“There once was a boy so quiet and shy, he used to run home from school when the bell rang, to avoid socializing with his classmates. Like many shy people, this boy sided instinctively with the oppressed. As he grew older, he learned to speak out on their behalf—but remained a shy and quiet man, believing that these traits were his source of spiritual strength. The boy’s name was Mohandas Gandhi, and he later uttered, for me, the most important sentence in history: In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
This excerpt from Susan Cain’s recent TED Talk, The Quiet Revolution (2014), recapitulates that the tendency to be reserved and reflective is associated with many people who bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world.
Our lives are shaped as much by our personalities as by culture, religion, or gender. How we interact with people, our choices in relationships or careers; how we bounce back and learn from our mistakes depends a great deal on where we fall on the introversion-extroversion continuum. In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Cain (2012) speaks about how Introversion is different from being shy. While shyness is the fear of social judgment, introversion is a preference for an environment with less stimulation.
According to Jung (1971), introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, while extroverts toward the external life of people and activities. Extroverts crave large amounts of stimulation but introverts feel their best when they are in quieter environments where they can concentrate, most of the time.
Nowadays, when being social and outgoing is prized above all else, being an introvert can be difficult. According to Cain (2012), “Introverts living under the ‘Extrovert Ideal’ are like women living in man’s world discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are.” In India, a culture with strong family values and large social gatherings, people are often expected to socialize and open up to extended family members which can be very daunting. Many times, an introvert’s quietude is perceived as impolite or lacking respect. Others may mistake silence for ignorance or even insolence. Yoon (2014) says “Introverts listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and focus on relationships. Introverts focus on the meaning of events around us, while extroverts focus on the events themselves.”
Research shows that extroverted leaders are better at leading passive employees because they are able to motivate and inspire them. Introverted leaders however are better at leading proactive employees as they tend to listen more carefully, making them more effective leaders of vocal teams. They are more open to suggestions which makes their employees feel valued, encouraging them to work harder (Grant, Gino & Hoffman, 2010).
Introverts have much to offer at the workplace, yet they are often uneasy in this gregarious and structured environment with a lack of privacy hampering their productivity. The dominant, assertive, and rarely speechless get ahead, while the pensive and inaudibly knowledgeable tend to not get a word in edgewise. In order to cope, many mask their introversion to blend in and circumvent the ‘shy’ or ‘antisocial’ labels (Ronson, 2012).
Introverts however are very valuable to organizations as they often provide a different perspective along with innovative and creative solutions. Unlike extroverts, they spend more time prudently thinking about and analyzing problems before deciphering them. Along with their attention to detail, they are also more persistent and give up less easily. Cain exemplified this in her book through Einstein’s words: “It’s not that I’m so smart. It’s that I stay with problems longer,” (Cain, 2012).
Introverts need to recognize their uniqueness and where they can shine. After all “the secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamp lit desk,” (Cain, 2012).