Power of the Unspoken: Introversion in the Workplace
Extroversion has been fetishized in business for decades. In Quiet, Susan Cain explains that workplaces need a balance of both if they are to prosper – and Talent Acquisition must appeal to both sides of the equation...
According to the stereotype, extroverts have the perfect traits required for business; they have confidence, self-assuredness and a natural energy that lights up the workplace, exuding a personality that helps to exhibit the qualities that a company wants to be known for. Introverts, on, the other hand, are more of an enigma.
“Introversion – along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness – is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology,” writes the author and lecturer Susan Cain in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking.
“Introverts living in 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.”
Aside from the stereotypes, the truth is a lot less clearcut. Introverts can be loud, pull off exceptional presentations, perform on stage, manage teams and run countries; as Susan Cain explains, introversion isn’t an aversion to talking, but should be considered as ‘running on a different type of battery’. Extroverts recharge their batteries by interacting with others and enjoying external stimuli; introverts recharge their batteries in relaxed settings and by taking themselves away from stimuli.
In the current remote workplace, however, employees that are introverted to the point of being uncommunicative with their team, going off-grid, not answering emails and so on, can be detrimental to productivity and team harmony. Introversion is not a green light to do as you please.
Introversion vs. Extroversion: Finding the Right Blend
But away from the voice box, introverts have many cognitive abilities that make them the perfect counterbalance to some of the worst excesses of extroversion. The more thoughtful nature of introverts allows them to be measured in their approach and risk-averse; extroverts, always looking to charge their batteries with stimuli, are more likely to be risk-takers and headstrong in their approach.
Susan Cain uses the example of the Stock Market Crash of 2008 as an example of where introverts had been shunned where they were needed the most. Wall Street, an environment geared towards confident extroverts, found itself increasingly taking risks on loans when caution was required. Eventually the bubble burst.
“People with certain personality types got control of capital and institutions and power,” Boykin Curry, managing director of the investment firm Eagle Capital, told Cain. Curry had front-row seats to the financial meltdown, and knew that the wrong personalities had taken over. “People who are congenitally more cautious and introverted and statistical in their thinking became discredited and pushed aside.”
That said, dishonesty can be prevalent in both extroverts and introverts. See also greed, and megalomania.
Introversion in Talent Acquisition
The question for Talent Acquisition, then, is how to find that balance of extroversion and introversion in the hiring process. If appropriate, brand messaging should infer that the company appreciates diversity in character, and candidates should be made aware that their individuality is valued in the workplace.
Employees should be allowed to stay true to their nature where possible, and this can be reflected in the office. “If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don't let others make you feel as if you have to race,” Cain writes. “If you enjoy depth, don't force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single-tasking to multi-tasking, stick to your guns. Being relatively unmoved by rewards gives you the incalculable power to go your own way.
“You want to hire not only reward-sensitive types, but also those who remain emotionally more neutral… You want to make sure that important corporate decisions reflect the input of both kinds of people, not just one type.”
Offices can be adapted to encourage both extroverts and introverts, too. “At Microsoft, many employees enjoy their own private offices, yet they come with sliding doors, movable walls, and other features that allow occupants to decide when they want to collaborate and when they need private time to think. These kinds of diverse workspaces benefit introverts as well as extroverts, the systems design researcher Matt Davis told me, because they offer more spaces to retreat to than traditional open-plan offices.”
Together, introverts and extroverts can create an equilibrium that makes a workplace happier and more successful. Introversion is not a dirty word – it’s an unspoken power.