people that may not think like them. Once in common company, it is easy to assume that those around you will just get it, no explanation required. But remember your own experiences: sometimes it’s easy to miss things when you’re in your own head. And this shared company can be a double-edged sword, for they too will be in their own heads. What does that mean? You may still have to explain yourself. Listening to a fellow introvert’s story may wear you out after a while, but you will still have to tell that person that you need a break or have someone else to be. Even at a lower-key gathering, at some point you still may need to extricate yourself. Shared introversion doesn’t equal mindreading- you’ll still have to voice those needs.
  • Remember these lessons when creating environments for others. Cases are commonly being made for placing introverts in positions of leadership, and we see many wonderful examples of introverted leaders in the forefront today. But a caution must be voiced here: your own leadership abilities will need to work for both the introverted and extroverted people that may be under your employ, supervision, or influence. Think about the things you wished you had when in challenging work situations: quiet workspaces, time to recharge, meetings that allowed for multiple forms of input. Now, seek to naturally include these things as you design and advocate for a work experience that benefits all.

What other lessons do you have for introverts interacting with one another?

Don’t Collaborate, Co-Headline

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of collaboration lately. It’s something that higher education speaks of often- touted as the ultimate way to, as we say (with a shudder, in my case), “do more with less.” It’s seen as a way to conserve resources, heighten attendance and effectiveness by making a program or initiative accessible to a larger population, and help us get to know other individuals in our departments or divisions.

However, there’s a perceived dark side to collaboration too. The aforementioned benefits of collaboration as many of us have come to know it, come only to those who have a good methodology for their teamwork. For those who don’t, there are often fears of goals being compromised, work being shirked, and credit being unduly given or forgotten. In this comprehensive take on the troubles with higher ed marketing, Michael Fienen hit upon a really important point that we often worry about when we “get in bed” with other departments or stakeholders: everyone’s need to have a stake in a decision can lead to expertise being discounted at the expense of sound decision making.

Most of the frustration that we see with collaborative projects comes from the idea that their knowledge and expertise, their experience, their voice, will be sacrificed for the sake of expediency and completion. And whether those seeking consensus want to admit it or not, the work suffers as a result of that need for harmony. Why would anyone want to work in a system that operates in that fashion?

IMAGE CREDIT: Deadline

I believe another option may be out there. I thought about it last summer, when I went with a friend to see (most of- sorry Kyle, that’s on me) the Sullivan and Son Comedy Tour. It resurfaced this spring during the Undateable tour, which worked much the same way. What we may need to do is not collaborate, but co-headline. 

A co-headlined tour doesn’t have any one comedian billed above the others. It’s a group traveling and working together, but allows each comedian to maintain control over his or her own content. And while there may be moments or segments where content overlaps, for the most part people can work both independently and in concert with one another. Steve Byrne doesn’t get to take credit for Owen Benjamin’s jokes, and Ron Funches doesn’t have to worry about Brent Morin just not doing a set one night. The product is additive, but the process is individual.

For those who truly don’t have the trust or natural inclination to create a blended product, the co-headline could be an elegant solution. The acrimony that comes with sacrificing purity of work is replaced by trust for individual parties to bring their best work to the table. It takes humility to share credit with those around the table, but it also lessens the potential for discord if one office seems to be doing someone else’s work.

This method is also particularly respectful of existing initiatives. For example, earlier this spring, my office collaborated with Multicultural Programs, Mission and Ministry, and a few academic departments to group events that were already occurring on campus into a ten day “Social Justice Days” initiative. No additional events were planned, no events had undue interference as far as creative vision- we simply grouped them together in one place. All offices were credited equally, regardless of how many programs they brought to the table. And students got equal exposure to all of the events in terms of marketing, a persistent problem on our campus. Where we previously thought we wouldn’t have time to plan events to support this initiative last fall, we found that enough events and projects were already happening on campus during that timeframe to join nominal forces.

Where are the fellow artists on your campus or at your company that would be interested in coheadlining with you? As with the comedians on the tours I mentioned before, look to your work friends, to those who work as you do, to those trying to reach a similar goal. Voice your admiration and let them know you’re interested in teaming up. Then, position yourselves to share the glory while trusting them to do their own work. Lastly, celebrate for all involved (no group hugs required) when the grouped initiatives succeed.

The Power of the Power-Up

This past week in honor of Mother’s Day, I did an interview with my mom as an introduction to a project I’m working on with a friend, and one of her answers sparked a thought in my mind.

When Rose (my mom) was asked what I was like as a child, she said something that could be surprising for a few people who know me or read my writing often:

You were very, VERY outgoing. You would go up to anyone and everyone and just chat away. I was afraid you might get stolen or something. 

It likely surprises no one to find that this description of me, an introversion researcher, seems miles away from who I am today. It’s not to say that I don’t enjoy people or shy away from conversations, but the boundless energy that my mom mentions from my youth, some of which I actually remember, didn’t carry through into my adulthood. Why?

If I’m being honest with myself, there’s a key difference between the life I lived then and the one I do now. Naps.

By that, I mean that the energy that it took to interact with people seemingly effortlessly could nearly immediately be recouped by an hour or two spent asleep. To this day, I’m significantly more likely to be more social at an evening event if I’ve had a nap just prior. However, we’ve declared it socially unacceptable to stop the business of the day with a nap break. And I think that’s hurting a lot of people.

In the absence of a way to recoup the energy that the average day for an adult in a workplace, introverts can become…well, you’ve seen a toddler around 3pm with no nap. Cranky, easily agitated, difficult to reason with. While your coworker from the next office over may not crumple to the floor screaming, it’s entirely possible that she feels that way on the inside but knows she can’t get away with it. I recall several references to that “3pm meltdown” feeling from testimonials in my book “The I’s Have It”:

“[M]any I’s mentioned they need time to recharge to be their best. What happens if you don’t get that time?”

Here is a sampling of the answers I received:

“[I] get short with folks and have no time for nonsense. Ick. I’ve found other ways of coping, but that’s my reaction…” (Gwen)

Gwen’s sentiment about getting short with people was a common thread I noted as responses to my question rolled in. Heidi T. was one of those who agreed, saying, “small annoyances become a bigger deal than necessary.” Other words that echoed in the answers I received: “cranky”, “irritable”, and “unreasonable”.

“I call it the introvert hangover – I get irritable and lose focus if I go too long without quiet time” (Chris)

Chris’s response was one that resonated with several people, and is so indicative of the problem at hand. A hangover from alcohol or sugar (and yes, a sugar hangover is real) comes from the consumption of an excess amount of something that, in appropriate amounts, has few ill effects. But after we reach a threshold that our body can handle, we start to feel ill. The introvert hangover is our body’s response to excess- irritability, short temperedness, and a loss of focus. When we look back on some of the negative characteristics associated with introversion- assumptions of judgment, self-centeredness, and aloofness – one starts to wonder if these conclusions were drawn from introverts who were, as Chris says, hungover. These characteristics generally aren’t true from a “fully charged” introvert, but could certainly be mistakenly assumed of an introvert in dire need of a recharge.

IMAGE CREDIT: Sue Caulfield

So until we get to a point where we allow for midday naps (which I’m more than happy to carry the banner for!), what should we do if the day becomes too much and we find our battery gauge in the red?

  • Change your surroundings. I’m a 3pm walker. That is to say, if I get to a point in the afternoon where an email I open or a meeting I’ve finished is pushing me into the tantrum zone, I get up and leave the office. I head outside our gates and wander the neighborhood for a short time. I should also note, because it can be important- I don’t take a phone with me. This keeps the trip short, and it keeps me aware of the amount of time I’m spending away. I’ll head to Starbucks or the nearby grocery store (I’m not me when I’m hungry), up the street to browse the movie theater marquee, or even occasionally to Marshalls or Paper Source to look at greeting cards. It’s a moment that I take for myself, and by leaving my phone behind, it stays a solitary moment.
  • Be a tourist. Who else is in the area that you should visit? Do you have other colleagues that could use a short break from what’s eating away at them? Spend a brief moment together, with a “no work talk” rule, and give each other some time away from your breaking points. For those with a strictly social interpretation of introversion, this may seem counterintuitive- “why would you spend your you time with other people?” To that, I would say that introversion isn’t a social construct- it’s a description of where your energy comes from. For many introverts, time and conversations with people they know and are comfortable with actually provide energy, rather than taking it away. These interactions, when held to a brief period, can give the charge that may be needed.
  • Hide out. I don’t (really) mean this literally. But, it could help. If you have a busy few days on your calendar, schedule time early in those days, leading up to that period, or perhaps for a few days following, where you can work from somewhere else. Home, a coffee shop- my personal favorite is the second floor of our campus library. I am still productive and am still reachable to others that may need something, but the comfort of a home court advantage can help mitigate any strain that could be seen as environmental.

While none of these strategies will take the place of the charge that a short nap could provide (seriously, folks, can we rethink this??), it will keep you from that meltdown that once overtook the personable toddler within, and maybe even give you the energy to roam the aisles on your next flight, asking where everyone else was going (somehow, I didn’t know that everyone was going the same place, but what can you do?).

 

IE 201: Temperament in Two Dimensions

Recently, I gave a new version of a talk about introversion where I hit upon an important nuance about introversion that I wanted to share.

Thus far, we’ve been looking at the 101 level of temperament- with introversion at one end, and extroversion at the other. The highest level of mastery at this level is signified by an understanding that people exist on a spectrum, with elements of both within reach of everyone. However, I am seeking to promote all of you to the next level of understanding.

Those who are introverted are generally assumed to be shy- the quiet that comes from introspection and contemplation get conflated with the quiet that comes with hesitation and reluctance to engage socially. To be fair, as often, I’m sure the extroverted are just as often assumed to be outgoing. What’s the problem here? Well, as odd as this is going to sound, the problem can be explained with plane geometry.

Most of us are accustomed to discussing temperament in one dimension, on a line:

IMAGE CREDIT: Smarttech

(I should note, if I take any issue with this model of explanation, its that it places introversion in the arena of negative numbers. Assume that I’ve acknowledged that- believe me, I don’t like it any more than you do.)

But I’m about to let you in on a little secret: that’s not all. Human beings can’t and shouldn’t be reduced to any one dimension (mathematically or literally!). Thus, I want to introduce a second dimension into the mix.

IMAGE CREDIT: SparkNotes

Shy and outgoing are a separate dimension, characterized by different traits and qualities. Shyness and the ability to be outgoing are measures of something much different- the ability to find comfort in social interactions. Comparatively, introversion and extroversion are a measure of where someone gets energy from. This is why those who look at temperament more closely are so quick to say that the two are so different.

Most assumptions on temperament are based on consideration for these two quadrants- all positive numbers or all negative numbers (again, problematic, but stay with me here). Most of these assumptions ignore two full quadrants of people- people for whom energy acquisition is limited not my a dislike of people, but a high level of discomfort in approaching them (shy extroverts). Or, consider those who truly enjoy people, but struggle to draw energy from the encounter it takes to build meaningful relationships (outgoing introverts). This is a next-level understanding of temperament. Our accommodation of, and consideration for, all sorts of temperament can’t stop with one dimensional learning and understanding (opting introverts out of public speaking by default, or encouraging extroverts to plan social events for the department). Indeed, a one-dimensional understanding of any aspect of the human condition can be dangerous.

This can be helpful when determining fit for an organization, devising and implementing training and on boarding strategies, and finding ways to properly advise/supervise, evaluate, and recognize the people around us. As you find yourself in a position to take part in any or all of these activities with your students, supervisees, or even your supervisors and superiors, expand your scope to multiple dimensions.

pasta rice image

When I explained this at my latest talk, I explained the differences in degrees as varieties of the pasta/rice analogy I’ve used for some time- think of shy extroverts as parboiled rice (takes less time to finish), and outgoing extroverts as whole wheat pasta (can stay in the hot water longer) IMAGE CREDIT: Sue Caulfield

I am thrilled to see that so many are becoming aware of the true differences between introverts and extroverts. But wait…there’s more. I plan to challenge myself to explore the complexity of multiple dimensions and the people within them. Join me, won’t you?

2 Legit to Quit: Why My Summer Will Live on Legitimacy

This time of year in my office is one naturally inclined toward reflection. Performance is being reviewed, superlatives awarded, certificates printed and plaques engraved. We look at who has succeeded and who will continue to grow- both the people that we work with, and the processes that guide what we do.

Those who know me well know that systems and processes fascinate me. And part of my evaluation of my own work includes a deep and intentional look at how processes and systems I’ve designed perform in real time. But admittedly, I’m not always the very best at thinking about the human implications of these systems. Yes, I do think about it. But after a recent talk, Malcolm Gladwell brought another facet of those decisions, to my attention.

On the tour to promote the paperback release of his latest book David and Goliath, he talked primarily about the idea of compliance to the law and why we do it. Well, most of us, anyway. For so many years (and society, in turn) believed that deterrence, or a high enough penalty that violation isn’t attractive, was the key to keeping bad behavior at bay. More recently, an alternative to this reasoning has emerged: that of legitimacy. People comply with rules and systems that they deem legitimate. His components of legitimacy:

  1. Fairness
  2. Consistency/Trustworthiness
  3. Respect

To me, the idea of setting guidelines grounded in legitimacy is one that I stumbled into last year, when examining penalties levied against our student groups last year. Some were disproportionate, some truly didn’t apply to some of our groups, and there was little nuance that reflected a desire to understand the students behind the positional titles. Thus, the deterrence strategy did little to correct behavior for many; the alternative, while not perfect, showed greater consideration for the relationship that the organization wanted to have with its members. And that imperfection? Well, it tends to be tolerated and understood better when a relationship emphasizes humanity over compliance.

So what will I be looking at as I seek to tweak some of our tools, guidelines, and systems this summer?

Fairness. Are the systems that you work within fair to all the groups or individuals involved? If you treat all groups equally, you may believe that the answer is “yes.” But as we learned during and after the ages of legal discrimination and segregation, equal treatment is not always fair. Equality means that all people will be treated the same, while fairness is more concerned with everyone having what they need to be successful. My goal in re-examining the projects I oversee will be to make as many pieces as I can, fair. This may mean providing versions of guidelines in a few different formats for ease of understanding, and sharing key information with all board members and not just presidents (a notorious practice that I’ve been seeking to expand for years now).

Consistency and Trustworthiness. This can be a tough one, because we regrettably work in a culture that holds things tightly. This may mean that first impressions of students stick with them far longer than is developmentally appropriate, or memories of past executive boards may color the gaze with which we look upon a longer-tenured group. But to treat students consistently by enforcing deadlines and guidelines appropriately helps to build trust. This trust is essential for when they come to you with the bigger stuff, the real life stuff, the stuff that transcends their roles as a leader or student.

A remark a student came to me with last week made me reconsider my consistency. One of our student staff members mentioned that a friend of her “had never seen me laugh before.” Even with folks who are always in trouble, I had a hard time figuring out who that could be. When she told me, it quickly made sense. This particular group of students relates to me in a more transactional fashion, and I tend to mirror that when they come in. But that mirroring comes at the expense of them seeing who I am. That sort of consistency matters too, and part of my efforts for the year ahead will include being a more consistent version of myself.

Respect. In the best case, this last piece is a byproduct of the first two being in place. People trust those who seek to be fair, and who appreciate consistent behavior and engender trust. I’d like to think that my students respect me, and i’m sure there are probably a few that don’t, but I could also probably predict why they feel that way. As i seek to move into another year in this role while navigating the inevitable politics and bureaucracy that challenge us all behind the scenes, we should always treat those around us, especially students, with respect. For me, this will mean:

  • Challenging myself to focus on meeting needs and expectations, even when I am personally challenged to do so;
  • Challenging students to reconsider or resize expectations that are truly outsized (and not just inconvenient);
  • Articulating the “why” behind situations or changes that affect students- why shouldn’t I? What is there to hide?
  • Expressing gratitude when i’m appreciative0 we all like to hear it, and we’re more inclined to continue good and positive behavior when its noted; and
  • Apologize when I screw up. This is something else we don’t hear enough, and i am making it a point to improve in this area. We’re not superheroes, any of us (unless you are, and then…awesome.), and things will fall through the cracks. But it’s how we respond to those situations that either earns or loses us respect. Which will you do?

Gladwell closed his talk with a pretty powerful statement about legitimacy:

Legitimacy of an institution is a rare and precious thing; if you squander it, it takes generations to get it back.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather just keep it. Here’s what I plan to do to make sure that’s the case for me- what about you?