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Thread: Can introverts become planners?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Can introverts become planners?

    Every so often, I pause and think if planning is right for me. It has nothing to do with the other evils of planning discussed endlessly in other threads, but the fact that I might not fit in: Iím an introvert. Most other planners I have met are not, or at least donít seem to be. When I talk to them, they almost ALWAYS insist on phone (even when a simple e-mail would have been enough), and they talk a mile a minute about planning. Oftentimes, they answer all of my planning-related questions before I even ask them. Thatís great that planning fires them up, but Iím concerned I havenít run into a planner of few words.

    It makes me concerned because Iím an introvertís introvert. My social life and free time is dismally boring to most people, and I prefer to be alone. Going to or hosting parties is always a Big Chore for me, and Iím more likely to sit in a corner by myself than be the social butterfly.

    This doesnít mean I canít be extraverted, and indeed often have. I interned once with a larger financial newspaper to prove to myself I could work with Normal Humans (and am very proud of all the bylines I got). My current job is marketing and public relations (which I love), and I love presenting in front of a crowd and q and a. I prefer working independently, but need brainstorming and charettes to stimulate my ideas. Iíll work a room, but only if I have a clear idea what Iíll gain from it. Socializing and networking is not fun for me like it is for many people?

    Is there something about planning that attracts extraverts? Should introverts be wary when getting into this profession?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by anthrus View post
    Every so often, I pause and think if planning is right for me. It has nothing to do with the other evils of planning discussed endlessly in other threads, but the fact that I might not fit in: I’m an introvert. Most other planners I have met are not, or at least don’t seem to be. When I talk to them, they almost ALWAYS insist on phone (even when a simple e-mail would have been enough), and they talk a mile a minute about planning. Oftentimes, they answer all of my planning-related questions before I even ask them. That’s great that planning fires them up, but I’m concerned I haven’t run into a planner of few words.

    It makes me concerned because I’m an introvert’s introvert. My social life and free time is dismally boring to most people, and I prefer to be alone. Going to or hosting parties is always a Big Chore for me, and I’m more likely to sit in a corner by myself than be the social butterfly.

    This doesn’t mean I can’t be extr[o]verted, and indeed often have. I interned once with a larger financial newspaper to prove to myself I could work with Normal Humans (and am very proud of all the bylines I got). My current job is marketing and public relations (which I love), and I love presenting in front of a crowd and q and a. I prefer working independently, but need brainstorming and charettes to stimulate my ideas. I’ll work a room, but only if I have a clear idea what I’ll gain from it. Socializing and networking is not fun for me like it is for many people?

    Is there something about planning that attracts extr[o]verts? Should introverts be wary when getting into this profession?
    Well, I see lots of rumpled, dissheveled introverted planners that bore me to tears. Sadly, many are not shunted into cubicles far away from the public, and we shove many into the spotlight tto go in front of the public and try and sell something, and it is painful. I actually mentioned something recently to city staff about how weak and painful a recent park planning initiative was, the planners were painful to watch. I wanted to hang myself they were so awful. And I know them and they are introverts. And they don't see that they are horrible and ineffective and awful, and they don't see that they do their city a disservice by looking horrible in front of people -gosh! the data are compelling, aren't they!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1one! *heart*!!

    That is: there is no way around it, you have to do public speaking if you want to do a good job (unless you hide by working in, say, a MPO or a firm as a tech nerd). If you don't care about how the outcomes are and you don't care about doing a cr@ppy job connecting with people, don't change. If you actually want to do an actual good job and be a decent planner and actually connect and do something useful,, take some public speaking and figure it out. Spare us the uncomfortable fumbling. Please. Unless you can find a job hiding deep in an MPO or firm as a tech nerd. Otherwise, spare the public the pain and learn how to speak in front of a crowd. Please. For everyone's sake.
    Last edited by ColoGI; 11 Sep 2012 at 9:26 PM.
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    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    There are many introverts in the profession, myself included. It does not have to be a negative. Over the years I learned to make fairly decent presentations. It is all an act.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Plus Whose Yur Planner's avatar
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    It's all in how you control your introversion tendencies. Left to my own devices, I'm a quiet, introspective, intellectual, bookish and logic driven. In certain aspects of my job, these are very effective traits. However, thanks to speech and debate teams in HS, I know how to comfortably and effectively give presentations. I also know to do interviews in front of the camera and to a reporter. It's something you learn to turn on when you have to.
    When did I go from Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    I'm disappointed by the negativity in ColoGI's response. Introverts are not necessarily poor communicators, shy, terrible at public speaking, wallflowers, sticks-in-the-mud or any one of a host of stereotypes.

    I recommend that you read the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, to help you accept your introversion and learn more about what you can offer. The author also has a blog... here's one of her posts on public speaking tips for introverts.

    Given that introverts comprise at least one-third of the population, chances are that there are in fact many introverts in the planning profession. mike gurnee is spot-on -- just because you are an introvert doesn't mean you can't successfully "put on an act" when necessary. I've done it myself.

  6. #6
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    I've never understood the concept that introverts and skilled public speaking have to be mutually-exclusive. Many of the best public speakers I know are, by their nature, introverts. Introverts are not socially awkward and don't have some type of social anxiety disorder that keeps them from experiencing success in planning--that is simply an unfair stereotype. My advice to an introvert is the same advice I give to anyone:

    Know your strengths and understand how to exploit them for success. Know your weaknesses and understand how to compensate for them.

    In my experience working with a lot of introverted & extroverted staff members, I've found the introverts far easier to train, far more receptive to constructive criticism, less prone to errors, less prone to office issues, and they've ultimately gone further in their careers than their extroverted counterparts.

    Introvert vs. extrovert is not the issue in the planning profession, in my experience. Far more important is having a thick skin. ColoGI's example has far more to do with crappy leadership in a planning department than the individual personalities of planners.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman GŲring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    A lot of introverts get pretty good at faking extroversion. It doesn't necessarily come easily or naturally but it is something you can work on. If you make an effort, you'll definitely get better with it over time.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Thank you everyone for giving me your opinion. I agree that I can "fake" extraversion, and indeed do it on a weekly basis. I'm also a gifted communicator. I just wanted to see your opinion because, I believe, an introvert would not stay long in an introvert-hostile career. No career is perfectly suited towards introverts or extraverts, but careers that would be draining for us (like, say, sales) are best avoided. Even a career like sales does have its share of introverts, come to think of it.

    Quote Originally posted by Mud Princess View post
    I recommend that you read the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, to help you accept your introversion and learn more about what you can offer. The author also has a blog... here's one of her posts on public speaking tips for introverts.

    Given that introverts comprise at least one-third of the population, chances are that there are in fact many introverts in the planning profession. mike gurnee is spot-on -- just because you are an introvert doesn't mean you can't successfully "put on an act" when necessary. I've done it myself.
    I loved that book. I read Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, and I found the suggestions to be taxing. Cain's advice on interaction is much more effective for me.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    I think urban planning departments offer a wide variety of roles to accommodate lots of different personality types. In my experience this is somewhat how it breaks down, in ascending order (?):

    Population, demographic analysis, zoning, GIS - Great for aspies, awkwards and men who are scared of women (I would work in this capacity but I'm not smart enough to be an aspie).

    Land use review, community development (specifically consolidated planning and grant admin) - These people need to be soldier-bureaucrats above all else. If you are highly regimented and capable of imparting that sense of good time-management and regimentation on others, particularly other governmental agencies (which is not easy to do) you belong here.

    Special projects, long-range planning - These kinds of planning roles are best filled by extroverts, i.e. show-offs and teachers pets who thrive on the approval of their superiors. Their energy is endless and keeps them youthful. However, in my experience, if you question something they propose or point out an inconsistency they will shatter and cry themselves into a nervous breakdown.

    Middle management - These are highly coveted, high-salary tit jobs given as a reward for being a planner for a long time, OR for using words like "sustainability" and "green" more times than other planners, or graduating from the same master's program as your superior.

    Executive directors, planning commissioners, etc. - political a$$holes

    However, this mainly applies to big city planning departments. If you find that you just don't fit in there, you can always move to a small city or rural planning department where nobody has a clue about anything and you can spend your entire day goofing off on the internet.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    I somewhat lean to ColoGL's argument. Sorry, but this is a profession that builds communities for people. Teamwork, cooperation, consensus building, public involvement require extrovert characters. How on earth can we even justify the importance of our profession against engineers, architects, surveyors, and the general public if we aren't, in some form or other, pushing the envelope. I'm not saying change the world but just getting the little things done on a day to day basis. I was far more introverted as a kid. I might have not contributed huge things to the planning profession but the few small, if insignificant, projects I did complete relied heavily on extrovert skills.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

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  11. #11
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Mud Princess View post
    I'm disappointed by the negativity in ColoGI's response. Introverts are not necessarily poor communicators, shy, terrible at public speaking, wallflowers, sticks-in-the-mud or any one of a host of stereotypes.
    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI;644027
    Well, I see lots of rumpled, dissheveled introverted planners that bore me to tears. Sadly, many are not shunted into cubicles far away from the public, and we shove many into the spotlight tto go in front of the public and try and sell something, and it is painful. I actually mentioned something recently to city staff about how weak and painful a recent park planning initiative was, the planners were painful to watch. I wanted to hang myself they were so awful. ...

    That is: there is no way around it, you have to do public speaking if you want to do a good job (unless you hide by working in, say, a MPO or a firm as a tech nerd). If you don't care about how the outcomes are and you don't care about doing a cr@ppy job connecting with people, don't change. If you actually want to do an actual good job and be a decent planner and actually connect and do something useful,, take some public speaking and figure it out.
    These are my observations. I am not generalizing to all.

    However, I see lots of planners. I go to many conferences nationally and internationally (I am in Canada now at one) and am bored by most of them. I no longer go to planning conferences because of it. I also often go to public plannery stuff and wish more public meetings weren't boring as all get-out. That is how I see it. I also consult with planning depts around here and I wish more planners were better communicators and conducted themselves like they deserved to be there instead of being scared to divert from the process. Or droned on and on and on like the last one I attended.

    In my view, these things hold the profession back as they occur all too often. Other professions mention the items in the above paragraph to me all too often. Its about how you carry yourself and how you communicate. That's how things get done, for better or worse all too often. There is room in the profession for introverts in the tech nerd sector, but if you are interacting with the general public, contractors, other professions, it is far, far, far better to be unrumpled and a good communicator - faking it by trying to hide you are shy may work for some on occasion.

    I have no personal stake in whether my observations ring true with anyone. They are what they are, and it would be great for the profession to become unmarginalized and move forward to do useful things for the built environment. The profession needs dynamic people out there driving the boat.

    .02
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    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    I somewhat lean to ColoGL's argument. Sorry, but this is a profession that builds communities for people. Teamwork, cooperation, consensus building, public involvement require extrovert characters. How on earth can we even justify the importance of our profession against engineers, architects, surveyors, and the general public if we aren't, in some form or other, pushing the envelope. I'm not saying change the world but just getting the little things done on a day to day basis. I was far more introverted as a kid. I might have not contributed huge things to the planning profession but the few small, if insignificant, projects I did complete relied heavily on extrovert skills.
    The point is very well taken, but the traits you describe are not necessarily extravert traits. I think they're more traits based on emotional intelligence, which is not the domain of extraverts. Remember, many social and political leaders, such as Gandhi and President Obama, are introverts with high emotional intelligience, and could engage just fine in the activities you described. Actually, what you describe applies to virtually all careers. If they were the province of extraverts alone, then I'd be very unlucky indeed. And sad.

    I personally would not feel disadvantaged as an introvert having to engage in consensus building or salesmanship. That's part of what attracts me to this career. What I am more concerned about is a gregarious employer who did not understand or value what introverts can offer. Judging by the other responses I am reading, I feel an effective manager would not have a problem valuing my traits, so long as I learned to extravert myself when the occasion demands.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by crummmountain View post
    I think urban planning departments offer a wide variety of roles to accommodate lots of different personality types. In my experience this is somewhat how it breaks down, in ascending order (?):

    Population, demographic analysis, zoning, GIS - Great for aspies, awkwards and men who are scared of women (I would work in this capacity but I'm not smart enough to be an aspie).

    Land use review, community development (specifically consolidated planning and grant admin) - These people need to be soldier-bureaucrats above all else. If you are highly regimented and capable of imparting that sense of good time-management and regimentation on others, particularly other governmental agencies (which is not easy to do) you belong here.

    Special projects, long-range planning - These kinds of planning roles are best filled by extroverts, i.e. show-offs and teachers pets who thrive on the approval of their superiors. Their energy is endless and keeps them youthful. However, in my experience, if you question something they propose or point out an inconsistency they will shatter and cry themselves into a nervous breakdown.

    Middle management - These are highly coveted, high-salary tit jobs given as a reward for being a planner for a long time, OR for using words like "sustainability" and "green" more times than other planners, or graduating from the same master's program as your superior.

    Executive directors, planning commissioners, etc. - political a$$holes

    However, this mainly applies to big city planning departments. If you find that you just don't fit in there, you can always move to a small city or rural planning department where nobody has a clue about anything and you can spend your entire day goofing off on the internet.
    That's sad about long range planners, that you feel they are mostly sycophants. I can see how that works to their political survival over a long period of time, but it probably isn't the best idea fiscally. If I were a higher-up in a city hall, I'd rather my planners tell me about a problem before it metastasized into, say, a lawsuit.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    I was going to comment, but I see this has already spiraled out of control.
    @GigCityPlanner

  15. #15
    Cyburbian
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    From my experience in my Masters program, and my limited experience in the Professional realm, Urban Planning is a field that strongly favors those that have good people skills, are good speakers, and are not afraid to voice their opinion with confidence, as opposed to 'just hard workers'.

    I'd say it's probably in the upper quartile in terms of jobs requiring social skills to succeed, up there with attorneys and advertising/marketing people, as opposed to say, Computer Scientist and Engineering Professors, which would probably place in the bottom quartile.

    I don't consider myself an introvert, but my people skills aren't top notch, and I'm pretty sure some of my classmates who had lesser work ethics than I would have wiped the floor with me when it came to succeeding in the planning field. Most of the people who go into planning are white, well spoken, intelligent, and charismatic.

    One of the reasons I steered away from committing to a planning career for the rest of my days. Just not my bread/butter. I'm more of a 'nice guy in the cube who sits there and does his work'.

    Just one poster's opinion based on limited experience though...

  16. #16
    Being an introvert doesnt mean you cannot develop outgoing qualities. I'm very much an introvert (INFJ personality type according to MBTI), and I'm an experienced and good public speaker.

  17. #17
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    First, I must say - Introversion/extraversion are not behaviors, they are foundations of your personality. Therefore, you can't change it depending on the circumstance. An introvert might be very charming and a great public speaker, but he still needs plenty of time to recharge when he's away from the social environment. He still ultimately feels better alone.

    That said, I'm really glad this thread exits. I'm just starting out my education in planning and the question of wether or not my introversion is going to be detramental is looming over my head.
    I'm very introverted. I am polite and apparently charasmatic, but I try to avoid groups where possible and am most comfortable working alone. I'm not at all politcal, or sales minded - I'm straightforward and conscise. I can't think on my feet.

    Do I have any shot of succeeding in planning?

  18. #18
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Aaron View post
    First, I must say - Introversion/extraversion are not behaviors, they are foundations of your personality. Therefore, you can't change it depending on the circumstance. An introvert might be very charming and a great public speaker, but he still needs plenty of time to recharge when he's away from the social environment. He still ultimately feels better alone.

    That said, I'm really glad this thread exits. I'm just starting out my education in planning and the question of wether or not my introversion is going to be detramental is looming over my head.
    I'm very introverted. I am polite and apparently charasmatic, but I try to avoid groups where possible and am most comfortable working alone. I'm not at all politcal, or sales minded - I'm straightforward and conscise. I can't think on my feet.

    Do I have any shot of succeeding in planning?
    Sure you do. In fact, I know a number of successful planners that are classic introverts. My old boss was one. I'm one, though I'm now on the nonprofit community development side instead of the public sector. You can be an introvert while still possessing social skills - they are not in any way mutually exclusive. I would say that 'salesman' types are actually more suited to ED than planning as they get to be the ones to say 'Yes!" while the planners more often than not have to be the ones to say "No, and here's why".

    The one thing that you will need to do is to learn to think on your feet. An absolute must, as you lower your cred every time you say "I'll have to get back to you on that".

    Not to be a pedantic ass, but I'd also work on your spelling while in planning school as you will get skewered if you present a staff report to your boards containing those kind of errors. Introversion is not an obstacle to a planning career, but inattention to detail definitely is. Hope this helps.

  19. #19
    I was an introvert.....and I DID become a planner! When in school (a heck of a long time ago) I dreadded gving speeches..............so I avoided them at all costs. After 27 years in the profession I finally can speak in front of large cantankerous groups and still be calm! Anyway if you are introverted you can overcome it if you really want to by using preparation and of course practice. I joined Toastmasters about 20 years ago and that helped significantly.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Introverts cannot be planners. Itís a scientifically proven fact!

    NOT! Not only can extroverts be planners, we can be in leadership roles as well. There is plenty of room and plenty of planning arenas that can serve a wide range of personality types. From Policy Analysts to Natural Resource Planning there are a lot of things one can do in planning that can build on comfort areas and downplay things that are not your strong suit. Though I will also say there is nothing wrong with improving areas you feel uncomfortable with and stretching your abilities. But overall the field is diverse enough to accommodate introverts and extroverts without issue.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  21. #21
    Cyburbian chupacabra's avatar
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    I'm an introvert and have been quite successful as a planner. Introvert =/= social retard.

    And this seems like a good place to point out that Ted Bundy was an extrovert.
    You can grow ideas in the garden of your mind.

  22. #22
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Off-topic:
    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    ....
    The one thing that you will need to do is to learn to think on your feet. An absolute must, as you lower your cred every time you say "I'll have to get back to you on that". .....
    I disagree. What if a question is regarding some obscure comp plan policy or development regulation? Sure, it's nice to think on your feet, but it's best to get the question answered correctly--the first time. Get a name and phone number and call them with the correct answer. Better yet, if you have your comp plan or development regulations with you, say, "I'm not positive. Let's look this up together."

    You may not know the answer off the top of you head but you know where to find the answer. That's credibility and good customer service.


    Back on topic.

    By coincidence, my boss and I are introverts. You would not notice during public hearings or in small groups of people we know. More than about 4-5 unknown people in a social setting and we become wallflowers. "Gotta go now."
    RJ is the KING of . The One

  23. #23
    Cyburbian
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    Wow. Quite a few contributions. Thanks.

    Upon reflection (something we introverts are good at), my biggest fear is that, as a planner, I'd have to host and attend parties and schmooze mindlessly. I would worry about this with any profession, as parties are a huge chore for me. I feel panicky just writing about them.

    Are parties something planners have to attend as part of their job? Obviously, it's a must for private sector planners looking for new clients, but I feel that's a narrow circumstance. Are parties something required more generally? I have an inkling that they aren't very important, but I fear parties so much.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by anthrus View post
    Wow. Quite a few contributions. Thanks.

    Are parties something planners have to attend as part of their job? Obviously, it's a must for private sector planners looking for new clients, but I feel that's a narrow circumstance. Are parties something required more generally?.
    NO! Never hosted one, never felt like I HAD to go to one for my job.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
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    As someone who tends to be more of an extrovert (and works in the public sector), I think the main aspect that links planners to being more extroverted is the large number of competing interests one has to juggle on a daily basis. Developers, citizens, council offices, neighborhood groups, etc...

    Everyone wants to feel like they are part of the process, and very often it is your job to make each group feel like they are involved and informed. I don't think that means you HAVE to be an extrovert to perform that role effectively, but it can certainly help. More specifically, a good planner is good at communicating and understanding the audience. That means phone calls, meetings, public hearings, essentially you have to be okay with being very exposed to the general public. You also can't be afraid of dealing with people that are difficult (and honestly introvert or extrovert no one wants to have to deal with that guy).

    I actually wouldn't mind if there was a little more partying on a daily basis lol, but it seems to me most public sector employees are worried about being accused of something (rational or otherwise), and therefore tend to stick to more of a wallflower role.
    Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

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