Shhhh. . . . Introvert at Work

Product DetailsQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking was very interesting and thought-provoking, but it’s difficult to synthesize it down for you. I guess I’ll just start somewhere, and see where it takes me. I’ve gone way over my 500 word limit!

Cain begins with some history. In young America: “the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable”. In the 18th century however, things changed. Isn’t it interesting that: “the word personality didn’t exist until the eighteenth century, and the idea of “having a good personality” was not widespread until the twentieth”.

Fast forward to today. Charismatic speakers like Tony Robbins in the secular world and Rick Warren in the religious world are influencing people all over the globe. Has charisma trumped character in our world today? In some respects it seems that it has.

Where does the introverted person fall in a world that admires the take charge extroversion so admired in public persona? Research proves that the introverted person is often more thoughtful and deliberate about decisions in their personal and work lives. In fact, the author states: “We perceive talkers as smarter than quiet types–even though grade-point averages and SAT and intelligence test scores reveal this perception to be inaccurate.” The author further states “Contrary to the Harvard Business School model of vocal leadership, the ranks of effective CEOs turn out to be filled with introverts”. The mid-section of “Quiet” is filled with research and stories from those that have studied successful corporations, all pointing to introversion being a key to leadership.

Why does this matter? It matters because business and education cater to the extroverts among us. Consider the open office concept and student classrooms. Each of those arenas is set up for people to study and work in a group setting. Research supports that all people, but especially introverts, need alone time, quiet time to reflect and study and think deeply about what they’ve learned. This is where the most powerful and creative ideas come from.

Companies and education also value “groupthink.” In small group settings (and large ones) extroverts are very comfortable and quick to share their thoughts and opinions. Introverts may be shy about speaking up. When they do speak, they don’t speak with the force and authority of an extrovert and their opinions and ideas are often ignored. Introverts, as well, are better listeners than an extrovert. Listening is an important skill, but in our world, the quick decision makers are seen as more desirable than the thoughtful listener. In fact, some of the research shows that people are quick to follow decisions made by extroverts, even though they know it is a bad decision! The introverts who do speak up for caution in such decisions are ignored, and sometimes ridiculed.

Some fascinating tidbits:

  • “Social media has made new forms of leadership possible for scores of people who don’t fit the Harvard Business School mold” of extroversion. Often introverts are shy and this non-threatening environment has given some of them a new “voice”
  • “Open-plan offices have been found to reduce productivity and impair memory. . . they make people sick, hostile, unmotivated and insecure”
  • “Group brainstorming doesn’t actually work”. This is from research back in 1963! “Studies have shown that performance gets worse as group size increases: groups of nine generate fewer and poor ideas compared to groups of six, which do worse than groups of four.” Further, according to the author, organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham has written that “evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups”. There is one exception to this, electronic or online brainstorming. In this arena, “the larger the group, the better it performs”

As the author gets deeper into her subject, she offers suggestions for the business world, the education world, and the personal and private world of introverts themselves to accept and honor themselves as they are. Introverts will most likely have to, on occasion, push themselves to be more extroverted than they really are, and to live alongside their “noisy” counterparts. They are encouraged to  find that “restorative niche” that they need to return to their “true selves.”

As a person who works in the education field, I think this book offers much to consider for those non-extroverted students. Are we creating a place for them in the classroom where they can be their true self? Where they can work independently? Where they are listened to when they speak? There is a whole chapter on education that could lend itself to valuable discussion.

The last chapter in the book shows the author’s passion for the world to hold the introvert in higher regard. This is probably my favorite chapter, because the passion comes through so clearly. There is a wonderful quote by Anais Nin:

“Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a center. So we lost our center and have to find it again.”

I really wish I could quote the entire chapter, but of course that would make this long post even longer. So instead, I’ll end with this quote from the author, about what may be your introverted child:

“If your children are quiet, help them make peace with new situations and new people, but otherwise let them be themselves. Delight in the originality of their minds.”

And for teachers:

“. . . enjoy your gregarious and participatory students. But don’t forget to cultivate the shy, the gentle, the autonomous, the ones with single-minded enthusiasms for chemistry sets or parrot taxonomy or nineteenth-century art. They are the artists, engineers, and thinkers of tomorrow”.