I’ve known Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D., CSP over the years in the initially tiny and now ever-widening circle of authors who write popular books for and about introverts. She’s become the most prolific of those authors and an enduring champion for introverts. In her latest book, The Genius of Opposites, Kahnweiler, a raving extrovert*, explores the ins and outs of pairing introverts and extroverts with the passion of a sommelier pairing food and wine. In this interview, she describes some especially successful pairings:
NA: What got you to write The Genius of Opposites?
JK: I try to listen to feedback. The readers of my previous two books, Quiet Influence and The Introverted Leader, were asking, “How do I make it work with my extroverted/introverted teammates, managers, and customers whom I value but can drive me crazy at times?” My corporate clients wanted to know how they could improve productivity by helping introverts and extroverts better understand their differences and bring out the best in each other. We know that when teams get along, productivity soars. I wanted to answer these questions.
Another reason I dove into the opposites dynamic was that I am married to a very introverted guy and I am an extrovert. I joke that I am constantly on a journey to figure him out. After 42 years, you'd think that I would have! Our differences never cease to intrigue me.
NA: What is the main theme of the book?
JK: The big idea is that we assume that opposites attract, and they do. But for these partnerships to work, they need constant care, vigilance, and maintenance. The key is for introverts and extroverts to stop focusing on their differences and use approaches that move them toward results.
NA: What was the introvert-extrovert dynamic in the partnership of film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert?
JK: They had a hit TV show for 13 years. What many people don’t know is that for much of that time they vehemently disliked each other. I watched video outtakes of their show in which they were so cruel to each other it made me squirm. But what they did was find a way to take that negative energy and channel it in more positive ways. They learned to “Destroy the Dislike.” That is about respecting each other and acting like friends for the sake of the camera and the show. We viewers were the ones who benefited from their efforts.
Siskel and Ebert had the same vision: To have a great show based on their mutual love of the movies. There is one sweet image in which they were watching the movie Fargo in the theater together. Gene Siskel crawled over in the dark to softly tell his friend, “THIS is why we go to the movies!”
NA: The complementary pairing of the wildly extroverted Steve Jobs and his introverted collaborator Steve Wozniak has become legendary. Were there any surprises about their partnership?
JK: The two Steves are a great example of what I found often occurs with genius opposites. They Cast the Character. That means that successful pairs know each person’s role in a scenario and cast themselves so that they bring out their opposite’s best. They also share the credit no matter what role they take. Woz, as he is known, was the technical genius behind the Apple computer, but Jobs was the one with biz acumen. That combination created magic, and the results of their efforts were transformative for all of us.
NA: How about the musicians Daryl Hall and John Oates? How have they made it work?
JK: They have been together for more than 45 years and have never had a public rift. John Oates is seen as the introverted sideman to the extroverted Daryl Hall, even though he plays a pivotal role in the duo’s success. I love how Oates described his view of his role: “I am okay with it because I don’t think of myself that way [as a sideman]. Other people may, the world may, but that’s fine. I kind of look at in a more Zen way: You can’t have a beautiful sunset without a horizon."
NA: You tell a story in about your younger daughter Jessie Kahnweiler, an extrovert, and an introverted associate of hers. What did they learn about their disconnects, and how did they ultimately see eye-to-eye?
JK: Oh yes. Film crews are fascinating to me. They must function as teams. Jessie, as a more extroverted director, has learned a lot about how to work with introverted members of her crew. A turning point occurred when on one shoot, she found Liam, her director of photography, seemingly unresponsive to her enthusiastic ideas. He appeared on the day of shoot, however with a large notebook filled with carefully thought out shots that incorporated many of the ideas she had been pitching. She realized he had been listening and engaging with her all along; just quietly and in his space.
NA: In your chapter “Bring on the Battles,” you highlight important conflict-management skills such as honoring what energizes each partner; talking about what each of them needs; dealing with crises together; ironing out conflict while taking walks together; and turning to a third party when necessary. What do you mean when you say, “the more high stakes the situation, the more important it is for opposites to bring on the battles as an outcome-focused team”?
JK: I think it is important to talk through our differences, opinions, and concerns. If we avoid giving each other tough feedback or expressing a contrary opinion, resentments and bottled up feelings result. If introverts and extroverts see conflict as normal, necessary, and natural, and address conflicts as they emerge, they are much better off and can head off potentially serious problems down the road. The stakes can become larger when things are swept under the rug for too long.
NA: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
JK: Introverts and extroverts who work together can take a short quiz on my website to determine what they have in common with highly effective opposites. They can compare results to build on their strengths and eliminate blind spots. I want to stress that the results can be greater together than we ever might have imagined alone.
NA: The sections of the quiz say it all: Accept the Alien, Bring on the Battles, Cast the Character, Destroy the Dislike, and Each Can't Offer Everything.
Here’s to successful pairings!
*Also spelled "extravert" by Carl Jung and the communities of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® and other personality assessments such as the Five Factor Model.
Copyright © 2016 Nancy Ancowitz