Whether you are an introvert yourself or an extrovert who loves or works with one, this book is enlightening. Susan Cain wrote it to promote understanding and to empower the less outspoken part of the world. “I hope you take away a sense of entitlement to be yourself”… “Once you understand introversion and extroversion as preferences for levels of stimulation you can situate yourself in environments favorable to your own personality” – she calls these sweet spots – and feel more energetic. Extroverts are sociable because their brains are good at handling competing attentions at a party, whereas an introvert may feel overwhelmed by the noise and multitasking required of the group setting and prefer one-on-one on a serious topic… or a quiet evening at home.
Introverts are often individualistic – sometimes described as eccentrics – and independent thinkers. A note written by Charles Darwin makes me smile:
“My dear Mr. B… I am very obliged to you for (invitations) to your parties, but I am afraid of accepting them, for I should meet people there to whom I have sworn I never go out.”!
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who wrote Flow, studied the lives of exceptionally creative people and found that many were on “the social margins during adolescence” because their “intense curiosity or focused interests seemed odd to their peers”. As teens they may be shy loners, but many bloom into creative personas because solitude can be a catalyst for innovation.
Cain dispels the myth of brainstorming, finding that the autonomous employee come up with more resourceful ideas. A study found that top programmers had one thing in common: they all worked for companies that gave their workers personal space and freedom from interruption. I once worked long hours in an office where most of us were assigned to cubicles and I found it difficult to concentrate in the swirl of noise and constant disruption of people walking by my desk. A short time later I began to work for myself and was pleasantly surprised at how productive I became – and how much more I enjoyed working. I was more energetic since I could take a break whenever I needed and make up the time earlier or later in the day. (This need to recharge is something people who run on adrenaline find hard to understand.) The only thing I missed was going to lunch with my colleagues.
CEOs are often charismatic, but the highest performing companies in one study showed that were led by quiet, unassuming personalities who were thoughtful in their leadership style – rather than eloquent and decisive. Quiet persistence lies at the heart of excelling academically, but also the political triumphs of modest men like Nelson Mandela.
Sensitive children are apt to feel more guilty and anxious about their transgressions than others. Although hard for them, guilt is a building block of conscience and empathy that may also promote altruism and responsibility. Parents note: these are the easier kids to raise! Of course this doesn’t mean they are little angels – they may be seen as aloof or even unfriendly.
Here is a constellation of adjectives that people associate (rightly or wrongly) with the two different personalities.
Extroverts: expansive, sociable, gregarious, excitable, dominant, aggressive, risk-takers, thick-skinned, bold.
Introverts: reflective, antisocial, quiet, composed, nerds, cerebral, gentle, serious, shy, thoughtful, sensitive, modest.
People are complex so there are of course different kinds and degrees of introversion and extroversion. Who are the well-known personalities that you can categorize in either camp? How about yourself, your family or fellow workers?