Sometimes I wish I were more outgoing. I can be if necessary; however, I find it mentally draining and will retreat to my own personal space given the chance. If you’re an introvert, I’m sure you can relate. Solitude while doing the things we love, or time with small groups of our closest friends, is what recharges our batteries and gives us a sense of balance in today’s fast-paced society. But both personally and professionally, our world often values the characteristics of extroverted individuals: being natural-born leaders with the gift of gab, being friendly and approachable, being “team players,” etc. That’s not to say introverts aren’t any of those things; we just tend to excel in and gravitate towards the more reserved, independent, and low-key environments which are not often found in today’s classrooms or workplaces. In her TED Talk, Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, explains why expecting introverts to conform to an extroverted way of society does a disservice for everyone.
Specifically, Susan points out that school classrooms (pre-pandemic) are set up to foster social activities. There may be four or more desks facing each other, and students are often required to work together on group projects and assignments. Likewise, we see offices set up in much the same way, with open-concept floor plans to maintain communication and collaboration. Sometimes leaders use group brainstorming sessions to come up with new ideas. This is where extroverts shine! But what about the introverts whose creativity is sparked when they work independently or whose productivity is better when they can put their thoughts on paper instead of thinking “off-the-cuff?” As Susan explains it, “Groups famously follow the opinions of the most dominant or charismatic person in the room, even though there’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas…You might be following the person with the best ideas, but you might not. And do you really want to leave it up to chance?” The bottom line is that expecting the best work to come out of groupthink may be a disservice to introverts, extroverts, classrooms, and companies. Allowing individuals to work in the environment in which they can best perform is key.
In closing, Susan offers three calls to action to foster a change in attitude towards introversion.
- Stop the madness for constant group work.
While group work is important to teach people how to work together harmoniously, we should equally be encouraging deep thought, autonomy, and privacy.
- Go to the wilderness.
Perhaps, not literally. But there are benefits to unplugging and using that time to reflect, think, and create.
- Open yourself up to the world.
This is a call to both introverts and extroverts. Whatever makes you YOU, share that with the world.