Introversion & extroversion in UX consulting

How to harness your natural tendencies in a fluid project atmosphere

Are you more extroverted or introverted? How does that help you as a User Experience consultant? What would you rather be? 

As a concept, extroversion, and introversion were popularized in 1921 by psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who theorized that “each person seems to be energized more by either the external world (extraversion) or the internal world (introversion).” Jung considered the traits to be mutually exclusive – while no one is completely one or the other, we all prominently lean towards one. 

It’s an interesting notion to consider in the context of UX – on the one hand, that “U[ser]” in our job title means we interact with the external world constantly: we interview people, we ride-along, we host workshops and seek feedback. On the other hand, however, UX can be a solitary profession. We need time to synthesize and process results, we need space to expand our thinking, we need time to build models.

To me, the dichotomy of the job is at once a source of excitement and anxiety. My first two projects at EchoUser fluctuated wildly between times of intense, external stimulation and solitary, internal focus. The experience led me to start examining my own process – how could I learn to better step up and embrace those moments in the spotlight? How could I “turn on” the inner introvert, when I need to synthesize research?

How could I learn to better step up and embrace those moments in the spotlight? How could I “turn on” the inner introvert, when I need to synthesize research?

So I raised the question to the greater EchoUser team and asked for tips and tricks on how our Designers and Researchers leverage their own natural tendencies – and sometimes step outside of that – in their work. 

What resulted was a discussion that slowly took the form of a framework to apply in our work, not only on how to keep ourselves energized and confident but also to help us push the boundaries of our own process. 

The framework breaks down into three tenets: assess the project, understand your process, and prepare to interact. 

Assess the project

Understanding the many layers of the project onion is a crucial first step of integrating into a project. In the beginning, whether you identify as extroverted or introverted is beside the point, as you need to first assess who you are working with, and how they operate. There are three things, in particular, to consider: 

  1. Communication: How does your client communicate? Do people at the office prefer Slack to meetings? How formal is the dialogue among stakeholders? 
  2. Power dynamics and organizational structure: How are decisions made and issues resolved? Are there existing power dynamics or political motivations for the project?
  3. Workflow and project execution-style: Is there a natural rhythm to the project or the client’s workflow? How are progress updates presented and discussed? 

Recognizing and peeling apart these layers of a project situation lays a crucial foundation on top of which the UX consultant can craft their own style. 

Understand your process

No matter how you work, owning, and communicating your process makes it easier for others to work with you. This isn’t just about how you think, but also how you work. Extroverts and introverts are different – introverts seek stimulus from within, often having lively internal debates, whereas extroverts often process externally, even aloud. While one EchoUser coworker spoke fondly of a manager who “thought aloud” as part of her thinking process, another revered a supervisor who rarely spoke in meetings, but commanded the attention of the room when they did. Another colleague Considering these differences, here are some things to consider:

  • No one will judge you if you communicate your logic and reasoning for doing something your way. 
  • Don’t over-promise or over-talk details; when you’re not sure of something, communicate that and make a show of taking a note. Introverts are naturally geared to think deeply and debate – harness that power.

Prepare to interact

Now that you know what kind of project you’re walking into, and how you like to work, it’s time to prepare. At EchoUser, we look for every opportunity to leverage tools and experiences of others – be that a finely detailed project plan that outlines the project strategy (so the introverted consultant doesn’t have to), or a workshop warmup technique that the extroverted designer can use to ignite a kickoff meeting. In particular, the following areas of focus can help a consultant prepare:

  1. Inclusive ideating: Creating opportunities for all stakeholders to engage in their own way leads to more, better ideas. A great way to do this in meetings and workshops is by sequencing individual working sessions before group share outs. This encourages both introverts and extroverts to participate and share. 
  2. Active listening: EchoUser consultants are sometimes alone on projects, meaning one person has to facilitate, take notes, and document the discovery process. It’s a lot to handle, which makes it all the more important to prepare in a way that gives you bandwidth and attention to listen in the moment. It’s important to also realize that clients can be extroverted too, and may need to talk aloud to work through a thought. 
  3. Mental model: Have a workflow in mind before you start interacting with clients. Having a model for how things are supposed to go (and results you expect to get) will give the introvert confidence and the extrovert room to improvise in the moment, whether that means testing workshop activities beforehand, having a particular aspect of the design in mind when gathering feedback, or having a colleague set up the interview session logistics remotely. 

So is an extroverted personality more beneficial to a UX consultant, or an introverted one?

At least for the EchoUser staff, it didn’t seem to matter. Introversion/extroversion is a spectrum, not a bucket you stand in. The role of a consultant is fluid – every project requires new and innovative approaches – and the UXer that can assess the project, examine their own process, and prepare accordingly, will thrive.

Conner Hunihan

March 4th, 2020

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