Quiet, Please: I’m an Introvert and Proud of It

by Helen Whelan

I love to listen. I’d much rather ask questions than talk. I like to receive information and think about what is being said. Sometimes, I’ve been asked whether “I get it”. Often that has been code to me for, “I’m making an extrovert, or a heavy talker, nervous.” But, really what is going on is that I’m deeply listening and want the person to elaborate further. (Of course, there are exceptions to this).

Hi, I’m an introvert. (You don’t need to clap.:))

NPR recently did a wonderful interview with Susan Cain, the author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. She explains introversion and extraversion and how extroverts became the ideal for leaders in the 20th century. (Not all leaders are extroverts. Bill Gates , Mother Theresa, and Joe DiMaggio are and were considered introverts.)

“Suddenly, people were flocking to the cities, and they were needing to prove themselves in big corporations, at job interviews and on sales calls.”

But, Cain argues that we’ve gone too far:

“It’s quite a problem in the workplace today, because we have a workplace that is increasingly set up for maximum group interaction. More and more of our offices are set up as open-plan offices where there are no walls and there’s very little privacy. … The average amount of space per employee actually shrunk from 500 square feet in the 1970s to 200 square feet today.”

This would make an introvert wretch. I know it because it happened to me. I worked in an open cubicle environment where the stimulation was not energizing, but overwhelming and not productive for me. I felt for my co-workers who could sense my dread as they approached. Needless to say, this was not the right work environment for me and I quickly learned how to maneuver my way out of that situation. (lucky for the company too).  

For those of you who might think this is anti-social, it really is about where we get our energy. After all, we want workers to thrive and be their most productive. Right?  For introverts, energy comes from deep one-on-one connections or from the ability to focus deeply on a task or thought before giving their opinion. They don’t want all the interactions and interruptions that energize extroverts.

So, the next time, your organization wants to build teams by having them work together as a group on a project, don’t be surprised if you see some unenthused workers. Cain explains it well here:

“None of this is to say that it would be a good thing to get rid of teamwork and get rid of group work altogether. It’s more just to say that we’re at a point in our culture, and in our workplace culture, where we’ve gotten too lopsided. We tend to believe that all creativity and all productivity comes from the group, when in fact, there really is a benefit to solitude and to being able to go off and focus and put your head down.”

Amen.

Sometimes teamwork doesn’t mean being together all the time. People can have the same goals but work in different ways to achieve them, very much with the team in mind. Solitude, focus, alone time, quaility listening time,uninterrupted. Give an introvert that and it’s like rocket fuel.

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