Who are we?

Music for the morning? 

Franz Schubert’s Trio in E Flat Major, Op. 100 (Piano, Cello, Violin). 

Sounds nice and soothing, doesn’t it?   As I mentioned in several recent posts, I often listen to music while I’m walking or working.  This is one of the pieces I have on my iPod.

The music is very appropriate.  I had to step on a path that included some hot coals, figuratively, on Monday.  Yikes!  But several friends made sure I had the right footgear and I got to the other side all right.  (Thank you, friends!)   Being prepared, having the right gear, helps. (With the slightly cooler weather, I actually did wear ankle boots on Monday.)  You definitely don’t want to face a difficult walk without the right equipment.  I am grateful that I had a place to turn to get the equipment I needed.  I ended the day smiling.   I appreciate my friends!  No wonder I’m listening to something as peaceful as Schubert this morning.

This morning’s topic:  Who are we?  And what difference does that make in the workplace?   An important topic, because working often requires adapting to how others behave, forming strategic alliances, networking inside your organization and outside it, and teaming up with others, at times.   To say nothing of dealing with customers, clients, colleagues, and everyone in your reporting chain!  All easier to do if you know how people roll.

The Big Dude, aka AOTUS David S. Ferriero, has a new post about personality typing, “Innies and Outies.”  I liked it because it covers a subject I’m interested in and which I used to post about sometimes on the Archives and Archivists Listserv.  David discussed Myers Briggs typing–are we Introverts or Extroverts?  

Such personality type testing often is done within workplaces so employees can learn how different people communicate, do research, handle data collection, assess situations and come to decisions.  The testing result is referred to as Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).  Beyond the topic, I really enjoyed AOTUS’s approach.  Why did I find it so refreshing?  It showed candor and humor! 

The Big Dude had just the same reaction I had to the Myers Brigg Type Indicator test that I did:

“I still remember the session at MIT where we were getting ready to take the Myers-Briggs when the instructor was explaining the Introvert/Extrovert characteristics: Are you the kind of person at a cocktail party who hangs around at the edges and observes? Or do you immediately move right to the center of the room and engage in conversation with those around you? And I sat there thinking to myself; I’m not even at that cocktail party. I’m home reading a book!”

Wonderfully honest!  And similar to a lot of archivists, librarians, and historians, although not all might be as willing as he to admit it.  I definitely can say I am an Introvert.  I’ve been tested, I know my MBTI.  (The Big Dude and I exchanged some emails about that yesterday and also have discussed Myers Briggs in the past, as I noted in a comment under  a previous post.)  I have many of the characteristics that David lists in his blog post.  I do fine working alone.    Actually, I kind of prefer it.  But not to a great extreme! 

Some subscribers who read my frequent and lengthy postings to the Archives and Archivists Listserv may have figured out that I spent way too much time working by myself.  And that I deeply missed working at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).  Clearly, I was intellectually lonely and cut off from a world I had loved at the National Archives!  My passion for NARA and its mission remained (still remains!) although I left its employ in 1990.

MBTI points to whether you can tolerate situations such as isolation or whether they may be very difficult for you.  Isolation has been noted as an issue for lone arranger archivists and for historians in small history offices.  As a federal historian once observed, “one of the problems peculiar to one-person [history] offices is professional and intellectual loneliness. There is no one readily available internally to discuss program directions and initiatives, research problems and analytical questions.” He added that the historian often faces problems because he “is a unique and little-understood personality in an agency engrossed in current affairs.”  An Introvert probably can handle this better than an Extrovert.

I generallyhave many of the characteristics that the Big Dude lists from Marti Olsen Laney’s book, The Introvert Advantage.   Myers Briggs helps us understand ourselves.  It also helps us to understand how others are wired, at home, among our friends, and, importantly, in the workplace. 

If you have a boss who keeps coming back to you for more written input and detail on something, s/he most likely is an Introvert.  I’ve worked with people who vaccumed up enormous amounts of written information.  I’ve also worked with ones who only wanted to glance at something, at most.  I’ve worked with ones who needed some downtime and with ones who wanted to be around people a lot. 

Presidents differ in this, too.  Richard Nixon clearly was an Introvert.  Bill Clinton, definitely an Extrovert.  Of course, you can only control your time to some extent.  A friend who was a Senior Executive in Fedland once confided to me a few years ago that he was so over scheduled, he greatly yearned for more time to just sit alone and think things through.  He said too many things were done on the fly, without the benefit of enough thinking time.

It helps to know how your colleagues roll.  And definitely what your boss is all about.   If s/he seems more comfortable with oral briefings than reading long reports, that may indicate Extraversion.  If your boss is an Extrovert, it’s probably not a good idea to send him or her lengthy, detailed email messages.  Better to look for frequent face time to touch base and talk things over! 

Sometimes you have to put things  in writing, of course, even for people who prefer to hear you give an oral overview.  Write up bullet points.  Put an executive summary in front of a long report, so s/he can see the highlights and pass the detailed version on to someone else for action, as needed.   Conversely, if your boss likes quiet time to read and immerse himself or herself in details, don’t keep popping in to his or her office to talk things over!  Be prudent about interruptions.  Send emails that s/he can read at a time of his or her choosing, instead.  (For the recipient, setting Rules and using Folders for different types of email messages helps manage this.)  Adapt to what he or she needs.

It doesn’t have to be a case of managing upwards, of course.  Understanding MBTI works up and down the chain.  Good managers understand the people in their team.  My late sister, Eva (pictured left) was very good at that.  She never was tested for MBTI but she seemed to have pretty good radar for how the people for whom she served as Supervisory Archivist and Team Leader were wired.  She often made assignments based on her assessment of people’s individual characteristics rather than force fitting things in the office.  Not always possible, of course–mission needs come first.  But it helps if you can assess how people roll and to take that into account.

Jonathan Rausch wrote a well known article for The Atlantic in 2003, “Caring for Your Introvert.”  He said that Introverts can understand Extroverts but that

“Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion. They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome.  They cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion. As often as I have tried to explain the matter to extroverts, I have never sensed that any of them really understood.” 

He may be right!  We Introverts may have to keep in mind what Extroverts are all about more so than they us.  That’s important to remember, in the office even more so than with friends and family.

As the Big Dude noted in his blog post, Introverts make up some 25% of the population.  But Rausch observes that according to one expert, Introverts make up “a minority in the regular population but a majority in the gifted population.”  His advice to Extroverts? 

“First, recognize that it’s not a choice. It’s not a lifestyle. It’s an orientation.

Second, when you see an introvert lost in thought, don’t say ‘What’s the matter?’ or ‘Are you all right?’

Third, don’t say anything else, either.”

Yeah!  Fist pump.  (And not because I’m home teleworking today, LOL.) 

Thanks for the post, Big Dude.   Totally cool to read something like this, especially from an agency head.  So un-Washington, LOL.   Not surprising, however! 

I suspect most archivists are Introverts who have to deal with a largely Extrovert world.  Now, if we could just get some of them to read AOTUS’s post and Rausch’s article, ha!

2 responses to “Who are we?

  1. My last boss before she left told me about the article you cited and that she had to learn that Introverts have a harder time speaking and interacting because they think heavily about what they present, so it’s more of an effort for us than extroverts who do it naturally. I read that article after she mentioned it and I think it does have me pegged pretty well, especially the part about needing alone time.

    But AOTUS is also right, I’d rather be home with the book!

  2. Hi, Dejah! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, I always enjoy hearing from you! Introverts frequently do need alone time, don’t we? I really like the fact that AOTUS was honest enough to say he would be home reading a book, not at the cocktail party.

    The comments at his blog are very interesting. I’m glad to see a good convo going there! It’s almost as if we’ve all been waiting for someone to have the guts to come out and say this so we can chime in with our (similar) reactions, isn’t it? I’m glad David put up his post. The Big Dude aka AOTUS really is an insightful guy. Maybe he anticipated we Introverts needed to be drawn out to gather at his blog and to talk about this stuff! (Hey, why not join the convo there at his blog, you’re one of my smartest and most thoughtful commenters!)

    A couple of people have mentioned in comments how Introverts need “recovery time” after being “on,” at a social event or other public appearance. I absolutely agree. Although I spend much of my time alone in my job, I still have a tendency to grab my iPod and go out for a long walk as soon as I get home. (I also take a mid-day break when I’m not too busy and walk on Capitol Hill at lunchtime.) Even when there is a threat of rain, I just put on my National Archives baseball cap, stick out my tongue at the forecast in my mind, and sally forth! Very Introvert to use long walks listening to music (classical and New Wave, in my case) as recovery time, I think.

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