The Art of Project Management: Expert advice from experienced project managers in Silicon Valley, and around the world

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!


About the Author

Like you, I'm a "work-in-progress" -- learning how to contribute, be fully expressed and produce results and create relationships worthy of who we are. I bring that commitment to everything I do, from executive coaching to team building to leadership programs to the facilitation of strategic and really tough conversations. My role is to hear your commitments and create the conditions for you to accomplish them. I love what I do. Let's talk and see if we're a match for each other.
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