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What You Never Knew About Introverts!

By Karla Schlaepfer
personal growth, creativity, quiet leadership institute, teams, leadership, creative potential

Have you heard of Susanne Cain’s Quiet Revolution?

While doing some research for our book, I came across her intriguing work; Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Ms Cain is an activist, bestselling author, a former corporate lawyer and a self-described introvert. She claims that 1/3 to 1/2 of the population, or one-out-of-two or three people you know, are introverts!  That’s huge! A kind of quiet minority!

What about you? Are you part of the large sector of the population who all too often make self-negating choices or have feelings of inadequacy because you don’t speak up?  In our society, too often it is expected that we act boldly, be assertive and make ourselves heard. But is that the way that naturally feels right?

“Whenever you try to pass as something you’re not, you lose a part of yourself along the way. You especially lose a sense of how to spend your time.”

— Susanne Cain

Cain calls us out on this. She argues that acting too often against our natural temperament or out of character minimizes our resources. She asserts that our world designs our schools, workplaces and parenting practices for extroverts. This bias creates a waste of talent, energy and happiness!

Communicating and Engaging Differently

Why is this? Because introverts and extroverts communicate differently. They have a different disposition and this influences our approach to life. At first blush, you might think that shyness and introversion are the same, but they are not.

Shyness is defined as the fear of social judgement. Introversion is how we manage stimulation, especially social stimulation. This means that introverts need time to quietly process what’s going on around them. They like to work on their own and feel good listening, more than talking, doing quiet activities.  These are people who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion.

Whereas extroverts crave stimulation. They are the life of the party. Extroverts favor a loud talkative exchange, direct eye contact and close interaction. Introverts act differently. They are more soft-spoken. Many keep a more respectful distance to their discourse partners, phrase their thoughts more carefully and can need more space and time-outs to help them repair from daily stresses. You might find introverts escaping to the quiet of the bathroom, just to catch their breath. This does not mean they are anti-social. They just feel the need to lower the level of simulation in order to clear their minds.

Two Versions of Ourselves

We all have different roles and routines that we take on and play out in our daily lives. Whenever we pigeonhole behaviors, we run the risk of prejudice or bias.  Keeping this in mind, there are situations where we may easily assume another character or roll even if is not our true nature. And that is okay. Carl Jung was the first to popularize the terms “introvert” and “extrovert”. The developers of the Myers–Briggs personality type tests took Jung’s ideas further. They suggest that everyone has both. An extroverted side and an introverted side, with one more preferred than the other. This makes sense to me. There are times to shine on stage because it is part of the role. Then I need time to process. The situation for introverts can get critical when they are expected to participate and talk about what they think quickly, like in a brain storming session.

Introversion and Team Work

Which brings me back to my initial line of inquiry, concerning great teams, introversion and creativity.

Studies have shown, that solitude can be a critical ingredient for creativity to happen and for deep thinking to occur. Yet, how does this mesh with group work? Who gets heard and what has the most influence?

  • The most dominant talker, who may or may not have the best ideas!
  • Group think and swarm mentality regularly sway opinion and often mask leadership qualities of introverted individuals.
  • Too often mainstream ideas

This has to change. Cain’s and other activists’ premises have attracted much attention and are driving change.

There is a new mainstream awareness of the qualities of introversion.  For example, Linkedin, has just launched a Quiet Ambassador program to help introverts succeed at work. In workplace trainings, brainstorming now regularly begins with solo-ideation before individuals return to the group to share and build on each other’s ideas. This is also visible in a version of a method used in German schools called “think-pair-share,” which respects the way introverts work best.

According to Cain, three big issues for introverts are: privacy, freedom and autonomy to develop their own thoughts. Read more on this here: Quiet Leadership Institute.

What about you? Do you reserve enough space in your life to be the person you are? To realize your creative potential?