Hello everyone, and welcome to the end of the June.
It’s not unusual for me to hear from my coaching clients that one of their ‘problems’ is that they need to speak up more and to think on their feet. In some situations, clients have arrived at these coaching sessions with suggestions from their managers for areas to work on: ‘please learn to speak up more in meetings’, ‘please be more outgoing, network more, get out there’.
In these situations I have asked my clients how they benefit from being quiet in meetings and by not being outgoing. When they reply easily and with energy (and usually with a look of relief on their faces) it reveals that their quietness is their strength. The problem isn’t that they have a problem, the people around them have the problem.
Alert to the plight of some introverts, I noticed over the past few months a number of articles and book reviews about the work of Susan Cain, a former corporate attorney and an introvert, who recently published her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” (2012). Here are some key points, not from her book, but from the articles about her book (links are at the end).
- Introversion is a preference for lower stimulation environments, quiet, less noise, less action. Introverts are most alive and at their best when they are quieter.
- Introverts are not anti-social, they are differently social. They enjoy being with others, but also prefer quieter places and times. They enjoy interacting with people but have limits. Introverts want company just as much as extroverts do, but they prefer it in either short doses or with people they know well. “Social skills and teamwork are not unimportant. But the more freedom we allow introverts to be themselves the more likely they are to come up with their own unique solutions to problems.” (Susan Cain)
- Shyness is about a fear of negative social judgment. You can be introverted without having that fear, and you can be shy but also be an extrovert.
- Extroverts are not criticised by Cain, rather it is the extroverted ideal that she is concerned about. Cain suggests we have moved from a culture of character to a culture of personality where what is admired is the magnetic and charismatic, a world where we have to sell ourselves.
- According to research, one third to one half of Americans are introverts.
- “Introverts are pretty excellent they way they are” (Susan Cain).
- We all fall somewhere along the introversion / extroversion spectrum. There is no extreme. Ambiverts fall in the middle, they have the best of both worlds.
- Workplaces are increasingly set up for maximum group interaction, brainstorming and group work which results in immediate ideas, and less privacy.
- Teamwork is still of value, but creativity can also come from quiet reflection. We should not stop collaborating. We should be aware that solitude matters and for some people it’s the air that they breathe.
- The most creative people in many fields are usually introverts.
- Research from Adam Grant (The Wharton School of business at the University of Pennsylvania) reveals that introverted leaders often deliver better results than extroverted leaders. When they are managing proactive employees they are much more likely to let employees run with those ideas. Whereas some extroverted leaders can unwittingly get so excited that they put their own stamp on things and other people’s ideas might not as easily bubble up to the surface.
- Be aware of listening to the loudest voices.
- Listen to the listeners.
- Introverts thrive better in one type of circumstance, and extroverts thrive better in another. Put people in the right environment to suit their temperament.
- Introverts can feel proud and comfortable of their strengths.
- Think about how workplaces can better support introverts.
- Value individuality.
- Find time for solitude, to ‘unplug’. “Stop the madness for this constant group work (but it’s okay to have casual chatty cafe style time where there is a serendipitous exchange of ideas which is great for both introverts and extroverts). We need more autonomy, privacy and freedom at work” (Susan Cain, TED Talk).
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Crown
Susan Cain’s website
TED Talk video (19 minutes)
Video RSA interview (8 minutes)
NPR interview with Susan Cain This link also includes Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet Quiz: Are You an Introvert or an Extrovert?’
Power of Introverts – Q&A with Susan Cain
Chris Peterson’s viewpoint
Book review by Jock Given
Book review by Jon Ronson
Susan Cain’s blog
Scientific American – Interview with Susan Cain