I’ve been thinking an awful lot about the huge interest in my blog, Can You Really Change Your Personality?. While in Detroit working on a couple major projects (there are still consulting opportunities in the Motor City!), it crossed my mind that I ought to explain how to change your personality. BTW: Please forgive my week-long absence from blogging. I’ve been up to my ears in those projects.
In this post I want to focus on one of the personality changes with which I’m most familiar: how to change from primarily an introvert to more of an extravert.
As a general rule, business rewards the personality effects of both introverts and extraverts. I've observed, however, that more introverts gravitate toward finance and technology, while more extraverted types gravitate toward marketing and sales. But, just because you're introverted doesn't mean you shouldn't gravitate toward marketing and sales. No reason also, why extraverts couldn't gravitate toward finance and technology. Still, it’s clear that business rewards people skills, one of the major effects of the extraverted personality, more than any other skill. That fact has been documented by research at the Dallas Fed, dating from 2003.
A caveat: If you're satisfied with your introversion and not interested in becoming more extroverted, you can stop reading right here. But if you've decided that you need to become more extraverted, read on.
High scoring extraverts are friendly, outgoing, assertive, energetic and optimistic. Extraverts are gratified by what takes place outside their person. The result is that many are focused on people skills and are better at them than introverts. In contrast, introverts get enough stimulation from their own ideas, not what's going on outside of them. Preferences become priorities. However, contrary to the common perception, introverts don't suffer from shyness or social anxiety.
Introversion and extraversion are nothing more than ingrained preferences, preferences that show up in relationships and decision making. Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, says that everyone has both an extraverted and introverted side, with one being more dominant than the other.
In my previous blog on personality, I listed four relatively stable personality characteristics: neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience and conscientiousness. (I missed agreeableness, per the correction of one of my readers.) Introversion is not on that list of stable personality characteristics which suggests to me that it may be quite changeable. Anybody got info on that subject?
Most of us have known people who are highly neurotic, and often show their anxieties in anger, depression, self-consciousness, impulsiveness or stress (not all of these at the same time). And if, for example, you know someone who dealt with depression at a period in their life, you may have seen them learn how to handle, even conquer their depression with counseling and chemistry (drugs), and move the dial back on anxiety and depression. That’s personality change. Mike Wallace of CBS 60 Minutes suffered depression, but learned to deal with it successfully--and change that personality characteristic. Change, as I said in my previous post, often comes about as the result of a crystallization of discontent. That was true for Mike Wallace.
Personality change is supported by the research of Hazel Markus. Stanford's Markus found that when the context is changed the possibilities a person faces spur him to find role models he’d like to become. Those models ignite motivation and drive us to personality change. Driven to change, we gradually try on a different mask, and over time changes can take place.
On a number of occasions I've seen ambitious people come to believe that their more introverted personality will need to undergo change if, for example, they're going to be able to work successfully with their clients. As a result, over the years these introverted professionals focused on the activities of their own work and how other people do it. They learned to develop ideas through discussion with others, rather than solely by their own reflection. In short, they learn to pay a great deal of attention to the activities outside of themselves. I also know quite a few that weren’t able or willing to make that change, often to their own detriment.
Some, in the change from introvert to extravert, actually get to the place where they like having people around. For managers, this shows up in the focus upon other people's behaviors, figuring out how to work more successfully with groups, willingly putting their incomplete ideas on the table and working to achieve their ends through other people. They do not lose their introverted tendency to analyze problems deeply before they make decisions.
One client whom I've known for more than 20 years has made very significant personality changes in his move from introversion to extraversion. But he has not dropped all his introverted effects. That's wise, since there are important strengths to that aspect of personality. A CIO for three different organizations, he recognized early on that he'd need to become much more knowledgeable about what was going on outside of himself. Aware that he was highly reflective, often ignoring the ideas of others, he's worked for years to gain the competencies that enable him to develop ideas by discussion. His change objectives were specifically extraverted consequences: to create a motivational environment, to adjust his approach to decision making, and to learn to adapt to the styles of others in order to sell his organization’s services more effectively.
My own experience of personality change was a long time coming, but the narrative has been highly useful to many of my introverted clients desirous of making change. As a kid, I had a very active mind, always interested in my own internal world of ideas. I rarely shared my ideas until they were fully formed. By no stretch of the imagination did I have any sense, nor interest in collaborating in the full development of ideas. Furthermore, I thought a lot before taking any action, even asking a girl out for a date. I remember my dad asking me when I was going to invite that girl that I'd been talking about for months out for a date. Because so much of my time was spent in my inner world of ideas, I did not learn for years how to speak in public, handle a team or engage in a highly interactive conversation. That was just not an interest, thus I took no opportunity to practice those skills, much less ask for coaching.
Fifty years later I went to a high school reunion, walked into a crowd of nine people whom I knew from high school, but had not seen since graduation. I took part in the conversation, even occasionally interrupting, asked questions and made my opinions known. Twenty minutes into the conversation I was shocked when one of the women, Donna, stopped the group conversation and said, "Who are you?" There was silence in the group. I responded, "I'm Dan Erwin, the guy who sat next to you in typing and history class." She came right back at me with, "I know that Dan Erwin, but I don't know you. The Dan Erwin I knew 50 years ago has no relation to the one standing in front me." She was serious and I was really curious to know whether others thought the same thing, and if so, why. Taking advantage of the situation, I asked whether each them held the same perspective. One by one, I checked out the members of the group, trying to understand that conclusion. Every single, last one said that I had no relation now to the guy they knew 50 years ago. They saw me as withdrawn, shy, and non-communicative. The truth was that at that time I had no reason to share my world with many people.
The following week, I called a college roommate whom I had visited a couple years earlier while on a project in southern Illinois. I told him about the experience and before I finished the story he started laughing. Since I’m sometimes slow on the uptake, I wanted to know what was so funny. "Of course, they're correct. I barely knew you when you called. This Dan Erwin has no relation to the old Dan Erwin. You were a bit stuffy, pious and religious (that's an understatement), and revealed practically nothing about yourself or your thinking.” I asked why he roomed with me that summer and he responded that since none of his friends were going to summer school he thought he could deal with me for eight weeks. He did say that after eight weeks he “thought there might be something there,” but was also “shocked” when he first talked to me over the phone.
How did the change take place?
Over time, both my client CIO and I took consistent, sometimes daily actions that enabled us to become highly capable of the extraverted effects. What's important to understand is that neither of us are who we once were. That laser-like focus on development and the changing of behaviors resulted in a different personality. Consistent, regular decisions to behave in certain ways can change your personality.
I can hear those who believe in the "real person" theory reinterpreting our stories and saying something to the effect that the real person was always there. That notion is similar to the traditional perspective on innate intelligence. It’s false. Markus essentially draws the same conclusions about personality. Intelligence changes are like personality changes. They take awhile, but they're both possible.
Personality change follows the research of Anders Ericsson and deliberate practice. It includes five phases:
· Crystallization of discontent
· Extensive practice, practice, practice
· Mentoring and coaching
· Adaptation to feedback
· Integration of behaviors
Personality can be defined as a fairly dynamic, organized set of characteristics that uniquely influence one's cognitions, motivations and behaviors in various situations. With that definition, both my client and I have come to think about people, decision-making, ideas and even behaviors differently than what originally characterized us. That's personality change.