Thanks to books like Linus Jonkman’s ‘Introverts: The Silent Revolution’ extroversion and introversion have become the hot topic of late. This is positive news as the topic is indeed important and deserves to be discussed. Here is my take on the subject.
Andrea Ayres-Deets encapsulates the stereotypic description of an introvert splendidly:
“Once I was making oatmeal in the microwave in my dorm and two of my other flat mates came in – I never cooked food in that kitchen again. I’m an introvert and people scare the hell out of me. For the rest of the year I made instant soup using hot water that came out of the tap in my room.”
The general perception is that extroverts are outgoing and confident whereas introverts are sociopaths who spend their days watching Star Trek at their mom’s basement. Yet, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Contrary to popular stereotypes, introverts aren’t anti-social loners who loathe interaction with the outside world. What is true however is that introverts are commonly misunderstood. By nature, they might be quirky, but they do not hate people. Introversion and extroversion are both biological personality traits and hardcoded to our DNA. Most of us are a mixture of both, with a slight tendency towards one or the other. Or as Carl Jung puts it: “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.”
And that’s all OK – despite the fact that the world seems to cater to extroverts and we are made to believe that only extroversion is acceptable. As Linus Jonkman writes in his book – if you google the word ‘extrovert’ it gives you job ads. If you google the word ‘introvert’ you get to read about mass murderess like Anders Behring Breivik.
In reality introverts have a lot of extraordinary qualities or as Forbes writes: “Introverts possess a treasure trove of strengths. They write beautifully, think deeply, and draw energy from authentic conversations and meaningful relationships. They listen to what others say, soaking up different perspectives and forming well-rounded opinions.”
We live in a world that embraces superlatives and is very much tailored for extroverts. It’s striking how still in this day and age only extrovert traits are sought-after. Susan Cain, author of ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’, writes “extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.”
This is especially evident in recruitment. Checklist for a perfect candidate almost without an exception is a list of personality traits used to describe an extrovert. This is no wonder. We tend to hire people who we can relate to – who are like us. When the people hiring are extroverts it’s no miracle that the person who would appeal to us – and who ultimately gets selected – would also be an extrovert. I find this an interesting paradox. On the other hand versatility is treasured and yet we emphasize the need to fit in. Somehow we are so set in our ways that we cannot see the woods for the trees. Associating introversion with a lack of confidence or shyness is misleading, as confidence doesn’t necessarily equate to loudness. This presents recruiters with a challenge and demands great ability to see beyond the shell of a person.
Being an introvert or an extrovert is comparable to being left- or right-handed. Neither is more right, the other one just might be slightly more common. Fortunately we have moved past the times when left-handed people were forced to become right-handed. Studies say that a third of the population are introverts and yet we only seek to recruit people who fill the characteristics of an extrovert. In the corporate world, with its emphasis on self-promotion and networking, many introverts feel immense pressure to act like extroverts for the sake of “fitting the mold.” Maybe it would be time to move past this.
Favoring extroverts ultimately leads to a homogeneous workplace where the fear is that no one is questioning the status quo. Similar minds tackle problems with similar problem-solving methods. This is worrying, as I for one believe that diversity is the spark that triggers innovation and can ultimately lead to great things. According to Kellogg School of Management. “…The perception is that people who mirror each other tend to have fewer disagreements. But what’s really happening is that in a homogeneous employee population, employees often support their allies’ viewpoints because it’s a way of being a team player, not because their suggestions are the best moves for the company.” University of California study shows that team leaders should be wary of extroverts. “The core of an extroverted personality is to be attention-seeking. It turns out they just keep talking, they don’t listen very well and they’re not very receptive to other people’s input. They don’t contribute as much as people think they will.”
Therefore being or not being an introvert isn’t really something one should think about. Introversion is simply a personality trait. Ultimately this is all part of a bigger picture and comes down to how people are managed. All that matters is that we understand who we are and realize that the person next to us probably isn’t anything like us – and that is all OK. I would like to believe that we have by now reached the point where workplace pushes for self-actualization. One should not need to make themselves “fit in” by trying to be something they’re not.
Overall I believe that we are most of the time playing it way too safe. We hire people who are similar to us because it feels safe, not necessary because they are the best employee for the position. We should be bolder. Way bolder. Why create a workplace where everyone thinks alike when we could create something that is so much more? My point is that diversity should be embraced not uproot. We should put more trust in people regardless them not being like us. As Google’s Head of HR puts it: “All it takes is belief that people are fundamentally good-and enough courage to treat your people like owners instead of machines. Machines do their jobs; owners do whatever is needed to make their companies and teams successful.”
I believe that a truly productive workplace is built on honesty, trust and acceptance. This sort of environment is only possible when individuals can be true to themselves. Only this way can we create an environment that makes people blossom. So, next time you’re hiring take the plunge and hire an introvert. Not just out of courtesy, but because it can be better for business. Trust that exceptional work will happen, given the right environment. Let’s brake free from the culture of distrust and build on foundations of trust and acceptance.
I leave you with this quote from the film ‘The Interpreter’:
“The gunfire around us makes it hard to hear. But the human voice is different from other sounds. It can be heard over noises that bury everything else. Even when it’s not shouting. Even when it’s just a whisper. Even the lowest whisper can be heard – over armies – when it’s telling the truth.”
@VHAho great post on an important subject
— Linus Jonkman (@LinusJonkman) April 12, 2015