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Collaboration for Introverts or, How to Make Friends and Tolerate People - Steve Wheeler and Alex Fradera

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This is an entry in The Future We Deserve - a collaborative book project about the future. See all the entries or talk about this entry.



chat session open

Ian: Hello.

Ekow: Hiya! Ian, you’ve been contributing great stuff on the forum for a while. I think you should come to our next meeting - we're getting together to make some real changes happen! Exciting, huh?

I: I guess.

E: You guess?

I: I’m not big on meetings. I find them pretty uncomfortable and I never get the chance to say what I want to.

E: I know what you mean. Some people - “extroverts”, I guess - really enjoy this stuff, but for others it’s a hassle, an ordeal even! That’s a problem, though: introverts have a different way of looking at things. Without them, our meetings lose out.

I: Honestly? These problems are so complicated I’m doubtful large face-to-face meetings can get to grips with them.

E: It can be easier to explain what you think online. But things get done in the meetings that never make it to the forum. Plus, real world meetings are a lot more likely to lead to real world actions.

I: In theory, I agree. But I’ve found these things attract - and are dominated by - extroverted people who enjoy meetings whether or not anything gets done. I get enough of that at work...

E: It’s a vicious cycle, isn’t it? I worry that we’ve edged towards apartheid, with introverted thinkers inhabiting the abstracted spaces and extroverts dominating the actively social ones. One issue is that most extroverts don't really understand that introverts have a different style of thinking and interacting. They think they are just uninterested or have nothing to say.

I: Let’s say I’m convinced: how can I participate without feeling constantly uncomfortable or pretending to be someone I'm not?

E: OK. 1) Educate people that different styles of thinking and communication exist.
2) Design meetings to reflect that reality. Starting meetings with the usual warm-up / familiarisation exercises, for example, can help social flow, but risks freezing introverts out from the off. There are more inclusive ways to do it, though.

I: I’d also want some structure in the discussion so that people like me have a chance of being heard. Extroverts often try to jettison structure in the interests of "spontaneity" and "informality" - they may be comfortable with that, but others are not.

E: Agreed. There are good reasons to preserve space for spontaneity, but some structure can even out participation and encourage deeper engagement. We’re still stuck in outmoded models of what a “meeting” should be like, but there are many different techniques and practices - consensus decision making, group facilitation - that have blossomed since the 1960s. We need to make use of them.

I: Also, introverts aren’t always going to say everything they want to at the time. Sometimes the best thoughts occur after a meeting.

E: So we should have a system in place so people can follow-up on issues?

I: Yes, and we should think more about using technology to make collaboration easier - document collaboration and emergent discussion platforms; Junto, PiratePad, Google Docs. You know, I'm feeling more positive about this already! I don’t know if I’m ever going to learn to love meetings but it means a lot just to know my position - and, I'm sure, that of a whole hidden iceberg of people - is acknowledged.

E: And I’ll share that there’s a personal dimension to all this as well; we need to accommodate people’s different needs and styles of collaboration, but we also need to acknowledge that we might have been conditioned away from successful face-to-face collaboration by our upbringing, education or employment.
Sometimes we need to acknowledge our resistance but do it anyway; the first time I turned up to a meeting I felt such a sense of relief - I guess I hadn’t realised quite how alienated and afraid I had become, just talking about these issues through a computer screen. But when I met with live human beings and realised there were the rudiments of a genuine community there, my outlook on the whole issue was changed.

I: So you’re saying that the actual process of learning to engage and organise socially can help bring about personal as well as political change?

E: I don’t think the two are separate. I think if we had a population of people capable of open, human, constructive interaction, we would already have achieved the Future We Deserve. There is no more important work for us right now than re-establishing human connection and learning to work together.

I: Wow.

E: So see you Friday?

I: I guess.

E: Shut up.

I: Joking. I’ll be there. :)

chat session closed