It’s not unusual for me to hear from my coaching clients that one of their problems is that they need to speak up more and to think on their feet. In some situations, clients have arrived at these coaching sessions with suggestions from their managers for areas to work on: “Please learn to speak up more in meetings,” or “Please be more outgoing, network more, get out there.”In these situations it would be easy to engage in a conversation to address the identified problem. However, Positive Psychology and Appreciative Inquiry come together to give me a strengths mindset. It’s from this basis that I ask my clients how they benefit from being quiet in meetings and the advantage of not being so outgoing. When they reply easily and with energy (and usually with a look of relief on their faces) it reveals that their quietness is their strength. They don’t have a problem; the people around them do.
Alert to the plight of introverts, I’ve noticed over the past few months a number of articles about the work of Susan Cain, a former corporate attorney and an introvert, who recently published her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
Here are some key points that I derived from her TED talk, blog, and other articles about introversion.
According to research, introverts make up one third to one half of the American population. Cain describes introversion as a preference for more quiet, less noise, less action, and for lower stimulation environments. Introverts are most alive and at their best when they are quieter. They are not anti-social, they are differently social. They enjoy being with others, but also prefer quieter places and times. They enjoy interacting with people but have limits. Introverts want company just as much as extroverts do, but they prefer it in either short doses or with people they know well.
“Social skills and teamwork are not unimportant. But the more freedom we allow introverts to be themselves the more likely they are to come up with their own unique solutions to problems.” (Susan Cain).
We all fall somewhere along the introversion / extroversion spectrum. There is no extreme. Ambiverts fall in the middle and have the best of both worlds. Cain provides a questionnaire in her book to measure where on the spectrum we lie. The questionnaire can also be found in the NPR article (link below).
For Parents of Introverts
Introverted children don’t need to be friends with everyone. They can have a small circle of friends and can play in quieter ways. They also need more time to find their comfort zone. Encourage them and support them by providing them ways to learn and develop in their own way. For example private lessons might be preferable to big noisy group lessons. “Kids need to know from their parents that this different way of learning is OK.” Cain also suggests that introverted children first develop in “areas of passion and mastery and to build a social life around that.”Our workplaces and leadership
Workplaces are increasingly set up for maximum group interaction, brainstorming, and group work that result in immediate ideas and less privacy. Teamwork is still of value, but creativity can also come from quiet reflective time. The most creative people in many fields are usually introverts. We should not stop collaborating, however we should be aware that solitude matters and for some people it’s the air that they breathe.
Cain refers to research by Adam Grant (Associate Professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania) which reveals that introverted leaders often deliver better results than extroverted leaders. When they are managing proactive employees they are much more likely to let employees run with those ideas. Some extroverted leaders can unwittingly get so excited they put their own stamp on things and other people’s ideas might not as easily bubble up to the surface.
- Be wary of listening mostly to the loudest voices.
- Listen to the listeners.
- Put people in the right environment to suit their temperament. Introverts thrive better in one set of circumstances, and extroverts thrive better in another.
- Feel proud and comfortable of your strengths if you are an introvert.
- Think about how workplaces can better support introverts.
- Value individuality.
- Find time for solitude, to unplug.
“Stop the madness for this constant group work. It’s okay to have casual chatty cafe style time where there is a serendipitous exchange of ideas which is great for both introverts and extroverts. However, we need more autonomy, privacy, and freedom at work.”
“Introverts are pretty excellent the way they are” ~ Susan Cain
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Crown.
Ancowitz, N. (2009). Self-Promotion for Introverts: The Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead. New York: McGraw Hill.
Cain, S. The Power of Introverts. Susan Cain’s Website.
Cain, S. (2012). Are extroverts happier than introverts? Yes but…. Susan Cain’s Psychology Today blog.
Cain, S. (2012). The Power of Introverts. TED Talk (19 minutes).
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. Video RSA interview (8 minutes).
Cook, G. (2012). The Power of Introverts: A Manifesto for Quiet Brilliance Scientific American Interview with Susan Cain.
NPR Staff (2012). Quiet, Please: Unleashing ‘The Power Of Introverts’. NPR interview with Susan Cain. Includes Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet Quiz: Are You an Introvert or an Extrovert?’
Peterson, C. (2012). A Quiet Positive Psychology: A quiet positive psychology would be a scientifically reasonable one. Psychology Today Blog.
Tartakovsky, M. (2012). Power of Introverts – Q&A with Susan Cain. Psych Central.
Reviews for Susan Cain’s Book
Given, J. (2012).Quiet, Please. Book review. Inside Story.
Ronson, J. (2012). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain – review. The Guardian.
Grant, A. M., Gino, F., & Hofmann, D. A. 2011. Reversing the extraverted leadership advantage: The role of employee proactivity. Academy of Management Journal, 54: 528-550.
Related PPND articles
Self-Promotion for Introverts (Book Review) by Timothy So
Teens who Bring Good Dreams to Life by Christine Duvivier (on the subject of daydreaming)
Photos: by Amanda Horne
What I particularly like about this article is the approach you took with your clients. Before treating certain behaviors as weaknesses, you explored how they work for people.
This is similar to the approach that Chip and Dan Heath call “Find the bright spots” in Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard: figure out what’s already working well and find ways to do more of it.
Your approach also reminds me of the interview I had with your compatriots, Barbara Heileman and Jan Elsner — https://positivepsychologynews.com/news/kathryn-britton/2009022218
Thanks for sharing this viewpoint.
Thank you Kathryn for including the link to your interview with Barb and Jan. We would often share a common interest in areas related to this kind of thinking. For example, Appreciative Inquiry.
Chip and Dan Heath use the term “bright spots” to describe internal success stories in organizations, as an alternative for externally seeking best practice. This goes for individuals too. We look outside ourselves for successes not remembering or knowing that inside ourselves we have bright spots. Over time these fade, therefore recalling them is an important practice.