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Building the Business 101: Beyond Gender

Communicate effectively with both introverts and extroverts.

Veena A. Kutler and Annette F. Simon, 09/25/2008

This monthly series of articles describes the many steps and occasional missteps we have taken in building our financial advisory business, Garnet Group LLC. Currently, Garnet has eight staff members, more than 90 clients, more than $300 million in client net worth under advisement, and offices in Bethesda, Md., and Boston. Veena Kutler, CFA, and Annette Simon, CFP, are the managing principals in the Garnet office in Bethesda.

In our previous two columns we've discussed whether and how an advisor's gender affects interactions with staff members and clients. This month we asked an expert in personal and organizational development to share some of her observations on other factors that can create misunderstandings and tension between advisors and their employees, clients, and prospects.

Our Expert
Devora Zack is the founder of Only Connect Consulting in Potomac, Md. Since 1996, OCC has provided clients with tools and systems to strengthen effectiveness and morale. We first met Devora when she ran a preconference workshop at a NAPFA conference a few years ago, and Annette invited her to lead the attendees of this year's NAPFA advanced planners conference in a variety of exercises designed to enhance communication and leadership skills.

The Interview:
Garnet: Devora, you've told us that while gender is one factor, it is not the only, nor even the most important determinant of communication style. Can you expand on that?

Devora Zack: Let's start with the comments your expert provided last month. She (Olivia Mellon) mentioned the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and that most men are "thinkers" (prefer to use facts and data in assessing problems and making decisions), while most women are "feelers" (relying more on their emotional responses). Statistically this is true--65% of men are "thinkers"; 35% "feelers." Women are split in the same proportions, but 65% of them are "feelers," while only 35% are "thinkers."

In my own work, I've observed that introversion and extroversion, another MBTI dimension, has an enormous impact on how people talk to and interact with others in all types of environments. Further, I think this dimension is very often misunderstood. People tend to believe that introverts are shy, quiet individuals who avoid public speaking. They assume that extroverts are talkative, good at networking, and comfortable presenting to a group.

While these characterizations might be true for some introverts and extroverts, they are not the factors that distinguish the two groups. There are self-confident introverts who enjoy public speaking just as there are shy extroverts who avoid the limelight. And, for example, a self-assured introvert who is comfortable with public speaking can be misinterpreted as a rude extrovert.

This has actually happened to me. Although I am an introvert, in my workshops I am "on" for hours at a time, leading and interacting with groups of all sizes. I enjoy my work tremendously, but at the same time it's very draining because of my introverted nature. Between sessions I need to isolate myself in order to recharge and prepare for upcoming sessions. At times participants have noticed that I'm not hanging around to chit-chat with the group during breaks, and have commented that I must be a little cold or standoffish. In fact, I'm very talkative and outgoing in one-on-one conversations.

In the simplest terms, the difference between an introvert and an extrovert is that introverts derive their energy from being alone, while extroverts are energized by being around other people.

Introverts need time by themselves to process their ideas and like to think things through completely before they speak. Interruptions are distracting and annoying for introverts, who are naturally more focused and detail oriented than extroverts. They need to be allowed to think and delve deeply into a narrower range of topics and projects. Generally, making small talk with people they barely know is an exhausting task for introverts.
Conversely, extroverts need to think out loud and talk through their ideas in order to fully develop them. Working in groups, brainstorming, and meetings make for a very comfortable operational environment for extroverts, who tend toward breadth rather than depth. They divide their attention among a wide range of projects and subjects. They welcome interruptions and are even energized by them as a part of their problem-solving process.

Put another way, introverts think to talk; extroverts talk to think.

Fortunately, by learning to recognize our innate differences and to understand that people are simply wired differently, we can concentrate on the inherent strengths of each member of the team. Most people are neither 100% introverted nor 100% extroverted; instead they but fall somewhere along a continuum between the two extremes--exhibiting extroverted behaviors in some situations and introverted tendencies in others. This blend of natural predispositions helps us understand the mysterious actions and attitudes of others.

Garnet: It's easy to see how these two personality types would have many misunderstandings.

Devora: Yes, extroverts who aren't aware of these differences often read introverts as aloof. They see an introvert sitting in his office staring out the window and assume he's a slacker. An introvert sitting quietly through a group brainstorming session is interpreted as disengaged. Attention to detail and introspection looks like inaction and a waste of time to the extrovert.PAGEBREAK

And, introverts just as frequently misread extroverts. They see the extrovert constantly talking, and conclude she never thinks or does any work. Her interest in a broad range of topics and involvement in many projects seems frivolous.

Garnet: Do you have some tips to help advisors work more effectively with clients and colleagues who fall closer to the opposite end of the introvert/extrovert spectrum?

Devora: It starts with throwing out the Golden Rule. Don't treat people the way you would want to be treated. Instead, look for clues and cues that reveal their preferred work style and treat them accordingly. I call this the Platinum Rule: Treat others how they want to be treated.

With that in mind, here are some tips for extroverted advisors working with introverts.

* Knowing that introverts need time to think through their ideas before speaking, you can encourage them to be more forthcoming in a meeting by providing the agenda and any questions you plan to ask in advance.

* During a meeting or even in conversation with an introvert, resist the impulse to interrupt. Introverts need time to compose their thoughts and get them out, but they are willing to share when given the opportunity to do so in a manner that feels natural to them.

* Keep in mind that an introvert may consider something private when you, as an extrovert would readily share it. If, in order to work effectively, you need to ask questions that might seem intrusive, preface them with your reason for asking.
* Ask open-ended questions, allowing the introvert to control how much or how little he will reveal. If the response is less expansive than what you had hoped, only press for more information if absolutely necessary for your work.

* Introverts are generally more comfortable with one-on-one conversation than group interaction. Too much stimuli is disruptive and keeps them from thinking clearly.

* If you are trying to form a bond with an introvert you have just met, ask about her experiences--and listen without interrupting to share your own related anecdote.PAGEBREAK

For introverted advisors working with extroverted colleagues and clients:

* Try not to cut them off. It may feel like the extrovert is talking too much, but this is how he works through issues.

* If your extroverted client or staff member talks about taking action, follow up with her to determine whether she has made a decision or if the statement you heard was part of the thinking aloud process.

* Extroverts will want to get to know you. Be prepared to share something personal to make them comfortable.

* Schedule extra time between meetings with extroverts. This serves two purposes: 1) it allows extra times for the extrovert to talk as much as he needs to and 2) it allows you down time between meetings to collect your thoughts and re-energize.

Garnet: Those are great tips.

Do you worry that labeling people as introverts or extroverts, thinkers or feelers, or using any of the various other systems for classifying personality types can be divisive?

Devora: Some do believe that we are all the same and therefore should not treat anyone differently.

In years of teaching these concepts and seeing them in action I have observed that just the opposite is true. Moreover, neuropsychologists have found that the brain requires compartmentalization in order to process information effectively. By learning about the differences in perceptions and communication styles we are all born with and recognizing that there are strengths inherent to each type, we can create organizations and practices that bring out the best in each of us. We can replace inaccurate assumptions with correct perceptions about the natural preferences of the people around us. As we learn to flex our communication style muscles--to adapt our own style without changing who we really are, and to accept others without judging them we can build more successful businesses and communities.

Garnet: Thank you so much Devora! We can see immediate applications of this information in our business.

Next month we will discuss the challenges of client communication and managing
expectations during difficult market environments.

Veena A. Kutler, MBA, CFA, and Annette F. Simon, MBA, CFP, are founders and principals of Garnet Group, LLC -- www.garnetgroup.com, a fee-only wealth management firm with offices in Bethesda, MD and Boston MA. Both are NAPFA Registered Financial Advisors with more than 30 years of financial planning and portfolio management experience between them. Garnet serves the needs of high net worth individuals and families in the Boston and Washington, D.C. areas

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