Quiet, by Susan Cain, is a refreshing perspective on introversion is based upon her own experience and an impressive amount of research. While anyone can take a personality assessment and create their own conclusions following the various assessments, she believes that we live in a society that no matter what the results show, those whose inventories reflect high introversion are favored over introverts. How did she come to this conclusion? Cain’s evidence comes from research on well respected educational institutions, famous business moguls, and innovators in the past century. She supports her theory by pointing to several different items such as add campaigns that promote being outgoing, upbeat, and energetic
If I had any doubts that I live in an extroverted world, those doubts were removed after reading Quiet by Susan Cain. According to Cain, the rise of the city in the 20th century was also the rise of the “extrovert ideal” as more people had to work harder to get noticed. A culture that once saw quiet dignity and good deeds done in secret as virtue has embraced the cult of personality.
Now, many of us work in institutions that believe that creativity is inherently social, in real world structures that resemble the Internet, forgetting that the Internet was built by programmers for academics and researchers. These original users of the Internet were people who worked alone most of the time and only sometimes and shared the results of that work publicly, but in this brave new world, introverts struggle to deal with noisy living arrangements and open office plans.
Is there anything good about being an introvert now? Susan Cain says there is.
Being an Introvert is a Good Thing
Introverts are creative. According to recent studies, “the more creative people creative people tended to be socially poised introverts.” Socially poised introverts are people who are interested in people, who have spent time watching how people behave, but they are “not of an especially sociable or participative temperament.”
Socially poised introverts have good social skills, but they are comfortable with solitude and working alone, which allows them to translate their independent work for others.
Introverts make good decisions. Introverts are programmed to downplay reward, “to kill their buzz, you might say–and scan for problems.” Rather than charging ahead on the high of success like a gambler might, introverts tend to be naturally cautious and slow down when they get excited.
Introverts have pro-social skills. Introverts tend to be naturally curious and inquisitive. In social situations, we ask more questions and because care about the answers. This focus on the other person allows us to communicate naturally that we care about the other person and be present to where others actually are. Cain points out that these skills allow introverts to shine in traditionally extroverted settings (like sales and the negotiating table) because we listen and so are better informed and equipped to meet the needs of others.
Introverts are comfortable with solitude. Working alone is essential for high skilled workers because it’s only when you’re alone that you’re able to engage in what Cain calls “deliberate practice.” Deliberate practice allows you to stretch yourself, “identify the tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress, and revise accordingly.”
Solitude also allows you to think better. People who are working in a group have to divide their cognitive load between being a good team player and finding a solution to the problem, which means that they are they are distracted. Not only that, but recent studies have shown that working in a group and the peer pressure that goes along with it “can actually change your view of a problem.” Your brain works differently when you’re working with a team.
When Introverts Need to Act like Extroverts
In an extroverted world, introverts sometimes have to pretend to be extroverts, but Cain has some tips for how to deal:
Focus on the positive aspects of being an introvert, such as your natural inclination to listen.
Honor your temperament and give yourself space to be alone when you can find it.
Don’t act like an extrovert all the time but only when it’s something you care about.
Maybe, being an introvert isn’t so bad, after all.
"Introverts are much less often groomed for leadership positions, even though there's really fascinating research out recently from Adam Grant at [The Wharton School of business at the University of Pennsylvania] finding that introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes when their employees are more proactive. They're more likely to let those employees run with their ideas, whereas an extroverted leader might, almost unwittingly, be more dominant and be putting their own stamp on things, and so those good ideas never come to the fore."
"It's quite a problem in the workplace today, because we have a workplace that is increasingly set up for maximum group interaction. More and more of our offices are set up as open-plan offices where there are no walls and there's very little privacy. ... The average amount of space per employee actually shrunk from 500 square feet in the 1970s to 200 square feet today.
- Dr. Emily Shupert