Introverts Unite! (oh, wait, that’s going to be tough…)

Hi, I’m Camille and I’m an extrovert. (Hi, Camille.) I confess that from time to time I’ve overlooked the talents that introverts have to offer. I’m reforming.

On a recent flight, I read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I picked it up because in my work to maximize team performance I’m constantly looking for insights to have the more quiet members contribute. Why? Because I know quiet people are smart and insightful and we need to stop talking long enough to hear them.

Consider some of Cain’s findings:

  • It’s a spectrum: no person is a pure introvert or pure extrovert.
  • Our culture has a bias for talkers, against non-talkers. Introverts are often passed over for leadership roles.
  • One-third to one-half of the population is introverts. If we don’t listen to them, we lose their intelligence!
  • Solitude is essential for creativity.
  • Steve Wozniak (inventor of 1st Apple) worked alone in his HP cubicle; states he never would have become an expert if he hadn’t been too introverted to leave his house when growing up.
  • Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) spent days ensconced in his private bell tower, rarely ventured out to meet young readers, fretting that kids would expect an outspoken Cat in the Hat-like figure and would be disappointed by his reserved personality.

To validate what I’d read, I recently asked a dinner companion if she was an introvert or extrovert. “I’m an introvert who’s had to force myself to be an extrovert. I learned early that I had to speak up or I would be passed over. It took a lot of energy to do this. It always felt like I was betraying myself. I did it so I could have more of an influence on our organization, but, it was tiring.”

Introvert Extrovert
  • Energized by inner world; fine with less stimulation
  • Energized by outer world; craves lots of stimulation
  • Enjoys reading a book, sipping wine with a close friend
  • Enjoys cranking up stereo, meeting new people
  • Works slowly, deliberately; mighty powers of concentration; immune to lures of fame
  • Tackles assignments quickly; makes decisions fast; loves limelight
  • Thinks before talks
  • Talks then thinks
  • Dislikes conflict
  • Comfortable with conflict
  • As leader, allows others to blossom, run with their ideas
  • As leader, tendency to put own stamp on things, ignores others’ input

Cain illustrated how soft-spoken, self-described introverts – Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Gandhi – took the spotlight because they were driven by their commitment to make a difference and do what they thought was right, not because they loved the attention.  This validated my experience in working with thousands of people around the world: Our commitment to contribute can supersede our preferences, pull us out of our comfort zones, pull us through difficult situations to achieve meaningful, purpose-filled goals.

To support all your folks to make their contribution and share their talent and insights:

  1. Create time and space for reflection and solitude. (For ex., 1 no-talk afternoon a week)
  2. Invite quiet people to lead; then, let them lead in their own way.

Listen to Cain’s stimulating Cain’s TEDTalk.  If you’d like to share your story as an introvert, I promise to be quiet and listen. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, or a little of both, take an online assessment to improve your communication, performance and, most of all, your satisfaction!

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