Freedom to be yourself

Solitude matters, and for some people, it’s the air they breathe.
— Susan Cain

As a professional who lives in the world of self-awareness and assessments, I love talking about personality and behavioral styles.  Often, we hear people talking about introversion and extroversion.  This comes from the Myers Briggs Type Indicator or commonly known as MBTI.  Recently I became aware of Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.  As a slight introvert myself, I found the title not only intriguing, but also something I could relate to. Introverts are what’s called “highly sensitive”, meaning they take in the information given to them, via stimuli from their environment, a lot more thoroughly than their extrovert peers. 

Introversion is not shyness.

It’s about where our energy comes from.  Introverts tend to feel drained after socializing and regain their energy by spending time alone. Introverts are typically perceived as more reserved or reflective.  They often take pleasure in solitary activities such as reading, writing, using computers, hiking and fishing. How do you respond to stimulation? 

We see talkers as leaders.

When it comes to leadership, many introverts are subjected to bias without even realizing it.  We perceive talkers as smarter than quiet types even though grade-point averages and SAT and intelligence test scores reveal this perception to be inaccurate.  The more a person talks, the more other group members direct their attention to him, which means that he becomes increasingly powerful as a meeting goes on.  We dramatically undervalue introverts and Cain shows how much we lose in doing so. They are routinely passed over for promotion.  Often, we favor the “man” of action vs. the “man” of contemplation.   


Introverts are good leaders. 

Introverts are uniquely good at leading initiative-takers.  Because of their inclination to listen to others and lack of interest in dominating social situations, introverts are more likely to hear and implement suggestions. 

When collaboration kills creativity.

Personally, I believe we need balance; a blend of both types. However, remarkably workplaces are designed for extraversion’s need for lots of stimulation.  Consider that many work in open spaces without walls.  We seem to think that Groupthink elevates teamwork above all else.  It insists that creativity and intellectual achievement come from a gregarious place.  Organizations should consider options for introverts to make their best contribution.

Allowing introverts to spend time alone, vs. participating in large group activities and meetings can produce better results.  Studies have shown that performance gets worse as group size increases:  groups of 9 generate fewer and poorer ideas compared to groups of 6, which do worse than groups of 4.  If you have a great introverted thinker on your team, don’t force them into an extroverted world.  Ask them what works best for them and then honor that decision.  Give them the freedom to be themselves.   

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Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a center. So we lost our center and have to find it again.
— Anaïs Nin