Do others have a preconceived notion about your personality? Or do you quickly conclude a person’s character? If so, then Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, might also capture your interest. Cain is an American writer and lecturer who earned her Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from Harvard Law School. She initially practiced her profession as a lawyer and negotiations consultant but later left her corporate career for the more serene life of writing. In 2012, she published the said book which described the value of introverts. She also co-founded Quiet Revolution LLC, a mission-based American company committed to “unlock the power of introverts for the benefit of us all.”
I was eminently intrigued on the “north and south of temperament,” and wanted to know more about it. The author presented extensive research, and I echo her ultimate intent of eliminating the stigma about introversion. I agree with her insights about how society looks up to the “extrovert ideal” — bold, loquacious, smart. Extroverts interact well with others as they are motivated by being involved. They seek more stimulation and prefer to engage in high-spirited activities, hence the loud and aggressive image.
In contrast, the introverts — meek, apprehensive, slow-witted — are commonly regarded as second best. The need for tranquility gives them a shy and unsociable persona. People tend to perceive achievers as assertive and overly confident individuals, which is why reserved and contemplative employees are undervalued. In addition, good speakers create an impression that they are smarter than the introverted even if there is no correlation between articulacy and great ideas. As a consequence, performance may be attributed to such behaviors resulting in an unconscious bias during appraisal or job promotion.
Great leadership can truly be manifested by people who see one’s talent beyond superficial impression. Introversion should not be considered as a limitation or disadvantage to an employee’s success. Instead, key attributes should flourish through one’s natural propensities. Leaders should understand that silent workers may have a distinctive means of showcasing their skills. For instance, being a little reserved during meetings does not always equate to a sign of disinterest. These individuals usually think deeply before taking action to give the most sensible remarks. They inherently want to be involved in an intellectual exchange of views and refuse pretentious conversation, i.e., speaking with substance rather than saying something just to be heard.
Furthermore, the concept of collaboration may be overemphasized leading to the “New Groupthink,” an idea that creativity and intelligence unfold from a gregarious environment. This may not be realistic for introverts as they may need time to work on their ideas first before an actual group discussion or brainstorming session. They do not avoid collaborating with others; they just don’t do it excessively.
Even workplace design is skewed toward extroverts. The current trend of open-plan offices is more appealing to extroverts while private spaces are typically more comfortable for introverts. This aspect also requires consideration from managers and will measure their ability to adapt and work on the strengths of their people despite differences in personality.
Lastly, the leadership skills of introverts must also be recognized. We must overcome the misconception that only the qualities of an extrovert make the best leaders. In reality, silent workers also have competencies that bode well for future leadership roles. In fact, their critical thinking may be a powerful edge in decision-making since they can be discerning and less impulsive. Oftentimes, introverts have a nurturing behavior which is an essential trait in people management.
Companies must put an end to the preconceived notion that quiet employees are less likely to succeed. They should look into the depth of one’s character instead. There are members of an organization who do not “shout” but are able to contribute substantial value to the business and perhaps, to the society as well. This rationale corresponds to one of Mahatma Gandhi’s inspirational quotes, “in a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
The ability to look beyond the surface of a person may be likened to an iceberg, the tip does not represent its entirety — if viewed more intently, there is definitely more to see. Introversion is not synonymous to substandard and should never be the sole basis of judging one’s capabilities.
Anne Riel Escaran is a Master in Business Administration student at De La Salle University. She was in the corporate world before she decided to pursue her passion for teaching. She now works as a senior high teacher in an exclusive school in Greenhills, San Juan.