Our Self-Absorbed Society

Just as a car was going by, I crossed the street and leaped onto the curb. Louie (a poodle) was startled by the car and jerked his chain (which was attached to my water belt) in the opposite direction from which I was headed. The slight pull from Louie while I was airborne was enough to make me stumble several feet and eventually fall, smashing my hand into the sidewalk, dislocating my pinky, and fracturing the bones in my right (dominant) hand. The passing car continued on without hesitation.

I don’t know whether he/she saw me fall. I sat up and felt my hand, winced in pain, and thought, “Crap, I think it’s broken. And that pinky does not look right at all.” I called my husband, who didn’t answer his phone. I called my son, who didn’t answer his phone. I tried each of them 3 more times as I started my slow, painful walk back home. Fortunately, my hand was the only major injury. I ended up with a bruised temple, shoulder, and forearm, but nothing broken there. (However, months later, the pain from soft-tissue damage in my neck and shoulders has started to emerge.) About a block from home, my husband called. “Want me to come get you?” Kinda late for that.

I’ve fallen like this before, but didn’t break anything. When I was in college, I was hurrying to class, running across a wooded area with tree roots sticking up. I tripped over a tree root and somersaulted onto my shoulders. Others on their way to class rushed on past, oblivious to my discomfort. (No one even held up numbers, as in a sporting event, to rate my somersault!) Embarrassed, but not injured, I brushed myself off and went on to class.

In January 2013, I ran in the half marathon at Walt Disney World. Running along a busy road with one lane blocked off for the runners, we were all running down a “cattle run” of sorts, barely enough room to run because of so many people. I kept to the right side of the “trail” so as not to impede the faster runners. A woman came up behind me, trying to pass those of us who are slower (and running on the right side, I repeat), and stepped on the heel of my shoe. Keep in mind, we’re all running about 6 miles per hour (some faster, some slower), so the shoe was launched off of my foot and flew off to the side, in the part of the road where the cars were.

As you might expect, the suddenness of it scared me, I yelped and stumbled, and my son caught me. He then stood next to me and held my arm while I put my shoe back on, and then we continued on our run. Meanwhile, the tall, Olive Oil-esque blond girl, with a  huge, bright smile, having the time of her life, continued on her merry way to the next set of Disney characters to get her picture taken, seemingly oblivious to my discomfort. It was bad enough that she stomped on the back of my shoe–she should have stayed to the left side with the faster runners and not followed so closely behind me. But she could have stopped, apologized, and offered to help me put my shoe back on. I doubt it even registered in her mind what she’d done. In fact, I may not have been her only victim that day! For all I know, for her it was part of the fun to stomp on the back of slow people’s heels for “extra points”!

Remember, this was a DISNEY run. It’s supposed to be fun. You’re not going to qualify for Boston on this run. She was hurrying because 1) she could and 2) she wanted to get in line to get her picture taken with the Disney characters along the route, but still wanted to finish with an unembarrassing (for her) time. The reason she had fallen back to where the slow pokes like me were is that she’d stopped at every other photo spot before this one. She should have known that her time was going to suck if she did that. But she’s (apparently) not the sort to care about other people, only herself. She was in a hurry and I was in her way.

Lately, I’ve been noticing many people are not the sort to care. Yeah, I know in times of major disasters like the Boston Marathon bombing, the fires in Colorado and California, the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, and so on, people do “grow a conscience” and actually help each other. But in everyday life, it’s rare for someone to go out of their way to help their fellow humans. Many people will pick up a mangy, flea-bitten stray dog before they’ll help a stranger who falls on a sidewalk. I’m sure there are many reasons for this attitude (our litigious society, for one), but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Take a cue from my mistake: don’t hook your dog to your water belt! Even a 13-pound miniature poodle can knock you off balance when both of your feet are off the ground.

Motivators Depend on Personality Type

Are you motivated by money? Fame? Shame? What motivates you depends on your personality type. Introverts tend to be motivated internally and extroverts tend to be motivated externally. By “tend to be,” I mean we’re not widgets, and it’s not just black or white. Many variables affect motivation, so what I am saying here does not apply to every single human being.

Are you an Introverted Ivy or an Extroverted Evy?

I am very introverted. I am not motivated by other people’s impressions of me. I am motivated by my own goals and what I think is right, just, or what I’m “supposed” to do. I go to work every day and do my job well, because that’s what I get paid to do. No one is harder on me than I am on myself if I’m not doing a good job. I’m not motivated by a boss who constantly tells me I’m wonderful or gives me awards. I’m not motivated by coworkers patting me on the back or nominating me for awards. I am, however, quite motivated by continued employment, annual pay raises, bonuses, and paid vacations!

How are we motivated differently?

Programmers and writers (I am a technical writer at a software company) tend to be introverted. We work better alone, without external distractions and noise, so that we can focus on our work. Coding and writing take uninterrupted focus. Interruptions mean starting over from the top or sloppy work. Stopping work for an hour or so to attend a meeting is an unwelcome interruption—unless the meeting is directly related to what we’re working on.

Sales and Marketing professional are typically extroverts. They need to talk to customers/potential customers, communicate with other people about trade shows, communicate with coworkers about what they are doing, and so on. Attending meetings IS the work; skipping a meeting to write a report is an unwelcome interruption. Extroverts are motivated by external forces: awards, bonuses, commissions, and the constant praise and admiration of their bosses and coworkers. “She’s so quiet!” is considered an insult to an extrovert, but admirable to an introvert.

Can introverts work on a team?

Managing a team of introverts and extroverts together requires more effort and thought than a team of only extroverts or only introverts. You can’t just say “Here, do this” if only half the team (or less) is motivated by the project’s success. Getting everyone to cooperate as a team requires that you know what motivates each person on the team so that you can offer them the proper reward(s) for successful completion of the task.

  • If the project requires each individual’s solitary contribution, the introverts on the team will be successful.
  • If the project requires that one individual lead the project, or requires a public spectacle of some kind, the extroverts will shine.

If there are multiple extroverted people on the team, they will compete to lead the group. The introverts on the team will follow whomever assumes that position. Assigning someone to be the lead can be a recipe for disaster if you don’t chose the most extroverted member of the team. (Even in a team of 100% introverts, you can be sure there is one who is the least introverted of all.)

With extroverts especially, you need to provide clear instructions as to the goal of the project and ensure that they understand. Without clear instructions, your extroverted team members will take that as a challenge to see how far “over the top” they can go and may misunderstand the goal of the project entirely.

What does it all mean, Basil?*

Most personalities fall somewhere between extrovert and introvert. Extreme introverts and extreme extroverts are not comfortable in the other’s realm, but usually as adults we learn to function (still uncomfortably) in the opposite world. Whether you are a manager trying to get your team to work together more effectively, or one of the employees on that team, pay attention to and use what motivates THEM, not what motivates you.

  • If you’re an extroverted manager, understand that your introverted employees might find your “fun team-building contest” a waste of time that could be used actually working.
  • If you’re an introverted manager, understand that your extroverted employees would probably enjoy a Friday evening, after-work  happy hour, but your introverted employees might consider it “working overtime.”

* From the movie “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.”

Which is “better,” extroverted or introverted?

Neither personality type is “better” than the other; we’re just different, with different needs and different motivators. Before you criticize the employee, coworker, spouse, sibling, child, friend, or neighbor who thinks, talks, or behaves differently than you do, consider why it bothers you so much. Forcing opposites to work together without the proper motivation does not bring good results. If you need your team’s or a person’s cooperation, think about what you can do to motivate them to want to cooperate. You might think of it as manipulation, which it is, but it is manipulation with positive results for everyone. If you can change your behavior or thoughts, the other person is more likely to cooperate with you. After all, the only person you can truly change is yourself.

This web page provides, in a table format, a partly humorous, partly serious look at the differences between extroverts and introverts. Here are some examples:

WORD Extrovert’s Definition Introvert’s Definition
Extrovert, n. A nice, normal, sociable person. Never surprises you with anything weird. A boisterous person who may be very nice, but who is somewhat exhausting to spend time with. Usually not too deep, but fun.
Good manners, n. Making sure people aren’t left all by themselves. Filling in any silences in a conversation. Not bothering people, unless it’s necessary, or they approach you. (Sometimes you can bother people you know well, but make sure they aren’t busy first.)
Internet, n. Another medium for advertising. A place where geeks with no life hang out. A way to meet other introverts. You don’t have to go out, and writing allows you to think before just blurting something out.
Introvert, n. One of those who likes to read. Moody loners. One who shows a perfectly natural restraint and caution when meeting new people. One who appreciates solitude.