Taking a long look back, I’m pretty sure that 60-75% of my clients have been introverts. I generally have an easier time dealing with people who share my preferences for careful thinking, privacy, and to-the-point conversation. However, I value my extrovert clients as well, even when we get into a minor tug of war over whose tendencies are going to rule our interactions.
If you’re an introverted professional working with extroverted clients, here are five tips for staying on keel with your opposite number.
Tip #1: Extroverts enjoy spontaneity.
Extroverted clients like to call you up with a new idea they haven’t thought through at all, for your feedback. This can wreck your concentration when you’re working on projects for other clients – or indeed, on the very project the interrupter hired you to perform. They'll blithely keep on doing this unless you set firm limits.
How to set limits? You could have a policy that clients get just one unscheduled call a month. You could watch your caller ID and let their unscheduled calls go to voice mail. Or you could listen and always respond, “That’s interesting. Let's set up a time to talk it through.” Whatever you do, be totally consistent, and be firm, or an extrovert will conclude that using you as an all-purpose sounding board is a valid part of your role.
Tip #2: Extroverts talk in wide circles.
Your extroverted clients like to think out loud, and they can go far afield from their starting point unless you prompt them to focus on what is most relevant. Without showing signs of disapproval at their behavior, simply insert questions or reminders like, “And what exactly is the problem you wanted help with today?” or “You said you wanted to ask me something about the Pinsky proposal.”
Tip #3: Extroverts value “get to know you” opportunities.
Just as extroverted clients tend to think interactively, they prefer extensive social interchange before hiring someone. Reading someone’s A+ qualifications and zillions of testimonials is not enough for them, although strong recommendations from a mutual friend may be. One potentially lucrative client engagement that came my way never got off the ground because the contact setting up the arrangement insisted on a full hour of phone schmoozing prior to making a decision, and I explained that I did that only as a paid consultation. That was OK, I told myself – there was probably a severe personality mismatch there that would have derailed the relationship had we gone ahead.
Tip #4: Extroverts divide their attention more than you do.
With your preference for one-on-one conversations, you may get annoyed when extroverts accept phone calls, check for emails, start side conversations with passersby, or wink at people across the room right in the middle of your important thought. In their mind, they still are paying attention to you. If you truly need them to be talking with you without distractions, get them into a setting where interruptions can’t intrude.
Tip #5: Extroverts may need more reassurance.
Extroverts want everyone, including you, to like them and approve of them. If you don’t actually like one of your extroverted clients, don’t feel obligated to pretend you do. But otherwise, praise them and smile at them whenever you can, as this makes a big difference to their confidence. You may feel surprised when, deep into the project they’ve hired you to complete, they ask for reassurance that they’re on the right track, or they act hurt when you criticize something they’ve done, even though that’s part of your professional role with them. Sandwich negative feedback between positive statements and they’ll be much better able to absorb your point.
If you set limits and turn on genuine friendliness with an extroverted client whom you like, you can have a mutually satisfactory relationship. One client who is a champion schmoozer and loves to run half-baked ideas by me pre-paid me for a batch of consulting hours and used this time for feedback on ideas he’s never yet put into action, but he was happy with the arrangement, and so was I.