What do Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Al Gore, Rosa Parks, Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, J.K. Rowling, Eleanor Roosevelt, Steven Spielberg and Steve Wozniak have in common?
Answer? Being an introvert.
Does that surprise you? Do you have an expectation that to be successful means to be loud and outspoken?
Do you media train or coach your senior leaders that way and encourage extroverted behaviours? – That’s a whole other blog post I’m mulling over at the moment.
What impact does being an extrovert or introvert have on your career? Over the past few weeks I have been reading about introverts, sparked by a couple of conversations with people in my network, and a recommendation from my sister-in-law to read a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can’t Stop Talking by former corporate lawyer Susan Cain.
As an extrovert, I was riveted to this book during my summer holiday. It has helped me see people, situations and work scenarios in a different light and it’s sparked numerous thoughts, ideas and conversations over the past few weeks.
What is an introvert?
Cain’s definition is that introverts have a preference for a quiet, more minimally stimulating environment: “Introverts tend to enjoy quiet concentration, listen more than they talk, and think before they speak, and have a more circumspect and cautious approach to risk. Introverts think more, are less reckless and focus on what really matters—relationships and meaningful work.”
What is an extrovert?
Cain says that conversely, extroverts are “energised by social situations and tend to be assertive multi-taskers who think out loud and on their feet.” She states that between one-third and one-half of Americans may be classified as introverts, though individuals fall at different places along an introvert-extrovert spectrum. People falling near the middle of the spectrum are called ambiverts.
Not sure what you are? Take this short quiz via Susan’s website.
An extraordinary talent
I’m going to review the book in a couple of weeks, but firstly, I’m proud to introduce a guest writer to my blog and I do so with Cain’s words ringing in my ears: She says that introverts bring “extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated” – so with that in mind, I’m going to hand you over to Helen Deverell.
Helen has been working in the internal communication industry for six years. She was listed in the Institute of Internal Communication’s 2012 30 under 30 list and was presented with the IoIC Rising Star award of excellence in 2011. I have the pleasure of mentoring her, and you can find her on Twitter @HelenDeverell.
We are planning to write an article together to review the book from my extroverted and Helen’s introverted view. I’m looking forward to knowing what she thinks of it. I know an ambivert, so may pick her brain too (you know who you are!).
Here Helen shares her personal view of being an introvert in an extroverted world and in a typically extroverted career choice. I’m privileged to provide the platform for her thoughts and I encourage you to comment below, Tweet her @HelenDeverell or me @AllthingsIC with your feedback.
Over to you Helen…
The introverted revolution in internal communication
Having faced accusations of being too quiet or shy for most of my life, I have always assumed it has been an affliction for which I need to apologise.
So when I found myself working in internal communications, my feelings of hiding a dirty secret were only amplified.
When accepting my first internal communication job, I had naively thought that I would spend my days writing articles, dreaming up campaigns and filming videos.
At no point did I think that my personality would come under scrutiny and that my ability to do my job could be quickly undermined if I wasn’t perceived to be outgoing, confident and wildly creative.
For some time, this has been a view that has frustrated me. My friends affectionately refer to me as ‘a thinker’.
I like to mull over ideas and consider different possibilities, think about how it fits in with the strategy and the different audiences we’re connecting with, while still being creative.
But on more than one occasion I’ve found my ideas being sidelined for those of a colleague that chances are has a louder speaking voice than me and thinks up crazy spontaneous ideas on the spot.
Whether these ideas ever become reality has never seemed to matter, for ever more that person is known as ‘the creative one’. (It is worth noting here that I have also had the pleasure of working with some fantastic people who valued the ideas I brought to the table).
Over time I have found myself fighting all my natural instincts and forcing myself to be more extroverted, whether that has been at networking events or in meetings or just around the office.
And while, I have certainly seen the benefits in doing this, and to some extent it has become natural, I have always felt like a bit of a fraud.
So when two IC colleagues recommended I watch a TED Talk by Susan Cain on the power of introverts, I was intrigued. I hadn’t realised other people in creative or demanding professions felt the same way as me.
Was it possible I wasn’t the only one faking being an extrovert?
I sat down one Saturday morning to watch Susan’s video and was quite honestly inspired as well as a bit emotional. She so accurately described the feelings of inadequacy that plague introverts such as me.
Susan identified how the world seems to crave extroverts and that there isn’t room for anyone that doesn’t fit into that ideal.
But, Susan insisted, they’re wrong.
While many of our institutions such as schools and workplaces favour extroverts through their open plan spaces and encouragement on collaboration in all areas, it doesn’t take into account that creativity often requires elements of solitude and reflection.
In fact research has never been able to corroborate the perceived link between extroverts and creativity.
Susan also pointed out that many introverted people are passed over for leadership roles despite the fact that research shows that introverts are more risk averse and are more likely to listen to the ideas of others allowing them to flourish.
In contrast, extroverts have a tendency to get so passionate and eager to put their own stamp on things that other people’s suggestions rarely make it to the surface.
But that’s not to say that extroverts are bad people! Or for that matter any worse or better than introverts.
Being extroverted or introverted is about how you respond to stimulation.
For example introverts feel most creative in quieter, lower key environments whereas extroverts prefer louder more collaborative situations. But whatever your preference is, Susan’s point was that a balance of both is needed to have the best outcomes.
Steve Wozniak (introvert) and Steve Jobs (extrovert) would arguably not have had the success they did with Apple had they not joined forces and the while it may sound extreme, the world could have been a very different place today.
Susan’s TED Talk inspired me to re-evaluate the way I view myself personally and professionally.
I decided to ask my Twitter network for their thoughts and not only did I get a quick and strong response, I was pleasantly surprised to find that many of my peers considered themselves introverts.
I was not alone! There were also extroverts, and interestingly ‘omniverts’; people who considered themselves a mix of the two.
I have now started reading Susan’s book Quiet and already I’m hooked. She has done a huge amount of research on the subject and really gets into the science of it. Watch this space for the book review.
Post author: Helen Deverell.
Thank you Helen for writing such an insightful and honest article. I’ve read it through a number of times and each time I am struck by something different and poignant.
What do you think? We’d love to know your feedback. Does this article ring true for you? If you’re an introvert working in internal communication, what works for you? You can use the contact form if you’d prefer.
I’m going to leave you with the Quiet Manifesto from Susan’s book and recommend adding Quiet to your reading list,
First published on the All Things IC blog 11 September 2013.
Updated: 23 March 2016.