Our admiration of extroverts (see Introverts in a gregarious world Part 1) causes problems for those who of us who would rather curl up with a book than face a crowd of strangers at a party.
Susan Cain, the author of Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, described two people who personified the smart but disheartened introvert, an MBA student from Harvard and an evangelical preacher. Both felt like they didn’t belong in the worlds they chose to inhabit. The student wanted more time to himself, felt uncomfortable giving his opinion until he had time to present a thoughtful reaction, and characterized socializing with classmates as an “extreme sport.” The soft-spoken preacher felt like a fraud, because he couldn’t work himself into a foaming frenzy like his extrovert counterparts.
However, introverts should take heart. Cain says without them “the world would be devoid of the theories of gravity and relativity, Chopin’s nocturnes, Charlie Brown, ‘The Cat in the Hat,’ Google, and Harry Potter.” Business leader introverts include Charles Schwab, Bill Gates and the CEO of Sara Lee.
Cain quotes management consultant Peter Drucker as saying that the most effective leaders he’s met, “had little or no charisma.” Leaders who are introverts listen to employees, don’t expect to take all the credit for their organizations’ successes, and “they are uniquely good at leading initiative-takers.” Cain quotes another management guru who says that extroverts “are better at getting results from more passive workers.”
Some introverts succumb to the pressures of an extrovert world and choose self-help books and self-improvement seminars to overcome their softer approaches to life. Others accept themselves as they are. Cain, an acknowledged introvert, came to appreciate her own strengths but also worked hard to build her public speaking skills, noting that fear of public speaking is common among introverts.
How do you know if you’re an introvert or an extrovert? Most of us have had enough experiences to figure out where we fit without taking a battery of psychological tests. Cain says while there is little agreement on a definition, psychologists share opinions on several characteristics: 1) introverts are happy with less stimulation than are extroverts; 2) extroverts work quickly, while introverts “work more slowly and deliberately;” and 3) introverts “listen more than they talk.” By the way, people who fall in the middle of these two classifications are known as ambiverts. Most days I think that’s where I fit. I like public speaking and having an audience, but prefer to socialize in small groups of people I’m close to and don’t like too much stimulation.
Whichever group we fit in, the key is to be aware of the environments we function best in. We will thrive in those. This doesn’t mean we can’t move comfortably within both groups, and shouldn’t be afraid to try. There’s much more to learn about these types in Cain’s book, including support for their origins in our genetics as well as our experiences.