A number of years ago Susan Cain wrote a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I personally loved the book as it brought to light many of the problems inherent in being an introvert in an extroverted world.
My daughter has been experiencing this dichotomy in her Spanish class in Junior High. She is being marked on how much she participates in class. Wow, talk about something designed negatively for introverts. By her very nature she is not someone who willingly speaks up in class and interacts with people. She is an introvert, like her mother and father, and sits back and observes people. But this is not getting her good marks in school. Penalized for being an introvert. If you take out the interaction portion of her mark she is an A student. If you look at the just the interaction portion she is a D student. So how is that a student who scored 100% in one quiz and 89% in the term exam ends up with a 70% overall?
Because she is an introvert.
Susan Cain hit a nerve when she wrote the book and she realized it. When you have a book that has almost 4300 customer reviews you know that it has hit a nerve, particularly since the book is not mainstream literature.
Here are some stats from the “Quiet Revolution” website, a site that Susan Cain formed after the book became a success. (Yes, as always take the stats with a grain of salt, but I think that you will believe the stats after thinking about them).
- 50% of workers self-identify as introverts
- 64% believe that their talents are not being “fully harvested” (kind of an odd phrase)
- 70% believe that they are not working at their maximum potential
- 96% of leadership self-identify as extroverts
So, our leadership is extroverted, but they are leading introverts. Does anyone see a disconnect here?
Let me show you an example where the extrovert / introvert relationship breaks down. Let’s say you attend a staff meeting and someone is bringing up something that needs a decision. At the meeting the information is brought forth on the topic and at the meeting people are asked to make up their minds. Introverts don’t work like that. Introverts like to think about things before committing to a course of action, but there is no time for thinking in an extroverted world. Questions are asked and decisions are made based upon, to an introvert, is a complete lack of knowledge or understanding about the problem. Introverts are asked, on a continual basis, to make a decision based upon minimal information and this causes the introverts to, almost literally, freeze. A decision? They want me to make a decision? But I don’t know what the answer should be. I’m not sure that I really understand the problem.
Whereas extroverts recharge by hanging out with friends, introverts recharge by reading or performing other activities with minimal social interaction. People are different, but we treat everyone the same. Have you ever been to a meeting where a topic has been discussed and someone looks at you and says “So, <insert name here>, what do you think we should do?” If you freeze or feel extremely uncomfortable you are either an introvert or you were sleeping, but in either case you feel pressured to answer.
If we are alienating half of our workforce, making 70% of our workforce believe that they are not working at their maximum potential, how do we go about fixing it?