Let’s hear it for the introvert

We’ve heard from Susan Cain in her book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking’ that Western society discriminates against introverts.

As a confirmed introvert myself, I do have a view on this, more of which later. But let’s first of all look at the enduring interest in the introversion-extraversion dimension. There is certainly an appetite to trade in this and other personality dimensions. Psychologists are only too happy to design yet another measure of personal characteristics and market it as the ‘next big thing’, yet another invaluable management tool. Yet in my experience as a psychologist, only a few personality dimensions have an enduring quality. Only a few have real substance, and have stood the test of time. I believe the enduring interest in Carl Jung’s work and its manifestation in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI) is a good example of how some personality dimensions really resonate and stay with us.

It’s no accident that MBTI assesses introversion vs. extraversion. Beyond this, there’s a wealth of evidence testifying to the existence of relatively few, stable and meaningful personality dimensions, the so-called Big Five. Again, introversion-extraversion forms one of these dimensions.

I believe the mistake is to put a value-judgement on this, or indeed many other personality dimensions. So returning to Susan Cain’s observation of a world full of maligned introverts, I believe that people do indeed put a value on extraversion over introversion. What I believe this does is confuse what somebody’s natural preference is, with how capable somebody is. Let’s take an example to try and bring this to life. If I’m asked to run a workshop on interviewing skills, I feel confident in my ability to do this. I know the subject area; I‘ve done it before; and the feedback I’ve received from workshop participants has been generally good (or maybe the disgruntled ones just haven’t spoken up!). That’s not to say that I don’t find running the session demanding. Introverts are like re-chargeable batteries. Charge us up, put us out in the world, and we’ll run for a while but sooner or later, we need to be plugged in again. Being plugged in often takes the form of quiet time and reflection. Extroverts on the other hand find being around other people as invigorating; other people is one place where they get their charge from. What we shouldn’t do is confuse what might be demanding to one person but not the other as one person being less good than the other.

I accept that we introverts are more likely to be misunderstood by virtue of simply giving less away, and therefore being less able to be ‘read’ by those around them. True, you might have to tease or prompt an opinion out of an introvert, but we promise to try and make it worth your while.

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