Should a Business Analyst Be an Introvert or an Extrovert?

A reader asks:

In order to elicit and elaborate requirements, communicate, facilitate, negotiate, present, etc., is there an advantage to being introverted or extroverted in personality?

Michelle’s answer:

What a great question and honestly I believe that you can find advantages for both personalities when you are a business analyst. As with all people, everyone reacts differently to every person they meet. Sometimes you interact with a person and they trigger reminders of someone else in you.

Human interaction is very powerful when you are a business analyst. When I am following my role as a BA, I usually take my cue from the person that I am interacting with. So, if someone comes across as intimidated or shy – I will be outgoing but not overpowering. This way the person is encouraged to open up and learn to trust me.

If the person I am meeting with is loud and opinionated, I tend to withdraw a bit because two large personalities in one room do not mix well. 🙂  Often these people need to feel that you believe what they are saying – so they need validation and once you give this to them, they become more even-tempered.

Now, when you are in a large room doing requirements gathering – how do you handle that, because there are all sorts of personalities running amok?  What I do as a facilitator, is react differently to the various people always trying to keep the meeting running and the outcome in focus. This will mean that you are sometimes balancing on the head of a pin but it can be fun too. Can you quiet the opinionated person that won’t let anyone talk, can you get that person who does not say anything to participate? It is a challenge and one that as a BA you are up for!!

>>Learn More About Running Great Meetings, Whether You Are an Introvert or an Extrovert

8 Ways to Be Less Irritating and Minimize Follow-Up Questions After Requirements Meetings

How to Effectively Manage Multiple Participants on a Conference Call

Why To Absolutely, Positively, Never Let the Conversation Get Away From You 

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Comments

  1. Michelle Swoboda says

    Heather, you raise a valid and good point. Does it really matter which personality type we display? Can the red car get you to the same point in the project as the blue car?
    I would say not always – it depends on where and when you display your strengths. Recently I received feedback from my new team that I appeared ‘meek’. I laughed a bit when I heard that, knowing how I can dig in my heals and fight for what is right. However, then I thought – wow – is that what I am displaying in interviews? Just something to think about…

  2. Katie Metcalfe says

    Excellent discussion and topic for BA’s. Thanks to all.
    These comments can help any BA become more self aware.
    I try to find a balance between the two personalities in my role.

  3. @Steve – As I read through the many comments, I had the same thoughts as you’ve just posted regarding the technical difference between intro and extroverts. Most people I meet would label me as an extrovert in just a matter seconds because of the “misconception” of what it technically means to be extroverted vs introverted. I easily talk with anybody, even random strangers. I have very at ease facilitating meetings, taking charge/lead, voicing my opinion, going to (and participating in) social events…but at the end of the day/week, I need to find a quite place for just me to recharge and mentally/emotionally refuel. I guess that makes me a closet Introvert? According to the Myers Briggs test, I have gone from very Extroverted (college years) to very Introverted (and split down the middle always on the rest…) I am so glad Yamo has come up with “Ambivert” because I was beginning to think ‘schizo’ was my only choice). So I do find it interesting that life’s events can and will have an effect on the results.

    I love Jenny’s article about Caring for Your Introvert (I’ve actually sent one that to many friends & coworkers whenever I see an ‘extrovert’ misunderstanding an ‘introvert’s behavior). Another one I enjoyed is:

    http://briankim.net/blog/2007/10/top-5-things-every-extrovert-should-know-about-introverts/

    I think it’s critical to understand what each actually means (vs the common misconceptions), where one falls on the spectrum (because there IS a spectrum), and then also learn to identify (in general) where others on the project may fall on the spectrum.

    I just finished reading a blog about Agile vs Waterfall and (i believe) the point was not to get caught up in the process, but in delivering value. I think it would be good not to get caught up in labeling ourselves and/or others in one camp or another, but recognizing and respecting the differences in personalities throughout a project.

    I could be wrong, but maybe asking whether an extrovert or an introvert has an advantage as a BA is like asking whether a red car or a blue car will get me from point A to point B?

    • Just want to clarify my last statement, that I think it is a very important question to ask, specifically because it makes us recognize that sometimes we have preconceptions going into projects that we don’t even realize we had…

  4. Jennifer Bedell says

    Very well said, Steve!

  5. As a comparison. Jennifer is an extravert and enjoys meeting and talking to people. She did have to learn to talk to people and to listen. And there is am implication that she was not born with the ability to run a meeting . (Jennifer, I hope you don’t mind my using your traits in comparison). I am an introvert.As such I do not like to talk to people and am the classic wall flower. I avoid parties and group dinners, especially with people I don’t know. I have been known to cross the street to avoid meeting someone where I might have to talk to them. I am nerd-like unable to sustain small talk. (when someone asks, “How are you?” I start describing physical symptoms before I realize it is just a greeting.) However, I have always had the ability to run meetings, and even in grade school was put in charge of committees and so forth. I do have the classic introverts’ tendency to be a good listener mostly out of a reluctance to talk. However, I receive part of my income through training which means I’m in front of a group talking all day. And I have never had a problem speaking to large groups and even have an award or two for public speaking. Because of the typical viewpoint of introvert and extravert, a person at ease in front of a large group is considered an extravert and when observed in a social setting as avoiding personal contact, people judge the person to be stand-offish or arrogant, because people are supposed to be the same in all activities. This is unfortunate. For Jennifer, who might be considered by all to be an extravert, a period of shyness would be attributed to some other factor, such as “she is mad or upset about something because she doesn’t want to talk” or “she doesn’t like me since she is not talking to me”. Why? Because the people around her stereotyped her as an extravert and extraverts cannot be shy. Therefore it has to be something else.
    The MB, as Jennifer points our, offers an explanation that allows someone to be shy and extroverted and a fearless public speaker and be misanthropic or even anthropophobic (fears people). Thus you have people who, when you bring up their subject, they can talk for hours to anyone willing to listen, but otherwise never say a word.

  6. Jennifer Bedell says

    For the record, I posted my comment before I saw Steve’s 🙂

    So, here we have both an introvert and an extrovert posting virtually the same thoughts. What does that say about the topic?

  7. Michelle Swoboda says

    Jennifer, thank you for your thoughts. You captured the essense of what we have been talking about here. Certainly the business analyst role suits both personality types – but I believe it comes down to more than just personality types. It is the drive to resolve an issue, to help with change, to determine how we can get there in a project. The passion to drive the change and work with people to influence and make a difference. Whether you do that by recharging in a focused task by yourself or with a like minded group of people – this does not make you a good business analyst. It is how you affect the change and close the project. So the personality type is one more of your tools in your toolkit as you head to work each day. Thoughts?

  8. Michelle Swoboda says

    Steve, I like your research and your assessment of introvert vs extrovert. All of us need time to recharge and refocus. The fact that the introvert chooses to do it alone or with family and the extrovert chooses to do this while in a large group amounts to the same thing – we recharge and then move on to the next task.
    Interesting to note that the extrovert needs people around to make them feel good – so I can picture workshops that I have been in with negative people and feelings – totally against the change that was being mandated. That would affect the extrovert and require them to recharge with positive like minded people – what do you think?

  9. Jennifer Bedell says

    Great discussion thread! Thank you to Laura for adding the link in this week’s Newsletter.

    On the topic of Introvert vs Extrovert. The Myers-Briggs profile defines these as where a person gets their energy:

    The Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator) states this:
    “People who prefer extraversion draw energy from action: they tend to act, then reflect, then act further. If they are inactive, their motivation tends to decline. To rebuild their energy, extraverts need breaks from time spent in reflection. Conversely, those who prefer introversion expend energy through action: they prefer to reflect, then act, then reflect again. To rebuild their energy, introverts need quiet time alone, away from activity.”

    Using this definition, I see that the ability to run a meeting or to focus on the details of a task is a skill. These skills are not determined by whether a person is an introvert or an extrovert (although some skills may come easier to one or the other). The definitions of introvert/extrovert simply determine what we need in order to “recharge”.

    So what about the stereotypes?
    As an Extrovert, I did not come with a natural ability to run a successful meeting (although, I do fit the part about getting off topic at times) and I am shy sometimes (but, I hide it well). I enjoy talking to people, but I had to learn how to say things the right way so people will listen. I know other extroverts who always knew the right things to say. As for listening…I had to learn that too. I guess some of the stereotypes apply to me, but not all of them 🙂

    How do the introverts weigh in on some of the stereotypes?

    Perhaps the reason that BA work is so appealing is that it requires both working in groups and working alone. This appeals to both introverted and extroverted people. Or, as Yamo said “Ambiverts”.

  10. Not to get too technical in a great thread, there are some different meanings to the words “introvert” and “extravert” (or “extrovert). Most people assume that extraverts are outgoing, personable, and unafraid to meet and greet. Introverts therefore would be the opposite: shy, withdrawn, etc.
    However, the dictionary says that an extravert is “a person more concerned with external reality than with inner feelings”. An introvert is the opposite.
    That definition brings up an entirely different evaluation of the debate. Clearly a person who is concerned with the external reality of a situation, a problem, or a problem domain might fare better as a business analyst than one more concerned with their own inner feelings. In fact, one might say that an introvert based on that definition would not have much success.
    However, there is yet another definition, this one from Myers-Briggs. An extravert, in Myers Briggs talk, is one who gains energy from other people, who needs to have other people around to feel good. The introvert is the opposite: one who gets their energy from being alone absent of other people. In other words, it is a measure of the source of your energy.
    As an example, I take the MBTI test every once in a while just out of curiosity. I have never been close to the line between introvert and extravert. (If you score close to the line in any of the four pairs, you can change from one side to the other, sometimes without knowing it). The last score I had was 19 out of 20 on the introvert side. In the past I have scored just this side of Asperger’s. What this means is that I can spend a day moderating meetings, facilitating groups, training, interacting, public speaking and so forth – meeting and mingling with people, but the activities deplete and drain me so that I look forward to being in the hotel room or back home alone so that I can revive my engines. The kicker? The people I might be dealing with might have no idea that I’m an introvert and perhaps even be surprised to hear of my overwhelming introversion. So what does this mean? Probably that an introvert (as defined by Myers-Briggs) can be just as successful a business analyst as an extravert (as defined by Webster) as long as he or she has a quiet place to repair to every once in a while.

  11. Michelle Swoboda says

    Mike, this is the preferred approach but often there is only one BA on the team – depending on the size of the project. You could call upon your functional analyst to help or you could ask for administrative support. There are always options but it is unusual for even large projects (in my experience) to have more than one business analyst.
    What I have done in the absence of support is to stop the conversation to take notes on a flip chart – this actually is a good tool because it forces everyone to focus on the topic/issue and give it their full attention. The parking lot items or suggestions then are captured as notes and take aways and are distributed to the team after the session. It is also important to have a second review of them before you complete the session – as people will think it over and perhaps have further comments to add.

  12. mike Lachapelle says

    Thanks to all the contributors in this discussion, very interesting points of view. What I like most in this thread is the recognition that neither polar personality is the ‘approved’ solution. What is important is to understand the nature of your personality and work within that context to guide and manage the conversations. Being on either end of the continuum can be problematic.

    There was a second aspect to Michelle’s commentary I wish to address, that of the complexity of managing larger meetings. I have made it a guideline in my meetings, where possible, to have a “second” at core, or important meetings where critical information will be discussed. We began this pattern in our BA group a few years ago and I have made it part of my meeting management. Michelle refers to the difficulties in managing the dynamics of meetings; what we decided was having two people for requirements meetings. The ‘lead’ is running the meeting, the ‘second’ is taking critical notes and watching the meeting dynamic. I know this is a luxury, but we used it to support effective meetings and to give the junior, or less experienced, BAs a learning opportunity. They get to watch the more experienced BA lead the meeting with the objective of learning techniques, and practice observing meeting dynamics.

    I would strongly recommend this to any group that has the BNA power to team up on meetings.

  13. Michelle Swoboda says

    Bennett, what good points. An extrovert could totally make it all about them instead of about the business stakeholders. It would be a fun session but not sure that the outcome would be the best. I still believe that you have to have a balance of the two personalities.

  14. @ Michelle ” Let’s talk about extroverts and the problems they have as business analysts! ”

    Being excessively chatty, a BA could be missing key non-verbal cues and perceptive depth. To be good at listening, one must not just listen to the words, but also the meaning, context, emotions, conviction, tone, body language. Elicit and listen carefully until the message is understood.

  15. Michelle Swoboda says

    Tag, I am so happy that this forum is helping you. Laura has a lot of resources on her blog to help and I am sure that you will be very successful! Have fun.

  16. This is a great forum and a wonderful path, i have just fininshed training as a BA after being out of school for a while, i have been in the wrong profession all along and i know that but some situations kept me there that long, i have been loving this profession for so long and now i am there and it excited me more, looking forward for the challenges and the knowledge, my concern as a new player on this game what would you advice me to do i need a job and in the mean time i understand the more knowledge you have the more you better your self, as a new comer, i need your advice. thank you for showing up in my screen. Tag

  17. Michelle Swoboda says

    Yamo, as always you write with common sense.
    I still believe that each of us has a bit of each personality type within. If all of us were extroverts I wonder if we would ever get anything accomplished 🙂

  18. @Monica – Great points. Like you point out, I also think that its imperative to set a tone that is conducive to achieving results for a given meeting.

  19. Monica Musuvathi says

    This is a great topic. Well… I can a mixed of introvert and extrovert, depending on the subject. If I am the one running the analysis/show, I can set boundaries/expectations for others, set the tone of the meeting and will run with it. If I am a participant in the discussion (some other BA running the show), I will speak up when I need to add to the discussion. In short, I don’t think being an introvert is a bad thing, it’s just a different style and they do get a lot done because they are focused! I can see challenges of an extrovert – they need to keep a check on their socializing trait during the discussion.

    @Michelle: yes, there are always those few people who HAVE to say something in the meetings just to display their presence!! In those cases, I usually set the tone of the meeting, what we are trying to achieve and remind the duration of the meeting to accomplish this. When I see the discussion being side-tracked by these individuals, I thank them and suggest to have an offline conversation. As a BA, it’s not only our job to make sure we are deep diving in the content but creating a space for everyone to participate.

    Hope this helps.
    Monica

  20. Michelle Swoboda says

    Let’s talk about extroverts and the problems they have as business analysts!

  21. Jenny Nunemacher says

    I love these kinds of studies on evolutionary explanations for social behavior. However, this is another example of how shyness and introversion are treated the same. They are not the same. I am introverted, but not shy.

  22. There was a great article in the Sunday New York Times called Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic? http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/opinion/sunday/26shyness.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=shyness&st=cse
    “Being introverted isn’t a disability that needs to be treated with prescription drugs. It’s socially valuable.” Great piece on the value of quiet “sitters” who listen well and can get work done on their own.

  23. @Jenny .. Absolutely agree with everything you said; and thanks for the summary. I wanted to elaborate a little on one point – the need to bring out your strengths. No matter what kind of personality you have, you will always have certain strengths that you need to leverage(as alluded by you through the article). My personal recommendations for introverts wanting to facilitate a larger group is to join toastmasters, and take up various roles in the order of the difficulty and control. It has helped me a lot to ramp up my social, communication and facilitation skills.

    Being a podcast junkie, I will make one recommendation for an HBR podcast that I listened to a few weeks back:

    http://blip.tv/hbr-video-ideacast/can-introverts-lead-4393348

    An interesting take on introverts leading teams.

  24. Michelle Swoboda says

    Hey Sean, thank you for weighing in! Great comments on how we can all grow and become more self aware.

  25. @ Jenny , I love your summary. In fact I felt like I was reading a summarisation of my personality traits :). Particularly how this translates through to the tasks I perform as a BA. It can sometimes feel like the perfect balancing act engaging the introvert and extrovert parts of ourselves during a project. A key for me has been investing time trying to understand my habits (good and bad) and try and cultivate a greater self-awareness. This started within my personal relationships, but one thing that is becoming clear is that the role of the BA is something which feels like an extension of this, namely I now apply that same awareness to my work with astonishing results.

    @ Michelle, great article and question to provoke some further though around this.

  26. Michelle Swoboda says

    Jenny, thank you for your comments and insight! It feels like everyone thinks that the introvert is a negative trait – but I don’t feel that way at all. I think that some of the most successful people are introverts and it is because they listen, the think about things before jumping in and they plan well. I think both sides have great things to offer and being a bit of both gives you more to work with. I think that if everyone looked at themselves they would find that in areas where they feel most confident – with their friends for example they are extroverts and other areas such as large parties they are less outgoing. We are all unique and we should celebrate this!

  27. Jenny Nunemacher says

    Michelle, I agree that as professionals we have to draw on all of our skills when they’re required and to be adaptable to the situation. Or, if possible, adapt the situation. Or best yet, a little of both.

    Full disclosure: I’m an introvert. But that doesn’t mean I’m shy or afraid to talk in public. Unfortunately, a lot of advice to introverts is given by extroverts, and the advice usually focuses on overcoming shyness. Yamo, you’re absolutely right that extroverts do find it easier to make small talk, but introverts have a sense of humor and can also be good at making one-on-one connections with people in the interest of getting the job done — whatever the job is, which could in itself be to learn about someone to find out what makes them tick.

    As an introvert, I’m simply not inclined to find groups of people and jump right in to the fray. I may sit back and listen to try to understand what the fray is all about. In fact, I listen quite a lot, which I think is one of my strengths. If I’m listening and hearing miscommunication between others, the “peacemaker” part of my personality will try to clarify the misunderstandings. Sometimes that happens in the moment, but depending on how I’ve read the people, I may approach them one-on-one at a later time.

    As for disadvantages, I suppose my preference to take me-time during breaks, lunch and to clear out at the end of the day could remove me from the social aspect of an organization in general. I am also understanding that my facilitation skills with larger or less-well-known groups of people can be less effective than I’d like. But having recognized that, I’ve begun to mitigate with better meeting preparation (some examples: less ad libbing on my part, firmer ground rules for meetings I run, and enlisting my teammates to tag-team difficult situations).

    So from an introvert’s perspective, large workshops are not my preferred method for elicitation; I suppose that could be perceived as a disadvantage, but as I read in a column by career coach, Liz Ryan this week (http://www.dailycamera.com/business-columnists/ci_18270591), maybe we should use our strengths to mitigate our weaknesses and not be fixated on fixing all our faults (er… weaknesses).

    I recommend the following essay from an introvert:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2003/03/caring-for-your-introvert/2696/

    Also, I have recently joined a group on LinkedIn called The Empowered Introvert. (The group hasn’t seen much action yet, but I think it aims to discuss/answer some of the questions raised by the original reader.)

    On the other hand, I do not recommend the book The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength, because it seems to be based on the premise that introverts have public speaking phobias, which I found offensive and belittling.

    I’d love to hear other introverts’ tactics for using their strengths and how they approach large group elicitation activities.

    • Walter Ritchi says

      Well written Jenny! Appreciate very much the column and essay references too.

      Walt

  28. Michelle Swoboda says

    Yamo – excellent points! I love ‘ambivert’!! We do seem to need to balance the outgoing with the tasks at hand. Although I find requirements documentation and the socialization of the BRD requires being outgoing and willing to defend and clarify. It is a bit of a balancing act at all times.

  29. It is important to recognize and understand the key social elements that come with being a Business Analyst. There are definite advantages in being an extrovert as a Business Analyst; however there is a balance to be had. If you are overly extrovert, and always cutting frontiers, there are chances you will make a few people uncomfortable (especially some highly introverted developers).

    I personally think a BA should be an “Ambivert”, exhibiting characteristics of a smart extrovert in key social situations in the project; and be an introvert when needed. Another facet that will add a lot of value to this disposition is being emotionally intelligent of what one is capable of doing, and being and also aware of what others are expecting. This goes to both social interactions, and also how one behaves.

    Being an extrovert adds the element of small talk, sense of humour, and helps a BA navigate the social ecosystem easily; while being an introvert helps in focusing on key tasks, completing requirements documentation, and prepping for the next spurt of extroversion!

    Just my two cents! 🙂

  30. Michelle Swoboda says

    Hi Jenny, the question from one of our readers was is there an advantage to one or the other personalities. My advice was to everyone as different personalities change as they are interacting with others.
    I can be either but I am mostly an extrovert. I usually like to understand the situation prior to coming on too strong. Hope that helps!

  31. Jenny Nunemacher says

    Michelle, are you an introvert yourself? I wasn’t clear whethery your advice was general to anyone or specifically from the point of view of an introvert.

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