The Quiet Power Of Introverts


Hiren Kumar BOSE engages Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That  Can’t Stop Talking, in an e-mail tête-à-tête, on the power of introverts:

HKB: What are the distinct advantages of being an introvert?

SC: Research has found that many of the most creative people are introverts. This is because solitude is an important ingredient of creativity, and introverts crave solitude. Prof Adam Grant at the Wharton School found that introverted leaders outperform extroverts when their employees are proactive, because they let them run with their ideas [Extroverts are better with less proactive employees, because they can rouse and inspire them]. Introverts are persistent and reflective. Introverts and extroverts are equally intelligent, yet introverts get better grades because they stick with problems longer.

HKB: People often equate introversion with being antisocial, shy and not confident. What’s the relationship between shyness and introversion?

SC: Shyness is the fear of social judgment; introversion is the preference for quieter environments. They overlap to some extent, but psychologists disagree to ‘what,’ or extent of, degree. Certainly, there are many introverts who are not shy.

HKB: If chance encounters are a crucial ingredient for creativity so is solitude. However, we continue to indulge in group activity to find solutions. Do they help?

SC: Brainstorming sessions are great at establishing trust and morale, but people brainstorm better ideas when they’re on their own. This doesn’t mean there’s no place for group work. It’s best to create on one’s own first and then come together with the group.

HKB: Are relationships stable if it is extrovert versus introvert, or extrovert vs extrovert?

SC: Either way can work. The key is mutual understanding. I do believe that there is a great yin and yang between introverts and extroverts when these relationships work well.

HKB: How does an introvert change their communication style if they are in an environment with a lot of extroverts?

SC: Anyone can push themselves to speak a little faster, a little more loudly, smile more, and so on. But, try not to do this too often — it is stressful over time.

HKB: As we age we all seek quiet. Do we become introverts with age?

SC: Yes, most people become more introverted with age. If the task of the first-half of life is to put yourself out there, the task of the second-half is to make sense of where you’ve been.

Excerpts From The Book

“A shy man no doubt dreads the notice of strangers, but can hardly be said to be afraid of them. He may be as bold as a hero in battle, and yet have no self-confidence about trifles in the presence of strangers.“ — Charles Darwin

Today we make room for a remarkably narrow range of personality styles. We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We see ourselves as a nation of extroverts — which means that we’ve lost sight of who we really are. Depending on which study you consult, one-third to one-half of Americans are introverts — in other words, one out of every two, or three, people you know [Given that the United States is among the most extroverted of nations, the number must be at least as high in other parts of the world]. If you’re not an introvert yourself, you are surely raising, managing, married to, or coupled with one.

If these statistics surprise you, that’s probably because so many people pretend to be extroverts. Closet introverts pass undetected on playgrounds, in high school locker rooms, and in the corridors of corporate America. Some fool even themselves, until some life event — a layoff, an empty nest, an inheritance that frees them to spend time as they like — jolts them into taking stock of their true natures. You have only to raise the subject of this book with your friends and acquaintances to find that the most unlikely people consider themselves introverts.

It makes sense that so many introverts hide even from themselves. We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal — the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He favours quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong. She works well in teams and socialises in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual — the kind who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.” Sure, we allow technologically gifted loners who launch companies in garages to have any personality they please, but they are the exceptions, not the rule, and our tolerance extends mainly to those who get fabulously wealthy, or hold the promise of doing so.

Introversion — along with its cousin‘s sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness — is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.

The Extrovert Ideal has been documented in many studies, though this research has never been grouped under a single name. Talkative people, for example, are rated as smarter, better-looking, more interesting, and more desirable as friends. Velocity of speech counts as well as volume: we rank fast talkers as more competent and likable than slow ones. The same dynamics apply in groups, where research shows that the voluble are considered smarter than the reticent — even though there’s zero correlation between the gift of gab and good ideas. Even the word introvert is stigmatized — one informal study, by psychologist Laurie Helgoe, found that introverts described their own physical appearance in vivid language [“green-blue eyes,” “exotic,” “high cheekbones”], but when asked to describe generic introverts they drew a bland and distasteful picture [“ungainly,” “neutral colours,” “skin problems”].

But we make a grave mistake to embrace the Extrovert Ideal so unthinkingly. Some of our greatest ideas, art, and inventions — from the theory of evolution to van Gogh’s sunflowers to the personal computer — came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune in to their inner worlds and the treasures to be found there.

HIREN KUMAR BOSE, a senior print and digital media communicator, has worked with leading English newspapers in India. He was till recently the Editor-in-Chief of a Mumbai-based media house that specialised in lifestyle-themed periodicals. Bose, who’s travelled widely on international assignments, over the last 35+ years, is presently an independent journalist. He contributes regularly to leading web portals and print journals. Apart from being the contributing editor of the Swiss luxury watch portal, WatchWorld, Bose is also a weekend farmer and active blogger. He manages the blog, Sunday Farmer, which has a devoted following among farming enthusiasts across the globe. This article is ©Hiren Kumar Bose.

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