Susan Cain - the voice of the introvert
Susan Cain makes some hugely important points in her TED Talk, a long overdue defence of the introvert, the roles they can play and the value they can add within business and society. Her basic premise is that as society we are attuned to the voice of the extravert and value noise over quiet. So many of the ‘self-help’ books and websites almost view introversion as a ‘condition’ and that ‘the introvert’ has to work hard and learn to be an extravert.
Jung (who coined the terminology) argues that extraversion vs introversion is where we draw our energies from: extraverts from their surroundings and environment, introverts from within. It is not about sociability or shyness but about how we orient ourselves to the outside world. Extraverts can spend time alone, but this will deplete their energies and they will have to seek out external stimuli to re-energise. With introverts sure they can party but this will deplete their energies and they will only really to re-energise by having some ‘me time.’
With extraverts the neural processing often occurs through the mouth, so they will speak their thoughts out easily, often changing their minds as this is, after all, just thinking it through. Introverts will typically think it through inside their heads and then the answer or conclusion will pop out through their mouths, perfectly formed and complete. We can see here some of the potential problems when extraverts and introverts don’t understand each other. It is about understanding and accommodating rather than introverts being forced to inhabit the extravert territory.
Susan makes the point that “society has a cultural bias against introverts.” We think that should be ‘some societies.’ Certainly the US is an extravert-centric society but the UK less so and some Asian countries even less so. However it is fair to say that western society does value the extravert. We can see In the US president Barack Obama an introvert who has learned to ‘extravert,’ and who often does not do this successfully, as in the first presidential debate where he needed the silence to gather his thoughts.
The western world also often values extravert leaders, yet as Jim Collins has pointed out, and indeed ‘proved,’ introverts often make the better leaders and leave a better legacy. As Collins said: “Charismatic style CEOs find it hard to let go of the buzz that comes from having intense, direct personal influence…a charismatic leader is not an asset; it’s a liability companies have to recover from.’ Maybe a little harsh but a point well made that the old assumptions and prejudices are easy to slip into. Introverted leaders tend to give staff more autonomy and leave a legacy rather than the huge gap charismatic leaders often leave. Staff may sit around campfires singing songs about the recently departed extravert CEO; but the departed introverted leader has left structure, legacy and self-determination.
Susan Cain’s book: ‘Quiet: the power of the introvert’ has many, often very personal anecdotes to illustrate her points. Paradoxically it has led to many speaking engagements proving the age-old point: best to be ourselves. The Latin root of the word ‘education’ is ‘e-ducato’ which means ‘leading out.’ So rather than trying to be like the other person ‘lead out’ the best in you! So extravert or introvert let’s be ourselves and learn to accommodate. Maybe the quiet revolution has begun; maybe it began quietly a long time ago.
Are you an introvert trying to get your voice heard, or are you an extravert trying to figure out what the silence means? We’d love your views – please post them in the comment section below.