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How Introverted and Extroverted Colleagues Can Navigate Conflict

As an introvert, you might see your extroverted colleagues as poor listeners who speak before they think and use way too many words. You might get frustrated with their expressive nature. You might even find their questions to be intrusive.

As an extrovert, you might see your introverted colleagues as distant and detached and way too slow to respond. You might feel like getting any sort of answer is akin to pulling teeth. You might wonder why they decline invitations to social events and need so much time alone.

Bestselling author and speaker Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D, includes these examples in her newest book, The Genius of Opposites: How Introverts and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results Together. She interviewed more than 40 introverted and extroverted partners about the highs and lows of working with each other, and the lessons they’ve learned.

Kahnweiler then took those lessons and themes and created the below 5-step “ABCDE” process, which she details in the book:

Accept the Alien: Realize (and accept) that you can’t change your colleague. But you can learn to understand each other.

Bring on the Battles: Conflict is “normal, natural and necessary.” Disagreements are actually essential in creating better outcomes. That’s because you challenge each other to create the best solution together.

Cast the Character: Be clear about each person’s role in your project or business.

Destroy the Dislike: Respect each other’s differences.

Each Can’t Offer Everything: Each person, introvert or extrovert, is incapable of being everything. That’s why it’s best to work together to provide the widest range of options and ideas.

When introverts and extroverts pair up, you get the best of both worlds. But naturally, because of your different dispositions, misunderstandings and disagreements are inevitable (as the above examples suggest).

How do you navigate these conflicts effectively?

For starters, Kahnweiler suggests being crystal-clear about what you need. For instance, Lisa McLeod is a sales leadership consultant and self-described “raging extrovert.” When she needs to talk to her business partner and husband, Bob McLeod, she explicitly says: “I need a half-hour to talk about it. Is now a good time?” If it isn’t, Bob will say, “Not now,” versus “No.”

It’s also important to make sure you’re respecting each other’s natural tendencies while trying to resolve the conflict. And, again, clarity is key. In the book Kahnweiler features an excellent list of questions to help you stay focused.

Before a conflict, she suggests asking yourself:

  • What do I really want?
  • Do I understand what my partner really wants?
  • How invested am I in the outcome?
  • How invested is my partner in the outcome?

During the conflict, she suggests asking:

  • Do I let my introverted partner communicate with me in writing or one-on-one conversations?
  • Do I let my extroverted partner communicate with me by talking things out?
  • Am I letting my emotions hijack my logical thinking?
  • Am I letting my logical thinking hijack my emotions?
  • Are we taking timeouts during our discussion? (Timeouts help you calm down and regroup. During conflict and stressful situations, we tend to exaggerate our strengths. Extroverts might get louder and louder. And introverts might retreat even more.)
  • Do we need to bring in an outside person to help us resolve this conflict? Who? (Doing so can help you get unstuck, get another perspective and move forward.)
  • Does it make sense to agree to a trial solution first?
  • Have we set a date to implement this solution?
  • When will we meet again for another discussion?

After the conflict, consider these questions:

  • How is the solution working?
  • What needs tweaking?
  • What have we learned from this experience?
  • What should we do differently the next time there’s a conflict?

Kahnweiler also suggests walking while you’re talking through your disagreement, because it helps both introverts and extroverts. For instance, extroverts like to think out loud. Talking while walking helps them to gain clarity. They can ask their introverted colleagues questions without seeming like a prosecuting attorney. Introverts will appreciate the relaxed pace, and “conserve energy by not having to concentrate on making eye contact and other in-your-face listening behaviors.” Plus, moving around helps to spark new ideas.

Both introverts and extroverts bring great things to the table. It’s a partnership that can produce unique perspectives and excellent results. The key is to accept each other’s natural tendencies and learn to navigate conflict effectively. This way you truly work as a team.

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How Introverted and Extroverted Colleagues Can Navigate Conflict

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Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). How Introverted and Extroverted Colleagues Can Navigate Conflict. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 23 Sep 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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