Archive | introverts RSS feed for this section

Are Introverts Overshadowed and Undervalued?

31 Jan

What do Barbara Walters, Rosa Parks, Glenn Close, Julia Roberts, Gweneth Paltrow, and Diane Sawyer have in common? Other than being fabulous, they are all introverts. What exactly is an introvert? Is is someone with some sort of personality disorder? No, although people who are considered introverts are usually seen as nerdy, abnormal, loners, withdrawn, shy, or unfriendly. Introverts generally enjoy time alone, are good listeners, consider only those deep, personal relationships as real relationships, feel exhausted after outdoor activities (whether or not they are fun), and appear calm and self-contained most of the time. Introverts generally have an inward focus, making it hard to socialize or be the life of the party. The strong sense of self that introverts have also makes it hard for them to walk into a crowded room and feel comfortable. The best qualities of an introvert are that they work well in one-on-one relationships, are independent, flexible, maintain long-term relationships, have analytical skills and are often very smart.

Despite the fact that most career advice (even mine) centers around the need for women to speak up, take a seat at the table, and get noticed, around one-third to one-half of Americans are considered to be introverts. According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking, our lives are shaped just as much by our personality as they are by our gender or race, and the most important aspect of an individual’s personality is where they fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. Cain believes this is what determines our choice of friends, who we pick as lovers, how we converse with others, how we resolve our differences, and how we show love. Where you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum also affects the type of career you choose and whether or not you will succeed in that career, whether you will commit adultery, exercise, function well without sleep, take big risks, and ask “what if?”

Despite the fact that one of every three people is an extrovert, Cain argues that the world today makes less room for introverts than it does for extroverts. She calls this the Extrovert Ideal – “the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight.” Unlike introverts, extroverts prefer risk taking to thinking it through, action to contemplation, and certainty to doubt. Cain argues that 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.” Additionally, Cain argues that introverts are undervalued when she notes that the following would not be part of today’s world if it were not for an introvert: the theory of gravity, the theory of relativity, Peter Pan, The Cat in the Hat, Charlie Brown, and even Harry Potter.

Despite the importance of introverts in our society, Cain argues that “most of the important institutions of contemporary life are designed for those who enjoy group projects.” In addition, the workplace favors extroverts. Teamwork is highly valued, and because of this, children are often taught in groups and news ideas are formed through brainstorming sessions rather than independent thinking. People who speak up and talk are considered to be smarter and having social skills is highly valued. Yet, according to Cain, such praise for extroverts has actually curtailed innovation and productivity. Specifically, those charismatic leaders that make more money than the introverts don’t necessarily produce better results and the decisions made in the brainstorming sessions are not as thought out.

Cain is not arguing that introverts are better than extroverts, just that there needs to be a better balance and inclusion of different personalities in the workplace. According to Cain, extroverts actually manage introverts better and introverts manage extroverts better. If there was a better understanding that “social skills” and “group work” can have more than just one definition, then maybe extroverts and introverts could work better together. All in all, Cain says that people should appreciate the power of thinking more than they currently do.

I found Cain’s book to be fabulous! I have always found myself to be introverted and have, as Cain suggests, always felt like an outsider. I do not like speaking in public, have a hard time with small-talk with people I don’t know, hate going to group events (especially networking events), and prefer a night alone reading a book to a crowded dinner party. Like Cain suggests in her book, for years I have been convincing myself that I am weird or strange and in turn, I have been trying to be more extroverted. I have pushed myself to be things and do things that I am not, and I am happy to hear that not only am I normal, but I am appreciated!

What did you think of this post? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Do you work closely with introverts, know introverts, or are married to an introvert? If so, what do you find to be their best/worst traits?