The Power Of Introverts, by Susan Cain

Quiet by Susan Cain

Quiet, by Susan Cain

The trick for introverts is to honor their own styles instead of allowing themselves to be swept up by prevailing norms.

Modern cultural standards lead us to believe that success comes relatively easy to those with extroverted and charismatic personalities. But what happens to those who lie on the introvert side of the spectrum? Does it mean that soft-spoken, more sensitive, quieter types are doomed to stay behind? If so, is there a way in which introverts can earn their due in an environment where extroversion is so highly valued?

Corporate lawyer and negotiations expert Susan Cain in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking shows how we undermine the potential of introverts and often miss out on collaborating with these mysterious yet talented minds. After years of trying to fulfill the “extroverted ideal”, Cain, an introvert herself, came to realize that she no longer needed to strive for that ideal because being true to her nature and understanding her talents was far more valuable and powerful. When introverts discover what they are good at and work in environments they can thrive in, they will surpass any expectations laid by society.

In our society, the “Extrovert Ideal” is presented as the type of person that everyone who aspires to success should strive to be regardless of their personalities and nature. Introversion, on the other hand, is regarded as a sign of weakness.

The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong. She works well in teams and socializes in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual—the kind who’s comfortable ‘putting himself out there.’ (…)

Introversion—along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness—is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are (…)

Introverts Thrive When Given The Right Environment

Cain explains how this “Extrovert Ideal” is represented in corporate settings and in the realm of education. In recent times, the working style of corporations has shifted from the “I” to the “we”. There is more emphasis on teamwork, collaborative thinking and open space work environments. A person who participates more, collaborates more and in short, puts himself more “out there” is usually perceived to have more potential. Cain argues that this type of academic environment and work culture can diminish an introvert’s creativity, performance and productivity as introverts are more likely to thrive in environments where they can have their own private space and time to develop the best ideas.

Cain proposes that companies and educational institutions should recognize the needs of both extroverts and introverts, and provide environments that get the best out of both types of people.

(…) we should actively seek out symbiotic introvert-extrovert relationships, in which leadership and other tasks are divided according to people’s natural strengths and temperaments. The most effective teams are composed of a healthy mix of introverts and extroverts (…)

We also need to create settings in which people are free to circulate in a shifting kaleidoscope of interactions, and to disappear into their private workspaces when they want to focus or simply be alone. Our schools should teach children the skills to work with others (…) but also the time and training they need to deliberately practice on their own. It’s also vital to recognize that many people (…) need extra quiet and privacy in order to do their best work.

Some companies are starting to understand the value of silence and solitude, and are creating ‘flexible’ open plans that offer a mix of solo workspaces, quiet zones, casual meeting areas, cafés, reading rooms, computer hubs, and even ‘streets’ where people can chat casually with each other without interrupting others’ workflow (…)

Introverts Can Make Good Leaders Too!

Some of us think that leaders should be bold, gregarious and charismatic. Consequently, only extroverts seem to fit the bill.  That is what history has shown us and what schools try to teach to their students. Can introverts be great leaders as well? What about iconic figures like Rosa Parks or Bill Gates, who are self-professed introverts? Research shows that introverts may prove to be exceptional leaders when they work with a team of proactive people, because they have an innate ability to listen and guide others. Introverts and extroverts can both succeed as leaders, provided they recognize where their strengths lie and what kind of people they can work best with.

Cain refers to Wharton Professor Adam Grant’s findings, which defend that introvert leaders are more effective to manage and guide proactive employees while extroverted leaders strengthen team performance when employee are passive.

(…) Grant says that it makes sense that introverts are uniquely good at leading initiative-takers. Because of their inclination to listen to others and lack of interest in dominating social situations, introverts are more likely to hear and implement suggestions. Having benefited from the talents of their followers, they are then likely to motivate them to be even more proactive. Introverted leaders create a virtuous circle of proactivity, in other words (…) 

Extroverts, on the other hand can be so intent on putting their own stamp on events that they risk losing others’ good ideas along the way and allowing workers to lapse into passivity. ‘Often the leaders end up doing a lot of the talking,’ says Francesca Gino, ‘and not listening to any of the ideas that the followers are trying to provide.’ But with their natural ability to inspire, extroverted leaders are better at getting results from more passive workers.

Introversion Has Nothing To Do With Intelligence Or Talent

People often assume that extroverts are more intelligent, and therefore better performers in academic and professional settings. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The fact is that extroverts and introverts come with a varied set of skills and talents, and each group tends to perform better at tasks that suit their individual personalities. If you try to fit a square figure into a circular mold, chances are that you will end up unsuccessful and drained from all the energy spent.

Introverts are not smarter than extroverts. According to IQ scores, the two types are equally intelligent. And on many kinds of tasks, particularly those performed under time or social pressure or involving multitasking, extroverts do better. Extroverts are better than introverts at handling information overload. Introverts’ reflectiveness uses up a lot of cognitive capacity (…) Extroverts appear to allocate most of their cognitive capacity to the goal at hand, while introverts use up capacity by monitoring how the task is going.

But introverts seem to thing more carefully than extroverts (…) Extroverts are more likely to take a quick-and-dirty approach to problem solving, trading accuracy for speed, making increasing numbers of mistakes as they go, and abandoning ship altogether when the problem seems too difficult or frustrating. Introverts think before they act, digest information thoroughly, stay on task longer, give up less easily, and work more accurately. Introverts and extroverts also direct their attention differently: if you leave them to their own devices, the introverts tend to sit around wondering about things, imagining things, recalling events from their past, and making plans for the future. The extroverts are more likely to focus on what’s happening around them. It’s as if extroverts are seeing ‘what is’ while their introverted peers are asking ‘what if.’

Understanding the unique qualities of both introverts and extroverts will help institutions and organizations design environments that are conducive for either type. The need of the hour is to acknowledge that introverts have a huge potential and if given a fair chance, they can become prodigious leaders, brilliant innovators, extraordinary artists and novel scientists. Only then will establishments succeed in creating a culture where both types can coexist and thrive to their full potential.

Susan Cain shares some recommendations on how people can become more aware and take action to shift from the “Extrovert Ideal” and move towards a more balanced Extrovert-Introvert ecosystem.

The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplight desk. Use your natural powers—of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity—to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems, make art, think deeply.

If you’re a manager, remember that one third to one half of your workforce is probably introverted, whether they appear that way or not. Think twice about how you design your organization’s office space. Don’t expect introverts to get jazzed up about open office plans or, for that matter, lunchtime birthday parties or team-building retreats. Make the most of introverts’ strengths—there are the people who can help you think deeply, strategize, solve complex problems, and spot canaries in your coal mine.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking is a recommended read for introverts who are struggling to fit in with the “extroverted ideal”. It is also a helpful tool for organizations that are committed to building a nurturing environment for a diverse workforce.

If you’d like to hear Susan Cain talk on the subject of her book, we recommend that you follow this link.

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