Introvert and extrovert opposites can accomplish great things when they work together. Throughout history, odd couples have launched brilliant new products, created great works of art and changed history together. Think Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and the Wright brothers.
But while these high-performing duos maintained the illusion of being effortlessly well-balanced, in reality, complementary opposites can go off the rails quickly, and the damage can be as negative as the impacts of their work are positive. Advice columnists and twin sisters Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren didn’t speak for seven years, and Nobel Prize-winning scientists James Watson and Francis Crick stopped working together after they discovered DNA.
Why? Because opposite wiring can drive pairs like these nuts. Introverts are often annoyed by extroverts’ habit of speaking before thinking, using too many words to express themselves and appearing self-centered. Extroverts are often irritated by introverts’ measured tones, slow and unemotional responses and need for quiet time.
Opposite relationships are like a marriage—a happy marriage doesn’t just happen, and neither do genius opposites. Both partners need to work at it for it to succeed. A relationship needs constant vigilance, careful maintenance and balance to work.
The key is for opposites to stop fixating on their differences and start trying to understand and appreciate each other’s wiring instead. This enables them to use conflicts to spur creativity, enrich their own skills by learning from the other and create results they never could by acting separately.
Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, author of The Genius of Opposites, shares three compelling reasons you should make a focused effort to make it work with your opposite:
1. To create harmony
What my research has revealed is that when partners are in sync, they are able to grab the very best from both. When they get along, they fill in each other’s voids. So although their styles are divergent, the results of their work will look like they came from a single, powerful mind.
Anthony, a former musician, likened his friendship with his opposite, Errol, to a kind of harmony—an arrangement of different notes that come together to create something beautiful, something that cannot be achieved by a single pitch. “One note would be unison,” he said, “not harmony.”
2. For powerful collaboration
Successful opposites understand the key dimension of their personality styles and use those differences to challenge each other and strengthen themselves as a team.
The individualistic, self-centered career path is shifting toward one of collaboration—former competitors are coming together as work partners, sellers are collaborating with their customers and global partners are joining across continents to achieve their goals.
3. To grow
When opposites work together, they have the opportunity to step fully into their strengths and the chance to step out of their roles. There is a high that comes from leaving one’s comfort zone and a sense of confidence and satisfaction that comes with doing something new.
Arlene, an introverted entrepreneur, hated networking and resisted going to her professional association’s monthly meeting—but she realized she was missing out on connecting with sales prospects by skipping. So she pushed herself to go for the sake of the business. At first she clung to her business partner, Steve, but after a while, she got more comfortable and learned how to network her own way, through focused conversations with a few key people.
Given nearly half of the people in the world fall on either the introvert or extrovert side of the spectrum, chances are that you have interacted with or will interact with your opposite often. And whether you wildly succeed or disastrously fail, it is likely to be determined by whether you were in sync or at odds.
This article was published in October 2015 and has been updated. Photo by Ilona Kozhevnikova/Shutterstock
Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D., Certified Speaking Professional, is a best-selling author and global keynote speaker who is known as the “Champion of Introverts.” In addition to her latest book, The Genius of Opposites, she has written two best-selling books about introverts (Quiet Influence and The Introverted Leader). Jennifer has worked with hundreds of organizations including GE, CNN, NASA and the CDC. She is a highly regarded faculty member of the American Management Association and has been featured in Forbes, TIME, Fortune and The Wall Street Journal. Jennifer’s commitment to introverts started the day she married one. Since then, she’s helped organizations value the introverts on their teams and coached introverted individuals to step confidently into leadership positions.