Bring Out the Extravert In Field Personnel

The personality styles of many HVACR contractors closely match those of medical surgeons. I don’t have any scientific research that validates this belief. However, I’ve had 30-plus years of observing contractors and, for one reason or another, have interacted with a number of medical surgeons.

Each surgeon is a specialist. When my husband was sent to the orthopedist several years ago, it wasn’t just one orthopedist. He had to go to one who only did surgery on backs, and a different one who only performed hip surgery.

Similarly, in our industry, there are installation specialists who design and build sheet metal duct systems for large commercial buildings, and those who specialize in residential. The same is true for the service technician who generally specializes in commercial or residential HVAC equipment. And, both of those specialists are very different from the technician who specializes in servicing refrigeration systems.

Another commonality is personality style. Surgeons, different from most general practitioners, have little or no bedside manner. In other words, the surgeon can often correct the problem for the patient, but don’t expect much, if any, clear explanation of what the surgery is or how it will be performed.

The same can be said of HVACR field personnel.

Recently, we conducted a communication seminar for Central Oregon Heating and Air Conditioning in Redmond, OR. The seminar included a personality style inventory using the Myers-Briggs Assessment tool (

Everyone in the company — ownership, management, office, and field personnel — went through the training and took the assessment. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, 86%, of the almost 50 people in the company are “introverts.” Only one of the “extraverts” works in the field. The other extraverts are office personnel and salespeople.

A misconception is that an extravert likes people and an introvert doesn’t. Not true, but the belief persists because extraverts interact with people more easily. The introvert, on the other hand, often seems removed and reserved in his comments and shies away from people interaction.

The Myers-Briggs Style Assessment describes the difference between an introvert and an extravert this way: An introvert prefers to focus on the inner world and an extravert prefers to focus on the outer world. As individuals we use this focus to both gather and process information about the world. So an introvert prefers to gather information quietly without a lot of conversation or interaction with others and processes information internally. An extravert prefers to gather information through interaction with others and processes information via discussion.

Back to the comparison of the medical surgeon and an HVACR installer or service person: both must be able to concentrate on details, and gather and process information without the input of others.

After all, it’s the surgeon with a scalpel in her hand operating on my body and I would appreciate her concentration on me, not on the other people in the operating room. It’s the technician alone with a furnace trying to determine what’s wrong or the installer, generally alone, with the puzzle of an attic, crawlspace or basement and a piece of equipment to figure out. The ability to gather and process information independently without input from others is critical for both professions.

This isn’t to say that either profession is excused from the need to interact with the patient or the customer. Sometimes it’s a requirement of a job that requires us to move out of the comfort zone of our preferred personality style.

Some of the best teachers I know are introverts. People, who didn’t know these teachers well, would actually peg them as extraverts. These teachers are more comfortable functioning with their focus turned inward, but when required, due to the work environment, can function as extraverts.

So what’s the takeaway of this information?

Many service technicians and installers working for you are introverts and prefer to focus internally. Praise this trait because it actually allows them to be excellent at their job of diagnosing and correcting home comfort problems. Realize that they aren’t being stubborn or negative about the interaction with customers required by their job — it’s just not natural and comfortable. Encourage, motivate, and train your field personnel to interact with the customer more, because it’s part of the job. Establish a protocol for office personnel to suggest customers ask questions of the installer or service technician if something isn’t understood.

And, on occasion, hire an extravert for the field.

Vicki LaPlant has been working with HVAC contractors for the past 30 years as a trainer and consultant. She is expert in helping people work better together for greater success. She is a Contracting editorial advisory board member, and can be reached by email at [email protected], or by phone at 903/786-6262.

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