Friday, October 09, 2009

What is an extrovert administrator to do?

Extroverts can make wonderful administrators.

Just to define our terms here, extroverts are people who like to have interactions with other people. We get energy from these interactions, and that energy is sustaining. We also tend to process ideas out loud, rather than internally as introverts would, and we see our understanding grow through discussion and debate with other people. We think best through conversation. We don't like spending too much time alone, as it saps our energy and sense of self.

There are some clear pluses to being an extrovert and administrator. We are good with people. We don't mind being in the public eye and giving presentations, trainings, and facilitating meetings. We are not shy in advancing our agendas, and we have gifts in communicating our ideas to others.

On the other hand, we extroverts face some challenges. We don't always listen as well as we should to people in meetings, being more focused on participating as part of our own thinking process. We may come on so strong that people take our statements to be firm convictions, when they may really just be tentative thoughts. We may tend to dominate or shut down more introverted people in these conversations as well, in a rush to participate or assert our own ideas. And we may struggle with confidentiality in our need to process--out loud--issues that are troubling us. It makes sense, in that extroverts tend to think by talking, and how can one think about, say, a personnel issue without talking about it with other people? Of course, personnel issues are just one of many that need to be confidential in a workplace, and results of breaking that confidentiality can range from a loss of friendship with colleagues to winding up in court.

I have taken many approaches to these dilemmas as an extrovert administrator. In meetings I am facilitating, I try to take notes about what others are saying and what I want to respond. That way, I won't forget my thoughts, but I also won't jump in prematurely and dismiss out of hand the ideas of others in the group.

I try to signal that I am open to challenge and changing my mind throughout a discussion by trying on the ideas and suggestions of others, though I am loathe to qualify my own thoughts. As a feminist, I just cannot hold with the "perhaps it's just me, but I think..." or "I may be wrong, but I thought perhaps..." school of speaking. Sorry, I know I speak in declaratives, but that is just what I prefer. No namby-pamby half-statements for this woman... you get run over by the guys if you do that.

The issue of managing confidentiality has been my biggest challenge, because the legalistic nature of our society takes away a lot of options for processing. Written reflections, such as journals and notes, can be subpoenaed, and conversations and emails can also wind up in court. My best recourse has been to use my partner (and some off-site professional colleagues) as a processing mechanism and as a support to my determination to keep things confidential. We process work-related issues, and she allows me to use this to think through tough issues. I will claim spousal privilege, since we are officially married in another state, though I would likely lose in my own state since we have a constitutional amendment banning recognition of same-sex relationships, which is a drag.

My partner is also the person who holds me accountable for maintaining confidentiality. I call her when I am tempted to disclose inappropriately to other people, and she helps me keep things confidential. I find that I am worse at saying things I wish I didn't say--not necessarily things that are professionally confidential, but things that are private or better not shared--when I am tired or, alternately, really excited and overstimulated, say after a day of teaching and public interactions. I have found that the best thing to do at that time is just to go be alone or be private with my partner. If I don't, I make mistakes that I regret.

So, how do my other extroverted friends handle these issues? What do you do to manage your mouth?


Academic2 said...

Very nice,

but what's an introvert administrator to do?

I've been asked to be interim chair and I'm an introvert (introvert interim chair, ahhahaha....long week already.)

Just the thought of all those people makes me tired. But I'm really interested in the job.

Lesboprof said...

My experience with introverts is that you can also be excellent administrators, and that you need to build in frequent time away, holed up in your own quiet space, to recuperate from all that time with other folks. You are better listeners, better reflective thinkers, and you can still do the management-interaction piece if you give yourself time and a little push.

That said, I am clearly not an expert in your experience! So, write in and tell us about what you are doing!

Anonymous said...

Huh. Thanks for this! I've just been through another couple of days of communication-centred training in my current (non-academic) workplace, and I keep hitting up against the fact that my communication style seems to be poorly understood or threatening to others.

I consider myself an introvert, but I definitely do think by means of talking, and struggle because most other people don't want to come to the party and think *with* me, they want to deliver what they've already thought and assume that I'm doing the same.

Glad to hear I'm not alone in this boat, and thanks for the note-taking tip :)

Anonymous said...

I have similar issues with living large and exuberantly as an academic administrator, but mine are more derived from my manic-depressive tendencies when I'm in high emotional gear than from any innate extroversion.

Over the years I've learned to recognize my highs, however, and can usually rein myself in by breathing deeply and telling myself "slow down..chill..take it down several notches."

I know just what you mean about overpowering others with the force of your expressiveness. And sometimes more subdued souls are rubbed way the wrong way by our verbal dominance.

But type-A folks also tend to get things done in academia much more efficiently than our introverted colleagues.

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