There seems to be this overarching belief nowadays, that the best ‘type’ of person is the most gregarious, or outgoing, or just plain LOUD. We live in an age where putting yourself out there for everyone to see is considered the norm. But what if you are the other personality type? Introverted. Sensitive. QUIET.
No-one is 100% introvert or extrovert. Carl Jung, whose work coined the introvert-extrovert terminology we use today, said “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum”.
A considerable section of the population does measure up on the introvert end of the scale though and has to fake it every day to try to complete with the extroverts in their schools, universities, workplaces and social groups. They are pushed into group tutorials, presentations and brainstorming sessions. Yeah sure, collaboration is an integral part of life and work, but why not tap into a group of people that can easily feel overwhelmed by these kinds of experiences?
So, why should we? Think of some of the greatest thinkers and innovators of recent times. Steve Wozniak might never have invented the first PC if he wasn’t uncomfortable leaving his house and, in turn, office cubicle. OK, so Apple wouldn’t have come into being without his collaboration with Steve Jobs, but it was solitude that game him the power to think and create. And he’s not alone.
Introverts bring to the table a range of unique qualities and talents, so why shouldn’t they be encouraged and empowered, just as much as their social, easygoing colleagues and friends? I’ve made a quick list of characteristics of introversion that would be considered an asset in any workplace.
Attention to detail
An introvert’s focus and attention to detail are prized assets. You might see someone proofreading in a lonely corner, or writing while wearing headphones to block everyone else out. OK, they might not have spoken to anyone for an hour, or more, but they’re working. Hard. Introverts are steady and considered, and their need for quiet contemplation should be nurtured with a suitable working environment. Do so, and it will benefit the whole team.
Think deep not broad
Introverts are experts at taking ONE task and running with it, seeing it through until it’s successful finish. Unlike the extrovert, who tends to be distracted by all those bright shiny objects, and attempts to multitask to a ridiculous degree, our friend the introvert works conscientiously and diligently. Who doesn’t want an employee like that?!
Extroverts are considered ‘reward-sensitive’, giving them a propensity towards risk-taking, and pursuing goals like money, social status and influence. Which is fine, but can lead to all sorts of trouble too! An introvert, however, is ‘threat-sensitive’; they concentrate, whether consciously or not, on avoidance of threat or punishment. They spend more time on the long game, measuring risk factors, leading to rational decision making rather than knee-jerk reactions.
Listen very carefully
Hopping from conversation to conversation at a party is the comfortable realm of the extrovert. Talking shit about the weather, or some such other superficial topic, they’ve got that down. Our introverts delve deeper and consider the bigger picture because they are talented listeners. Want less fluff and more function? Add an introvert into your mix. They might not speak up often, but when they do, you can be sure their input is carefully measured and insightful.
I would urge anyone, wherever you may fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum, to check out Susan Cain’s book ‘Quiet’. If you don’t have time to read a book (maybe you’re an extroverted type too busy socialising), at least put aside 20 minutes to listen to her TedTalk here.
I’ve spoken before about diversity in the workplace. The more perspectives you have to draw from can only increase your team performance. It just makes sense.
We should embrace the quiet revolution, without it having to put on a ‘brave’ face.