Jennifer Kahnweiler, PhD, may be an extrovert herself — but she’s a true champion for introverts in the business world.
Specializing in “introverted leadership,” she is a global speaker and author of three books, including The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength and Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference.
Exhausted leaders, missed opportunities
Doing leadership coaching and training in large and small companies, Dr. Kahnweiler found herself encountering introverts who were “overlooked, ignored, and misunderstood” — and, crucially, missing out on opportunities to contribute.
Meanwhile, their attempts to play by the same rules as extroverts were draining them of energy. Over time, the cumulative effects were significant.
Dr. Kahnweiler recalled the introverted senior leaders she encountered along the way: “They had learned the hard way to navigate the system — or they were stuck and not getting the kind of results that they wanted from their teams and from their boards and C-level colleagues. In either case, they were literally exhausted.”
Seeing the potential to improve this situation started Dr. Kahnweiler on the path to championing introverted leadership.
And that doesn’t just mean techniques for managing a giant meeting of thousands of stakeholders — it can be as simple as learning to communicate better about going out on the town to celebrate a business win.
Celebrating and debriefing vs. recharging
So what’s the root cause behind introvert-extrovert misunderstandings?
“We impose our expectations on the other person,” Dr. Kahnweiler explained. “It’s just not knowing — it’s not being conscious. A lot of people have taken Myers-Briggs and know their personality type, but they don’t necessarily know how to internalize and apply it.”
In the video for The Genius of Opposites, Dr. Kahnweiler shares an example of two colleagues — one introvert and one extrovert — who meet with a potential customer to close a deal. The meeting is successful, and all of the hard work has paid off. What happens next?
Dr. Kahnweiler looks at it from the introvert’s perspective first: “You intend to be a good team player, and you feel like you did a good day’s work. You got the deal! Now you’re done,” she said. “But the perception of your extroverted colleague is that you should be celebrating afterwards. You should be debriefing and talking about it. Because that’s the extrovert way.”
“In the book, I have a real-life example of this from Steve Cohn, who is a sales trainer. And he says, ‘I teach this stuff, and I should know better! Once I realized that [my colleague] needed to recharge, and she wouldn’t have any energy for our work the next day unless she had that time, then I didn’t take it personally.’”
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However, Dr. Kahnweiler pointed out, that responsibility goes both ways.
“If [the introverted colleagues] are not sharing that they need that time — not owning their introversion — then that’s when it becomes a problem. As I say in the book, just tell them what you need. We’re not mind readers.”
It’s very important, Dr. Kahnweiler said, to be able to have a conversation and work together to find a solution. There will be times when each of the two colleagues, introverted and extroverted, may need to make some concessions.
But having the willingness and ability to discuss their preferences increases the likelihood that this team will have a successful business partnership — one that ultimately allows them (and their employer) to benefit from their combined strengths.
The business benefits of introvert-extrovert collaboration in the workplace
If you’re an extrovert, you might be wondering, “No one made any special accommodations for me. Why should I change my style for my introverted colleagues?”
According to Dr. Kahnweiler, the answer is simple: it’s well worth the effort.
“You could be missing out on the contributions of 40 to 60% of your workforce,” she said, “and that means your organization is missing out on those contributions as well. You’d also be missing out on an opportunity to tap into your own abilities and try on new styles that could be beneficial. For example, taking quiet time is something that we know is linked to creativity.”
This chance to learn from one another is something that Dr. Kahnweiler observes frequently in her work.
“When we work closely with our opposites, we are stretching into our own opposite sides. When I have an extrovert say to me, ‘I took quiet time and I came up with 5 more ideas for the team that we can use,’ to me, that’s a win. We learn so much from each other and it translates into outcomes for the teams. It’s not additive. It’s exponential.”
The potential benefits for organizations, teams, individuals, and of course partnerships — like the ones described in The Genius of Opposites — are exciting.
“Once you understand the nuances and appreciate the differences,” Dr. Kahnweiler said, “there’s no limit to where they can go.”
3 Collaboration Tips for Extroverts
If you’re an extrovert, consider taking these simple steps to collaborate more effectively with your introverted team members.
1. Choose a calm setting for key conversations
“When you’re having a one-on-one discussion,” Dr. Kahnweiler said, “be aware of the ambience. You might be able to focus in a crowded coffee shop, but sensory stimuli can throw an introvert off track.”
To get the best results from your introverted colleague, proactively choose an environment for your conversation that reduces background noise and other distractions.
2. Thinking out loud? Narrate it.
In The Genius of Opposites, Dr. Kahnweiler shares an example of two colleagues who developed a way of naming what they were doing. As the extroverted colleague, you can say things like, “Let me go on a tangent” before you begin to think out loud.
Dr. Kahnweiler told us that this enables the introverted colleague to realize, “Okay, I can listen without thinking these are the final thoughts. My colleague will be clarifying these ideas as he or she downloads them, so I can relax a bit and not get exhausted trying to listen.”
3. Suggest a walk for your next meeting
If you’re in the same place, consider getting outside of the office for a walk. Dr. Kahnweiler explains in her book that a walk can be equally good for extroverts and for introverts.
For extroverts, “talking out their ideas while walking around helps them gain clarity about their positions.” Meanwhile, introverts appreciate the “relaxed pace” and the break from constant eye contact.
In The Genius of Opposites, Dr. Kahnweiler cites Nilofer Merchant, a proponent of the walking meeting (watch her TED Talk here), on how walking meetings have a special way of uniting colleagues around a shared problem-solving experience: “There’s something about being side-by-side that puts the problem or ideas before us, and us working on it together.”
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