The Power of Introverts in Today’s Teams

Guest Blogger, Ankita Narayan:  “Ankita is an English Literature Postgraduate whose passion for stories propelled her to start writing her blog and later, host her own podcast; (featured as one of  iTunes’ New and Noteworthy podcasts in 2017); and in three years of blogging, worked as a Google Create India Partner. Her podcast, interviews real life heroes, sharing stories of how they got to where they are today and Ankita has made appearances on BBC Asian Network, Awaz FM, Deccan Chronicle and Islam Channel. It’s her love for stories that has shaped her career so far, which continues with the Google Digital Garage.”

 

 

Between group recruitment drives and modern open plan workspaces, building a career and earning a living are both dominated by what Susan Cain refers to as the “Extrovert Ideal” in her 2012 bestselling book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. She cites her seven years of extensive research that went into this book, which explains the biological, psychological, neuroscientific and evolutionary aspects of introversion, which deem it not only natural (roughly 50% of workers identify as introverts) but also “the next great diversity issue of our time”. The latter part of her statement is owed to the way introverts have been treated like second class citizens pretty much since the dawn of the American industrial revolution in the late 19th century, where a shift took place from a “culture of character” to a “culture of personality”. The most charismatic and outspoken person in a room thus began to dominate conversations and leadership roles, although it is very hard to establish a correlation between a confident speaker and the generation of great ideas.

 

This inevitably has led to one of two outcomes in most workplaces –

  1. Introverts missing out on opportunities to grow.
  2. Introverts acting as “pseudo extroverts” to fit in, thus getting into the unhealthy cycle of acting out of their true characters in order to avoid the bias against their identities.

Susan Cain on Introversion 



As one can imagine, failing to tap into the unique talents of over 50% of any given workforce isn’t ideal. So here as some of the strategies suggested by Cain to avoid the same in modern workplaces and teams:

 

  1. Avoid over-dependence on “The New GroupThink”: Cain argues that people (not just introverts) come up with their best ideas individually and that brainstorming can be a mistake as the loudest (and perhaps the most charismatic) person in the room will be more likely to voice opinions, leading to potentially better ideas not being voiced at all. Cain sights research arguing that for most people (again, not just introverts), opposing a dominant voice or group consensus causes their brains’ amygdalae to light up, which in turn causes fear of rejection, leading to the inevitable hesitation to voice potentially valuable ideas.
  2. Allow for Physical Space: Cain sites that the the average workspace has shrunk in size by about 60% since the 1970’s. While the open plan workspaces are an extrovert’s dream with more accessibility to vibrancy and energetic conversations all around, the average introvert tends to suffer mentally and physically as a result. There are stats showing reduced productivity, impaired memory and higher rates of illness among introverts due to a constant exposure to a highly stimulating environment. Allowing for removed physical spaces within offices where employees can retreat to in order to recharge from time to time is ideal as solitude and quiet can be crucial for their creativity.
  3. Allow for More Written Communication: Not only does this prevent people from saying the wrong thing at the wrong time without thinking, but it also allows introverts to commit the social act of communication “in the midst of solitude”, thus letting them dwell on their ideas for a little bit more and empowering them to share the same without the fear of perceptible rejection. Reading, along the same lines,  is also a “deeply social act” for introverts that allows them to get into other people’s heads in the most non-obtrusive way.

It’s important to recognise that an inclusive workplace is the result of a balancing act. In no way is one personality trait superior to the other, but it is essential to recognise the potential loss for organisations and teams by catering to only one type of employee. Leadership and creativity can be honed equally by both sets of people, the key being to identify who is best led by whom, and who should be allowed to run with what idea. Introverts basically are sensitive to high stimulation which leads them to become good listeners, planners and thinkers. This makes them work really well with proactive team members who thrive with great sounding boards. On the flip side, extroverts thrive on high stimulation, leading them to become the best people for collating teams, encouraging friendships and motivating passive team members. The best outcomes can be achieved by ensuring the right kinds of people work together and by providing the right space and environment for each individual to thrive.