Our world has been built to cater to the outspoken, the extroverts. A clear bias exists between the habits of the extroverts and the habits of the introverts.
Even early on, children who speak up and participate in class are rewarded. Those that sit quietly and read are seen as mellow, unsocial, or disinterested.
This bias also extends into the working world. Networking with others is emphasized, and being an outgoing and boisterous speaker is considered a sign of a “go-getter” in business. Floor plans, even, are open and flowing, attempting to promote the “free-flow” of ideas and conversations, but denouncing the idea of solitude and quiet space.
The more you talk and engage with coworkers, the more positive your personality appears to others. The silent and thoughtful ones are simply seen as closed-off or rude.
But the truth is introverts are great just the way they are, and many of them make exceptional leaders and workers. Just because they don’t always fit the mold of an extroverted personality, doesn’t mean they aren’t great communicators or unhappy people.
The business world needs to shift to make all people — introverted and extroverted — feel more comfortable and working within their best capacity.
Introverts know they are talented and great at their job, but many of them feel the need to fit into a mold that was not made for them.
Instead, introverts need to be given the space and ability to shine through with their inherent talents. Here’s the evidence of how introverts can use their skills to make the working world a better place.
The Power of Solitude
Solitude used to be commonly associated with innovation. When scholars discovered or created the next big invention, it was normally after isolating themselves in the woods or a home.
They would come out declaring their brilliance, and no one saw their solitude as strange or irregular behavior. It was just accepted as a way to process and think clearly.
Yet in our working world solitude is often synonymous with the antisocial: the people that aren’t willing to collaborate, or aren’t willing to share a space with others. Of course, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Susan Cain is a Wall Street lawyer and the New York Times bestselling author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Cannot Stop Talking.
She is also a proud introvert and has been featured on Ted Talks. She has created a following of strong, outspoken introverts through her site Quiet Revolution. It is through Cain’s Ted Talk that she reveals the real power allowing introverts the freedom to work as they do best: with solitude. “Solitude is a crucial ingredient to creativity,” states Cain.
She illustrates the example of Steve Wozniak, inventor of the Apple computer, who is a known introvert, and who preferred researching in his quiet HP cubicle.
It is safe to assume that the tech giant Apple may never have come about if it wasn’t for Wozniak’s ability to isolate himself and work on his inventions. Of course, he wasn’t always alone.
After building his framework, he began collaborating with Steve Jobs, and together they built the framework for a trillion-dollar company.
Isolation helped drive the creativity that led to the very computer this article is being typed on. Collaboration also played a part, but that was only a portion of the equation. Today, our world is so caught up in that second ingredient.
So often children and workers are forced to work in pairs or groups, with the hope that they will be building crucial negotiating and social skills. But this leaves out the potential for introverts to really flourish, as well as the potential for extroverts to learn how to work by themselves.
Autonomy and deep thought are important for everyone and can lead to greatness. Some of the best inventors might be sitting in a meeting right now, wishing and hoping that they could just have a moment of peace so they can tap into their state of flow and really get to work.
The Power of Empathy and Connection
Emotional intelligence is a vital part of leadership. It is also something that comes naturally to many introverts. Yet somehow introverts are commonly passed up for leadership positions.
Empathy is an important aspect of emotional intelligence, as it allows people to understand others and show support through trying circumstances.
Many introverts excel at honing their emotional intelligence because they are empathetic listeners. They create meaningful relationships with their coworkers, friends, and family and are able to connect with these people on a more personal level. If a coworker has recently been through a hard time, you can trust an introvert to be there as emotional support.
In leadership, having empathy can be the difference between a high turnover rate due to burnout and a strong and steady team that communicates effectively and honestly.
Since introverts have this inherent skill of listening and connecting — something that is an important aspect to management — it’s surprising that they aren’t the most prominent personality type in leadership.
Additionally, introverts are all too familiar with the need to have space. They can communicate with their team, then leave them to their own devices — which can be especially effective for creative projects.
The desire for autonomy is something they understand all too well. No one likes a boss that hovers or micromanages, and introverted leaders understand this. Susan Cain notes this in an article devoted to the topic of creative leadership:
“People who like to spend time alone are decidedly at odds with today’s team-based organizational culture. According to management research, introverts are much less likely than extroverts to be groomed for leadership positions even though another Wharton study led by Professor Adam Grant found that introverted leaders outperform extroverted ones when managing proactive employees—precisely because they give them the freedom to dream up and implement new ideas.”
However, introverts are not just great at connecting with their coworkers and employees. Emotional intelligence also works well when connecting with an audience. For the business world, this can be especially powerful.
Expanding your audience through social media is now a must for businesses, and connecting through content marketing is a powerful tool to have.
Introverts can make great marketers because they can connect with their audience and the voice of the customer to make inspiring marketing campaigns. There’s no doubt that Lego — a product that thrives on creativity — utilized emotional intelligence to build their most recent online marketing campaigns. And an introvert was probably behind the genius of it all.
The Power of Introverts
Our modern world of networking and business is made for extroverts, but that doesn’t mean that your company cannot make a difference in changing that perspective.
You might not know who around you is an introvert — or you may very well be one yourself — but you can push for quiet spaces and demand solitude. You can showcase the importance of embracing different learning and creative styles, and you can develop and hone your emotional intelligence.
If you are an introvert, showcase just how important your empathy and creativity are to the business.
Introverts should be able to embrace their talents just as much as extroverts have the room to embrace their own. There is no reason to hide your quiet, and no reason to feel shame for being soft-spoken.
As Susan Cain says: “I wish you the best of all possible journeys, and the courage to speak softly.”