Friday, December 18, 2015

The Power of Quiet

He had none of the swagger of the natural warrior.  - Malcomb Gladwell

What does it take to locate the quiet, hard worker?
One of my favorite reviews of personality testing for candidate screening comes from an early article by Malcomb Gladwell, Personality Plus, whereby he challenges the ability for such tests to provide true insight into candidates. Notice I didn't say dismiss, and Gladwell was careful to leave the door ajar, and lightly sidestepped the fact that his story's protagonist never actually took such an exam. Whether or not you believe in them, it's still a very interesting read, helping us to reflect on any preconceived notions we may have about domestic staff candidates and our abilities - or lack thereof - for pre-hire due diligence.

Gladwell spins the tale of young Lt. Alexander Nininger, who by all indications and more indicative of traditional reference checking than a written personality exam, is known as the quiet one. The story is eloquently written (it is Malcomb Gladwell, after all) and takes us down two parallel roads: that of personality exams being suspect of credibility; and that of the power of quiet. Intrigued by the first and Gladwell's obvious intent of the story, I stayed focused on the second.
It's certainly loud. But is it powerful?
I still believe in the value of employment screening, to the detail and level which resources such as time and money will allow, including such exams, of which a dizzying array of 2500 or so exist; not all being equally valuable or credible - as with any product or service we'd find. But it's a pretty safe bet those created by reputable I/O physiologists and marketed to the Fortune 100 for specifically pre-hire assessment (favored are those related to the "big five" traits, which have been shown to remain consistent) would be suitable for the domestic industry, as well. 

These exams, even the most credible, are not a panacea and Gladwell would say they're even less, yet what isn't?  Most domestic hiring managers would, I'd hope, regard them as another resource to draw upon and compare notes, at the very least; same goes for resumes (can be faked), references (can be owed a favor), and even in-person interviews (great actors are both born and made). Gladwell, we notice, skips past all those troubles and spends his whole time jabbing a sharpened pencil into into the side of Myers-Briggs, who were not - as most people know - industrial psychologists, yet were (for the most part) great marketeers of a very simple user-friendly product which, although flawed, at least opened up the conversation and perhaps paved the way for other, more practical screening tests to develop from the new marketplace that demanded them - and still does. 

Their value is tied to many variables and it's no secret that Myers-Briggs personality "types" can waver, and - as Gladwell cautions what causes them to is... it depends. Yet, who can resist introducing themselves at a party as an INFP or some such coded label? It all sounds very educated, and is certainly more acceptable than just blurting out "I'm neurotic." With this fun, plug-n-play pop-psychology, though, we're only revealing how our personality is perceived, not the underlying foundation of which actual, I/O validated screening assessments are based - those five traits which remain remarkably consistent across time and space; most people confusing the matter - and to the delight of many salespeople. Gladwell, as brilliant as he is, obviously needed to make a strong point within the limited space of an article and he went for the low-hanging fruit, mocking the silly MB with his own silly version created during a phone call to a friend. A bit naughty, yet I did enjoy his attempt at humor - or was it simply his ego and personality coming through...?


And now on to the power of quiet...  that wonderful affliction of introverts everywhere, of which Gladwell did illustrate through his story, his character becoming a hero beyond anyone's imagination during the critical time of need - perhaps, I'm almost certain, to even the young lieutenant's imagination, himself. Would a DiSC test have assisted Lt. Nininger's commanders (or more importantly, Nininger, himself) know the front lines was where he'd been most valuable to the Army's mission, all along?  We'll never know.

No doubt that extroverts, the swaggering, gregarious, type-A personalities, get the most attention in our worlds, but not just on the battlefields yet also in the downstairs domains of our own domestic staff industry. Candidates have been known to be passed over for selection of Estate Management positions for this very reason, of not being perceived as a "big" enough personality for the position at hand. A huge mistake, IMHO, yet one which rarely gets the chance to be proved.
But the times they are a-changin'. Management acumen... and dare I say that includes Domestic Residential Estate Management...  is beginning to shift and will soon be defined by the skills of thoughtful introspection, by cohort collaboration and accountability, by a quieter brand of power, and, by golly -- by introverts
Without further adieu, we now enter another writer into our post, Larry Kim, who tells us exactly why:
Twentieth-century Americans were bottle-fed on the importance of needing to "prove themselves." Extroverts, with their brash and gregarious manner, were the golden children. They excelled as intense, borderline manic individuals showcasing their charm and charisma, Wolf of Wall Street-style. Loud, proud, and ready to get things done, it was their time to shine.
As you can imagine, introverts weren't too thrilled. However, just as Mufasa predicted in The Lion King, the sun has set on their time, and is now rising again, with introverts as the new kings.
It's time to bow before the introverts reading in the corner. Why?

1. Introverts are superior storytellers.

"Storytelling" is a hot topic these days, and introverts are old pros at telling a yarn. More reflective and thoughtful by nature, introverts are often skilled writers and content creators, making them golden geese in our current age, which prizes top-notch content. J.K. Rowling, Abraham Lincoln, and even Dr. Suess are believed to be (or have been, in their time on earth) introverts. Rock on lone wolves!

2. Introverts are better listeners.

Introverts are more quiet and contemplative than their extrovert opposites, earning them an A+ for listening skills. While the ability to "listen" may seem unremarkable (Siri can listen too), being able to listen, analyze, and act is extremely valuable in the digital age, as brands seek to engage in meaningful dialogue with consumers.
Social media allows for consumers to voice their opinions and potentially engage in creative collaboration with brands. However, this partnership between consumer and brand can happen only when businesses are willing to listen, and listen well. Much of modern marketing is about fostering sincere, authentic dialogue. Extroverts... Well, bless their hearts, but their unrelenting exuberance can often result in one-way dialogues that fail to take into account consumer feedback.

3. Introverts feel at home online.

It's not hard to spot an introvert--they are the ones reading a book in the corner at a party, or ordering a stack of frozen Celeste Pizza for One at Shaws.
Introverts aren't crazy about crowds, many preferring the warmth and safety of the online cocoon. And why not? There's endless amounts of learning and communication happening on the Web, and it's as good a place as any other to pass leisure time. As a result of ample online hours, introverts tend to be naturals when it comes to all things tech--they make great online marketers, social media managers, etc.

4. They aren't ball hogs.

The overbearing presence of extroverts can stifle creative energy--in a room full of loud chatterers, an introvert will have a hard time speaking up, even when they are holding an ace idea up their sleeve. Extroverts like to run the show, and can inadvertently overshadow other team members. Introverts, on the other hand, have no problem collaborating.

5. Introverts make better bosses.

Researcher Adam Grant found that introvert leaders tend to deliver better results than extroverts because they tend to give employees a longer leash, letting them run with their ideas and see where their hunches take them. Extroverts, while well intentioned, are often so excited about their own projects and ideas that they steamroll other team members in the process.

6. They're more social than you think.

Let's be clear--introverts aren't shy or antisocial. Being shy reflects fear of social judgment. Being introverted really has to do with how you respond to stimulation.
Extroverts gain energy from social stimulation and activity. Introverts, while often enjoying social activities and engagements as much as anyone else, need periods of solitude to recover. Introverts focus best and are most productive in quiet environments. While they treasure alone time, introverts enjoy spending time socializing with friends as much as any extrovert.

7. A lonely heart makes for more creativity.

The majority of history's most creative individuals are what we would categorize as introverts. Why? Because solitude is often an essential ingredient for fostering creativity. Great thinkers like Darwin or Thoreau would take long walks in the woods, or even retreat from society entirely for great lengths of time. Introverts need their periods of isolation to recharge their batteries, and it is in those quiet moments that inspiration often strikes.
Creativity is a valuable asset these days, which means introverts are in high demand. Next time your creative team wants to do a team-building exercise, encourage them to go camping in the Mojave Desert. Send them on their way with a jug of water and a fond farewell. All right, that may be pushing it, but don't be afraid to let introverts work their creative mojo. Not every genius idea comes from brainstorming.

So extroverts are useless wastes of space?

Absolutely. They're also to blame for global warming. Just kidding--of course extroverts are important, too! They make fantastic presenters, are incredible networkers, and will probably perform better in a meeting with clients than introverts.
I'm certainly not trying to hate on extroverts. I'm simply suggesting that it's time to rethink the qualities we value in business. The tendency has been to favor the boisterous, loud, whirlwind energy of extroverts. Instead, we need to take into account those introverted underdogs. They are the ones, with their thoughtfulness and creativity, who we'll see pulling the strings in our increasingly more digital-oriented age, the one in which they were born to rule.


So then, if we can agree that a quiet yet passionate approach is useful in the discreet enviroments of domestic service, how do those recruiting in the domestic industry discover the Lt. Niningers? Will the power of quiet be found through rudimentary reference checking, for work performed under conditions which may or may not be similar enough to the next household to even matter? Or, will it come about through the endless array of personality testing options, which may or may not give us insight into the range of behaviors that reside in-between the neatly divided lines of 16 personality "types"? Or, will it be only found on the fields in which the work is actually to be performed after the hire, and with - just like in the jungles of Bataan from which our hero blossomed - those very specific and trying circumstances which can't always be known in advance?

There may be no easy answers and as Gladwell liked to say, it depends. But for now, just keeping the discussion alive so that the truly best - and not just the biggest - personalities may be found and hired, may turn out to be quite heroic enough to provide the stellar service which is both sought and deserved by domestic staff employers.