Getting along with different personalities at work

By Anslee Wolfe

Jessica Cormier, CPA/CFF, is an introvert who is sometimes told to speak up in meetings.

Other times, she may be told that she needs to think more on the fly.

These things often come easier to extroverts. But the fact that she’s more reserved doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have much to say, said Cormier, a senior manager of professional oversight for the Society of Louisiana CPAs.

“The perception is that I don’t have any good ideas to contribute or that I am fearful or intimidated by the discussion,” she said. “The fact is that I have so many ideas and questions flooding my mind.”

During her AICPA ENGAGE 2018 presentation in Las Vegas on Thursday, “Confessions of an Introvert,” Cormier highlighted differences between introverts and extroverts, how they approach the workplace, and ways they can collaborate.

“The real advantage of understanding these differences is in knowing yourself and your strengths and how to leverage those to be your best self, as well as bring out the best in others,” said Cormier, who said she puts on an extrovert hat for events like ENGAGE but needs time to recuperate afterward.

Being aware of this aspect of your personality can help you be more effective at work. For example, Cormier knows she needs more time than extroverts normally would to process information during meetings, so she prefers to know the meeting’s goal before it starts.

“If you want me to come to a meeting ready with ideas, send me an agenda or give me some questions to ponder ahead of time,” she said. “I have learned that it is OK to ask for what you need to be most effective. I always ask for agendas before meetings.”

Here are some examples of differences between introverts and extroverts and how they approach the workplace (note that these are generalizations and won’t apply to every introvert or every extrovert):

Idea generation: Extroverts think as they speak and often will be more adept at events like brainstorming sessions where ideas are thrown out. Introverts tend to need more time to reflect and ask more questions, coming back to the group later with their ideas.

Collaboration vs. independence: Extroverts typically prefer teamwork environments, drawing energy from those around them. Introverts usually prefer to work quietly and independently to help them focus, recharging their energy with quiet time.

Communication preferences: Extroverts often prefer face-to-face, telephone, or video meetings. Introverts tend to prefer emails or texts.

When it comes to collaborating effectively with co-workers, it helps to be aware of the different personality styles and to approach tasks accordingly.

“Don’t expect everyone to thrive in the same environments,” said Cormier, a graduate of the AICPA Leadership Academy. “Do not call on a quiet teammate in a meeting — rushing him or her isn’t going to help. Instead, give everyone some time to think independently before beginning a discussion. This allows all of your colleagues to process the information in their own time.”

Having both introverts and extroverts in a workplace is beneficial, Cormier said, because both excel in different areas, making for a well-rounded environment. For example, in a team meeting with a client, “the extrovert is going to be the people person,” she said. “He will have a lot of energy and offer a warm greeting and begin the small talk. The introvert is going to ‘receive’ all of the information being given: what the client says, what the client does not say, how the client is reacting to what we are saying.”

“Both,” she noted, “are important aspects to any client interaction.”

It’s also helpful to know which clients or co-workers lean more toward introversion or extroversion, adapting your behavior to meet their preferences, Cormier said.

An extroverted client, for example, would likely enjoy your hand-delivering a tax return and discussing it in person, while an introverted client would likely prefer receiving it by email and following up with you after reviewing it.

Workplaces are more effective when people can function in ways that are comfortable to them instead of being asked to deviate from their preferred style, Cormier said.

“I’m not saying to let people avoid stretching and growing and expanding their comfort zones,” she said. “But I am saying don’t force a square peg into a round hole. Task the square pegs for the square-holed tasks and the round pegs for the round-holed tasks, and you will see greater results.”

Anslee Wolfe is a freelance writer in Colorado Springs, Colo. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Ken Tysiac, a JofA editorial director, at Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com or 919-402-2112.

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