Our culture made  a virtue of living only as extroverts.  We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for center.  So we lost our center and have to find it again. ~ Anais Nin

  • Could we have prevented the Wall Street crash of 2008?
  • How do introverts and extroverts work together in love?
  • How can introverts act like extroverts and still have energy?
  • If introverts were in charge would Kim Kardashian matter at all?
These are only a few of the questions answered in introversion expert, Susan Cain’s, remarkable book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking.

A Little Information About Introverts and Extroverts

According to Susan Cain 30-50% of people are introverts. Introverts are seen as contemplative souls who are sensitive to stimulation and do their most rewarding work in the familiar confines of their own minds. They are renewed by solitude and a lack of distractions. Contrary to popular belief, introverts do enjoy time with people but usually prefer small groups to large crowds. Quiet cites Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt as introverts.

Extroverts are beings of action or response.  They get energized by interaction with others and think on their feet or as they talk. John F. Kennedy or Tony Robbins are good examples of  extroverts. According to Quiet, both nature and nurture affect our temperaments.  There are certain brain pathway formations we are born with that affect temperament while our environment influences how much we are able to stretch outside our nature.

Introverts are advisors and extroverts are persuaders.  The world needs both temperaments in order to thrive.

We still live in a country where extroversion is seen as the ideal temperament but there is a quiet revolution underway.

Personality Over Character: Kim Kardashian Over Atticus Finch

According to Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking, what we value about ourselves shifted when we moved from a Culture of Character (duty, honor, reputation-how we behave in private) to a Culture of Personality (dominant, energetic, magnetic – how we want to be perceived).  This change in perception took place in the early 1900s.  At this time business was replacing farms and country folk were moving into the cities.  Suddenly, the solitude of rural living where the individuals we worked and socialized with were either family or life-long acquaintances, were replaced with strangers who quickly became competitors for jobs and mates. Instead of striving to maintain harmony in small communities it became necessary to stand out and fight for a place in the pecking order.

Mastery of storytelling and first impressions became more important than mining the internal for ideas, integrity and solace.  This applied to all areas of life including: work, education and love.

Private Pondering Vs. Teamwork

In Quiet we learn that over forty years of studies have proven that work performance gets worse as group size increases, yet over 70% of today’s employees work in open-plan offices and brainstorming is as common as copy machine malfunctions.

 Somewhere between cubicles and open bullpen style the introvert’s opinion regarding office layout and group dynamics was not heard.  Perhaps she was trying to read a book in her car over her lunch hour  while her cafeteria-loving co-workers took a vote and decided wide open work spaces with zero privacy were the way to go. Perhaps she gave her two cents but it was not the loudest or first response so it was deemed not as intelligent. Quiet tells us that people are often influenced by quick talkers with strong voices.

In one study involving over 600 computer programmers, top performers all came from organizations who valued privacy and personal space. The most productive companies provided  niches where employees could retreat to think and concentrate.

Nevertheless, the majority of companies promote teamwork and constant communication over individual idea generating.

I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee. ~ Steve Wozniak, Apple

Extroversion and Introversion in Education

It seems our nation’s classrooms are preparing students for group projects in corporate life.  A quick peek into any elementary school classroom will reveal pods of desks and classroom-combining to encourage teamwork between both students and teachers. Like open-office plans, groupings of desks supposedly enhance social ability and productivity.  This may work for a while for kids who thrive on constant interaction and stimulation but for introverted kids this is hell. People and interruptions are draining for children with an introspective nature.  They need downtime to recharge but instead swim in a stew of noise, classmates and curriculum transitions. Not only are they expected to be academically active and enthusiastically on-task but if they show any signs of fatigue or emotional distress they are stigmatized. All of this pressure in the classroom makes me wonder if there is any correlation between chronic extroverting and the increase in special needs children in schools.

The expectation to be gregarious and above all social, is prevalent not only in primary and secondary schools but also in the most elite halls and college campuses around the country.  Susan Cain interviewed quiet Chinese student, Don Chen, on the sacred grounds of Harvard Business School. She learned that at Harvard Business School it is mandatory to project leadership, participate confidently and often in class and that social activities outside the lecture hall are just as important if not more than academic pursuits.

Professors even set up websites to help pull reticent students out of their shells because weak verbal ability reflects on the whole school.

Chen often finds himself exhausted from non-stop socializing. I go out at night like it’s my job, he says.

Neither extroverts nor introverts are more intelligent but studies show that extroverts are often seen as more brainy because they talk more and respond quicker (even if they aren’t certain of the answer).

Speak with conviction.  Even if you believe something only fifty-five percent, say it as if you believe it a hundred percent. – How to be a good class participator, Harvard Business School

Quiet: The Power of Introverts points out that many of the Wall Street firms were filled with ivy league bankers making impulsive decisions with conviction during the housing market and sub-prime loan fiasco that precipitated the 2008 market collapse. Perhaps more thoughtful advising and decision-making would have been helpful?

Where is Introversion Honored?

The United States, built out of rugged pioneers who left their safe comfortable lives to explore and establish a new country, is primarily extrovert based.  Far eastern countries with fewer immigrants are more pro-introvert.  For instance Chinese children who are sensitive and reserved are said to be dongshi (understanding), a term for praise. While Americans are all about following our bliss or celebrating our uniqueness,  Asians often work to create harmony within the group by not ruffling feathers.  While Americans score unbelievably high when rated on personal confidence, Tibetan monks find euphoria while meditating on compassion. Introversion in Asian cultures is a cultivated soft power based on quiet persistence rather than boisterous risk taking.

Introverts in Love

Introverts value intimacy.  Meaningful conversation with one or two close companions is ideal.  In love and in life introverts prefer depth to breadth.  It is not unusual for an introvert to come home from work worn out from constant stimulation (brainstorming. lunch meetings, open-plan office space) and want to relax with good food, an exquisite book and the company of their honey. This is refuel time.  If their loved one is another introvert, not much explaining is required but if their significant other is an extrovert they may have to assure them that all is well.  It’s not a rejection when they want to have downtime. Now an extrovert may see throwing a dinner party as relaxing to which the introvert may balk.  An understanding or balance of desires establishes a common ground for a mixed couple to use as their manifesto. Maybe the couple agrees to throw two dinner parties a month in order to satisfy the social extrovert.  Perhaps the extrovert agrees to leave the introvert alone for the first hour when they come home.

Another difference between the contemplative and the action oriented is the way they disagree or argue.  Introverts may cry or remain emotionally distant in order to minimize aggression (which they find unsettling). Extroverts tend to jump in with elevated voices and confrontational tactics, which to them is simply engagement. If not understood this difference in conflict resolution styles can lead to a cycle of irreparable friction.

The keys are awareness and empathy.

 It is all workable provided no one dominates to the point of smothering the other’s sense of being.  Opposites attract but they need to be aware of the other’s perspective. It does no good to take the other’s actions or lack there of as personal affronts. The two traits are different but different does not equal bad. In fact, if appropriately harnessed the combination of styles can be incredibly illuminating, a fly-on-the-wall view of how the other half lives.

How to Play Nice and Prosper

How do we make it work?  How can introverts and extroverts coexist and move the world forward?  If we allow the introvert to whisper advice and counsel the extroverts in the art of contemplation then the outgoing warriors can make good decisions before they leap into action.

Perhaps introverts will become more skillful at pseudo-extroverting.  We’ve been practicing since the early 1900s.  One sure-fire way to create energy while extroverting is to get lost in work that is meaningful.  Introverts soar when they engage in work they love.

Perhaps extroverts will step down from their valiant steeds and listen more to patient advising.  Maybe the extroverts will see the value in pausing and reflecting and sit down so that others may stand up.

Would it be so bad if we went back to a culture of character where Atticus Finches are more sought after than Kim Kardashians? I think not. On with the revolution.

Have we lost ourselves in gregariousness?  Could a re-balancing of temperaments lead to a better understanding of who we are? Would there be less unhappiness if solitude and reflection were encouraged more than self-promotion?

*Read this book, please.:) It has amazing research and incredible points regarding the benefits to the world if both introspective and action-oriented temperaments would join forces and exist on equal footing.

** For my HSP readers – Susan Cain does include a section on the correlation between introversion and high sensitivity.  She attends a retreat with sensitivity expert, Elaine Aron.

Further reading about introversion, quiet and needing space:

Hush: The Sound of Silence 

All Peopled Out

There’s Nothing Wrong With You.  You’re an Introvert. (space2live)

Introvert Relationships: Love Me or Leave Me but Please Don’t Need Me (Too Much) (space2live)

In Defense of Introverted Parents  (space2live)