Chris Koepfer And Me

Chris Koepfer and I were able to work well together after we learned to use "extravert" as a verb. The staff of Modern Machine Shop once took the Myers-Briggs personality test.

Columns From: 10/1/2004 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Peter Zelinski

Chris Koepfer and I were able to work well together after we learned to use "extravert" as a verb.

The staff of Modern Machine Shop once took the Myers-Briggs personality test. I had not joined the company then, but I took the same test myself. The test's premise is that different personalities are differently wired, and people often fail to understand one another by failing to appreciate the different wirings. Everyone who takes the test gets a four-part score, one part of which is a ranking along a continuum between "extravert" and "introvert." This is the only part of the test that has ever been valuable to me, but the value of this distinction has been profound.

"Extravert" does not mean gregarious any more than "introvert" means shy. The terms are more specific than that. They refer to the locus of a person's thinking. Introverts do their speculating and imagining fully on the inside, churning and mulling in order to arrive at a conclusion. Extraverts do part of this thinking externally, arriving at their own best conclusions through the process of "thinking out loud," or speaking half-formed ideas to others and watching the reaction.

I've taken the Myers-Briggs test twice, each time with a different group of about 40 people. And each time, I got the most extreme introvert score in the group. In explaining the meaning of this score, the test gave me a black-and-white statement of a twofold truth that until then I had only suspected. Namely, I need to isolate myself to let the best part of my thinking come alive, while there are a whole lot of people in the world for whom this is not at all the case.

Meanwhile, a puzzle for Chris Koepfer, my future coworker, was being solved as well. He was the only member of the magazine staff to score as an extravert. He was alone among introverts. Here was the answer for why his colleagues always seemed to retreat from him, when all he thought he wanted was a healthy conversation.

I don't want to say a lot of nice things about Chris Koepfer here. I can't afford to—he is going to a different magazine, not leaving the company.

However, the prospect of his departure from this staff reminds me again of how crucial the mix of people is to any business undertaking.

What is true for our magazine is almost certainly true for your shop or plant as well. How far the business or the department can go—how successful it can be and how fully it can thrive—is determined by how well the right people can be brought together and how effectively their talents can be mixed.

Our own mix is about to change. Until now, this staff has produced two magazines, Modern Machine Shop and Production Machining. Now, we're going to split into smaller groups. Chris, Leo Rakowski and Lori Beckman will go to PM. Left on MMS will be people who have been part of the magazine all along, but the sum of talents and personalities in this group will be very different after the split.

Chris and I learned to play to each other's strengths. Subtle prejudice can infect both sides of the introvert-extravert divide, the notions being that extraverts are chatty airheads and introverts are squirrelly recluses. Chris and I mostly got past that.

He learned to hold off. Even when a problem or challenge affected all of us at once, he learned how to let me go my own way and come back with the answer in time.

And for my part, I have tried to learn the value of looking up from my work from time to time to listen to what he wants to talk about.

What he has to say invariably makes sense, it just doesn't always make sense to me.

Chris begins these exchanges in different ways, often just saying, "Got a minute?" But sometimes he states what's happening more clearly.

"Let me ‘extravert' for a minute," he'll say.

With the next group I am a part of, and with every group after that, I only hope I can do so well at finding a language in common.

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