Episode 012 Show Notes: Helen Harbord
- Culture and Temperament
- Introverts and Extroverts in Meetings
I think when people talk about introverts it tends to often have a bit of a negative connotation, and I think the worldview of it is that it’s better to be an extrovert, or it’s easier to be an extrovert
I don’t know if it correlates with introvert/extrovert or not, but some people will wait for a gap in the conversation before they say anything. They’ll literally wait for space and then they’ll speak. And then other people will just keep talking until somebody else says something. And I think both of those groups can really conflict.
At work, we’re sort of a half British and half American team and we definitely notice a difference in terms of just the way on a daily call, it’s nearly always run by people on the American side. They’re the ones that put their ideas forward first, and then it’s the Brits who kind of come along and give their opinion. And I’ve really noticed this, and it’s not to do with the structure of the team. It’s just–I think it’s definitely a cultural divide and it is really interesting.
I think one of the introvert things that I definitely do notice, because I struggle with it, is the whole not speaking up in a meeting thing, and it frustrates the heck out of me. It really does. Because it’s not that I’m shy. It’s not that I don’t want to speak. I literally don’t know why I do it.
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Ben: Joining us today is Helen Harbord. Helen describes herself as a sociable introvert who spends her working days as a technical writer for Elsevier. She’s responsible for creating all kinds of user assistance for a clinical trials application used in the health research industry. Helen has been working in technical communication since 1996 and is a Fellow of the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators (ISTC) in the UK. Helen does film extra work, voice-over work, and actor training. She also runs yonndr.com, a site where you can search for novels set in specific real world locations. I met Helen this fall at the TCUK conference in Daventry, England, where I delivered a keynote on introverted Leadership. Helen participated in my workshop, Temperament-based Strategies for Excelling in the Workplace. Although Helen didn’t speak at the conference, her background fits the conference theme of Pursuits of the Polymath well. You can contact Helen on LinkedIn or at Helen@HelenHarbord.co.uk.
Ben: Hi Helen. I’m really excited you’re joining us today. I’m looking forward to your perspectives on introverted leadership and getting to know you a bit better. You have some really fascinating side interests. Can you tell us a little bit about your work and what a typical day or week might be?
Helen: Yeah, sure. I work for quite a large organization, but my actual team is fairly small. It’s probably about 12 of us on a day-to-day working [basis]. Half of our team is in Philadelphia and the other half in London here. I’m the only one of me on my team, so I’m the only technical writer, and that’s quite nice because it gives me quite a lot of autonomy. I can make my own decisions and that kind of thing, and we’re an Agile team, which if you’ve not come across that term, it’s a particular approach to software development. There are lots of opportunities to connect with the team on a daily basis, so work is divided into about three week sprints, and then for each of those sprints we have a whole set of meetings that we do, so we call them the ceremonies. They’re particular kinds of meetings and they happen every day. So there’s lots of regular contact with the team.
Ben: Is there a specific kind of tool that you’re using to do that contact?
Helen: Oh, we have so many channels! We mostly use Lynk which is a bit like Skype for our actual meetings, and we use Slack, we use Jira, we use Confluence. There’s so many–and actually that can make it quite difficult to keep track because you know you’ve just had a conversation with somebody, but you have to remember which channel it was and where you’ve written down the thing that you want. So that can be quite tricky. But on the whole, we use conferencing software. When we are in big meeting rooms, we use the camera as well. When we’re at home, we just use audio.
Ben: Yeah, I’m running into the same problem: starting to use all these multiple channels to converse with people and probably spending more time looking for, “Where was that conversation?” then it should take by far to do that. They’ve given us more power, but now we have more opportunities to not be able to find where we were talking.
Using all these multiple channels to converse with people and probably spending more time looking for, 'Where was that conversation? Now we have more opportunities to not be able to find where we were talking. Click To Tweet
Helen: I think so, and also the company I work for, they’re a research organization. They’re particularly keen on new tools and new stuff, so I think we have it particularly bad.
Ben: So one thing that came up–you and I were talking before the podcast and this question of introversion versus extroversion and wondering–we were discussing whether you were an introvert or you were an extrovert. Let’s talk a little bit more about that. What have you found when you take these different types of inventories and what conclusions are you drawing at this point?
Helen: Well, I’ve always assumed that I was more on the introvert side. I think as a child I was quite shy. I was quite quiet and I definitely identify with quite a few of the introvert characteristics in the way I always think before I act. Yeah, I am fairly quiet, so I’ve always assumed I was an introvert. But then, whenever I do these tests, I generally come out as just slightly into the extrovert spectrum, which was a real surprise, I must say. But then when I think about it, I do love people. I love meeting people. All those sorts of things ring true, so I think I’m kind of a bit in the middle. I think I definitely veer a bit more towards introversion, but then I wonder if it’s because…I don’t know. I think when people talk about introverts it tends to often have a bit of a negative connotation, and I think the worldview of it is that it’s better to be an extrovert, or it’s easier to be an extrovert, and you know we talk about it’s an extrovert world. I’m not sure it really is. I think they just show up a bit more. You know extroverts are really obvious, aren’t they? So I think you’re more aware of them, but I’m really not sure where I am now. Having thought about this a lot more preparing for this talk. I think I definitely am an introvert, but I think I’m an introvert with some extrovert tendencies or the other way around. I haven’t quite decided. Maybe I’ll know more by the end of our chat!
I think when people talk about introverts it tends to often have a bit of a negative connotation, and I think the worldview of it is that it's better to be an extrovert, or it's easier to be an extrovert. Click To Tweet
Ben: Yeah, or I’ll have you totally confused by then, which is possible too!
Helen: Oh, I like that! [laughing]
Ben: It was interesting, because at the conference, we had Karla Reiss there from Brazil and I talked to her a little bit about this, too, because one of the things when you start looking at countries and whether they have dominant personality types, there are a lot of articles out there that say there are no introverts in Brazil–that it’s a totally extroverted population there. I found one list that they had the top ten extroverted countries. I don’t know how they measured it, but the idea was it was all of the Latin types of cultures. So it was really–it’s kind of interesting, and I don’t know how much real research has been done on that.
Helen: And also, who did the research? Was it people from outside of those countries? So what were they comparing it with and what was their sort of baseline in a way? Because I know at work, we’re sort of a half British and half American team and we definitely notice a difference in terms of just the way on a call–on a daily call, it’s nearly always run by people on the American side. They’re the ones that put their ideas forward first, and then it’s the Brits who kind of come along and give their opinion. And I’ve really noticed this, and it’s not to do with the structure of the team. It’s just–I think it’s definitely a cultural divide and it is really interesting.
Ben: Yeah, I agree. I think that is interesting. I looked at some temperament typing around the UK and the US, but of course, it’s very similar. The surveys they had done around that were very similar, because the cultures still are in a lot of ways alike, although of course there are some big differences.
Helen: I think another thing too. So many things come into it because you think all introvert/extrovert, and then there’s so much else–how you’re brought up and what’s your environment. And the fact that I work from home most of the time, so I have to make even more effort to be part of the team, really. And I love working from home. I really do, but I absolutely love going into the office and it energizes me, which is absolutely an extrovert thing. But, is that because I’m working from home the rest of the time? And you kind of look up sort of the traits of introversion and it’s saying they need time. They need time alone, or the extrovert things as too much time alone drives them mad. Well, too much time alone will drive anyone mad! What is too much?
Helen: I have a colleague who also works from home and I would definitely put him in the introvert category, but he says he works from home and if he goes too long without seeing anyone, he says he starts singing. He starts doing a commentary, like he’s making a–he’ll sing it to himself, and then he’ll sing that he’s walking upstairs, and he realizes that when it gets to that point, he needs to get out and see someone. You know, just talk to somebody. But I would say he’s definitely an introvert, but then if he did the test, he would say, “Oh yes, I come alive when I see people,” so that pushes you straight into the extrovert side. But it might not be a true assessment if you see what I mean, because I think working from home every day, I don’t think it’s a natural thing for a person to do. I think we’re supposed to be with people, aren’t we? We’re a community. So I think if you put someone in that artificial environment, I think that’s going to sway the outcome of an assessment.
Ben: Yeah, I think that’s definitely the case and I see that. I work on a college campus and there are plenty of people around. So for me, when I get home, that’s kind of good. I can get away from all of these crowds of people. My wife is an extrovert, but she works from home and she is climbing the walls by the end of the week, if not earlier, because she has not had this social interaction with people. But it was funny this last weekend, I was at a–actually a Society for Technical Communication board meeting this last weekend, and one of our directors works by himself from home, and he was just so happy to see people at that point in time. And we were joking around “Well, we’re glad you remembered to put clothes on for this, because it’s like, oh, I got dressed today, because I’m actually going to see people!” [Helen laughing] And my wife also says that she’s becoming more introverted, and again, I don’t know whether, you know, that’s probably from working at home, as much as anything else. So we’ll run with the idea that you’re probably introverted, [Helen laughing] but we’re not really sure with this.
Ben: How do you feel like your temperament affects how you approach your work and maybe life in general?
Helen: Well, I think one of the introvert things that I definitely do notice, because I struggle with it, is the whole not speaking up in a meeting thing. And it frustrates the heck out of me! It really does. Because it’s not that I’m shy. It’s not that I don’t want to speak. I literally don’t know why I do it. I just–I can’t understand it. I know there’s this thing about some introverts feel they’re sort of quite slower thinkers. They take their time to think about things. And that really confuses me, because I know I’m not a slow thinker. I know I’m quite quick and my husband’s always commenting on it that I grasp something really quickly or whatever, but I think there’s a difference between thinking about things and actually processing in terms of what to actually say. I really don’t know. I studied linguistics at University and I would really like to go back and study this because it really–I think it’s really interesting. Why do we do it? And it makes you appear as though you’re really shy or you’re lacking confidence, which is dreadful in a work situation because if you’re genuinely not, that’s not how you want to come across.
I think one of the introvert things that I definitely do notice, because I struggle with it, is the whole not speaking up in a meeting thing, and it frustrates the heck out of me. It really does. Because it's not that I'm shy. It's… Click To Tweet
Helen: And then I think sometimes there’s a pressure to just say anything, just literally anything. I read an article on how to be an introvert in the workplace thing. One of the things it said was make sure that you say something in the meeting quite early on. It doesn’t matter what it is, just say something so that people know you’re there, and I think especially when you’re on an online call, that’s quite a good piece of advice because people literally don’t know you’re there unless you speak. But I think sometimes you end up just saying stuff that you don’t really mean or stuff that you don’t really–it doesn’t come out quite right because you’re rushing to get it there. So I think that’s the one thing that I would say is a struggle, but it’s definitely not all struggles and I think there are definitely a lot of good things that come out of being a bit more of a somebody who sits back and observes a lot more. I think if you can listen and observe and not be constantly thinking what you’re going to say, you get a lot more out of the meeting.
Helen: Yeah, It’s interesting, but another thing that…I think another Ph.D. waiting to happen in Linguistics, is this whole thing about different types of speakers. I’ve noticed this in business meetings, too. I don’t know if it correlates with introvert/ extrovert or not, but some people will wait for a gap in the conversation before they say anything. They’ll literally wait for space and then they’ll speak. And then other people will just keep talking until somebody else says something. And I think both of those groups can really conflict. If you’re the person who’s waiting for a gap and sitting there thinking, “Will they ever shut up! Am I ever going to get a word in edgewise?” And the other people are talking on thinking, “Is this woman never going to say anything?” And it’s like this kind of clash of sort of talking personalities, if you like. And I think often that comes from family upbringing. If you’ve been brought up in a big family, you have to speak in order to be heard, because no one’s gonna give you a chance otherwise. I think that has a lot of that to do with it. I think it has a lot to do with politeness and all that kind of thing. Does that correlate with introversion? And that’d be really interesting to find out.
I don't know if it correlates with introvert/ extrovert or not, but some people will wait for a gap in the conversation before they say anything. They'll literally wait for space and then they'll speak. And then other people will… Click To Tweet
Ben: Yeah, I think that’s a really good question. One of the things that I have found in talking with my extrovert friends, sometimes there’s a discomfort with silence, and because silence can be judged as negative. If the other person’s not saying anything just to kind of–I think Kirk talked about this as cuing behavior in a prior podcast, where you’re at least making sure that the other person knows that you’re engaged whether you’re talking or not. There are so many times I can be in a conversation with someone and I’m thinking and I’m thinking a lot, and of course you can’t hear that going on outside, but the assumption may very well be (and has been at times) that I’m just not paying attention or that I think poorly of the situation and that I’m not commenting, but it’s very much–It is an interesting facet of meeting behavior because I am very much wanting to wait for a gap before I’ll say something, and there are times that that gap just doesn’t happen, or someone else jumps into the gap and then I’ll be pushing back and saying, well, “I–that was my time to say something.” Generally, I probably appear in meeting behavior now more extroverted, and I think part of it is that I have learned more about–I still will not process verbally, but to make sure that I’m getting whatever point out that needs to be said while it’s still the appropriate time. But they’re oftentimes like, “Can we go back to this?” Because the conversation has moved on, but I did not take advantage of the opportunity to contribute to it. I’m very much more–I’ll sit back there and analyze and part of it is, “Well, hmm, should I say something because I know this isn’t going to work for these specific reasons?” but I also don’t want to just shut down conversations sometime.
It is an interesting facet of meeting behavior because I am very much wanting to wait for a gap before I'll say something, and there are times that that gap just doesn't happen, or someone else jumps into the gap and then I'll be… Click To Tweet
Helen: Yes, that’s tricky. And I think part of that–managing that is just, not being apologetic for who you are because whatever it is that makes us like that, whether it’s introversion or whatever it is, I think being able to–just feeling you can in a meeting say, “Oh, can we just go back to this?” or “Something just occurred to me about what you said earlier,” you know, that kind of thing. And I find certainly in my team–it could be that I’m really lucky because I have a really nice people to work with–but nobody ever minds. They just don’t mind if you have to say that, and people are fine about it. And I think also it sets a good example to others if we can do it, because then it shows that that’s acceptable, and it’s the thing you can do.
Ben: And the thing that you said earlier about what you had read that advised saying something early in a meeting, I think that’s important in a sense. Even if it’s not something really substantive, just to get you in the pattern of engaging verbally in the meeting, rather than just sitting back towards the end of it and then coming up with a, “Well that’s a great observation,” but you wait until the very end of the meeting. So I think there may be some–it may be a–I don’t know if it’s a practice type thing or cuing thing for ourselves or something that just kind of gets us more in that verbally engaged mode rather than just engaged in our thoughts around it.
Saying something early in a meeting, I think that's important in a sense. Even if it's not something really substantive, just to get you in the pattern of engaging verbally in the meeting, rather than just sitting back towards the… Click To Tweet
Helen: Also, I’m trying to look at it from the other side as it were. If you were an extrovert in a meeting and then someone who sat there silently the whole time, didn’t speak, and then said something at the end. I would think that was a bit weird, to be quite honest. And I think anytime you’re in a meeting, particularly if you’re physically together and somebody’s sitting there not speaking, you do start to think, “Well, what are they thinking? Are they just–are they disapproving? And you now you start to get that whole sort of lack of confidence about why are they not saying anything? It’s almost like, yeah, they’re just disapproving of you. They’re not speaking. Because they’re not speaking, you just can’t gauge it. So I think in a way it’s kind of unfair on the rest of the team to sit there silently. Although, I do sometimes do it myself. But yeah, just trying to see it from the other point of view.