Have you ever considered your own inward nature in light of your career? How about how you interact socially? Do you find yourself forced to meet others’ expectations to be outspoken and dynamic, even if you aren’t?
Consider the titles of extrovert and introvert: Both can be broken down into additional subcategories, such as someone who has cultivated the outward appearance of an extrovert, yet inwardly remains an introvert. However we portray ourselves to others, we all have a preference for the way we interact. This can carry over into our professional lives, sometimes leading to miscommunications and less rewarding interactions.
I came across an interesting book recently which helps identify personality and how it can expand beyond the borders or limitations it sometimes contains. It was titled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, written by Susan Cain. The title does specifically mention introverts, however it does not exclude extroverts or their preferred manner of interacting. Instead, it describes how society has altered its perception of people and their positive traits, morphing into an “extrovert ideal”; how some mannerisms and methods of interacting actually garner more respect without proving any superior knowledge or thought due to our evolving views of outspoken, extroverted mannerisms. Ms. Cain takes the reader from Dale Carnegie’s birthplace to the Harvard Business School, through a high-energy Tony Robbins seminar and the transformation of the American ideal of corporate America, and what we are perhaps losing along the way.
A great introduction to this shift in perception is this example from the book: At one point in American history, classic internal traits were appreciated and valued. Early character guides from the 19th century described traits one should aspire to:
By the early 20th century, business and sales was coming to the forefront of our culture, creating a new personality ideal. Advertising, self-help guides and career development began the shift from inward virtue to outward charm. Character guides espoused these traits instead:
The main difference, as the book points out, is while you could have cultivated those virtues from the 19th century, you could not so easily do so with the 20th century version. “You either had it or you didn’t.” And the bottom line was this: what if you were a quiet person who didn’t have the force of energetic persona? What if you weren’t “dominant” or “forceful”? As business grew by leaps and bounds, the new ideals embodied exactly those traits, not only for men, but women as well.
Another great example is this one, particularly effective in demonstrating a group dynamic: In an experiment at Harvard Business School, a team of students were gathered together and videotaped during a session. They were told to imagine their group had experienced an airplane crash in a remote location. The group would have to work together to survive. A wilderness expert was on hand to listen in and gauge whether they would actually survive or not. The most interesting part? The loudest and most insistent students in the group got more attention and agreement than the quieter students. Ironically enough, one of the quiet students was somewhat of a wilderness expert himself; yet when he spoke he was not listened to. Instead, the group agreed with the more vocal and insistent students. In the end, the wilderness expert called upon to rate their survival chances announced they would have all perished… but not if they had listened to the quiet guy with the knowledgeable suggestions.
What does this say about our society and how can we rectify it? In many cases fellow team members in our work environments naturally prefer to stay quiet and out of the limelight. As a result, their contributions or suggestions may not be welcomed as much as from a more aggressive personality. As the previous experiment shows, this could very likely bring about a weakness in the success of the workplace.
The next time your team is called upon to solve an issue or make a decision, listen just as much to those whose voices aren’t so easily heard. They may not have the visibility others have, but they also offer good suggestions and solutions. If you find drawing out these members of your team a bit difficult, try consulting with them in a quieter, less demanding environment. If you yourself are an individual who is uncomfortable with speaking up, try finding an alternative. Perhaps a one-on-one with your supervisor or manager would give you the opportunity to share ideas in a less stressful way.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is a well-researched book which documents the rise of forceful, energetic personality traits coming to the forefront as the ideal, while quieter natures have become discounted. The author discusses the fallacies of the “brainstorm” capabilities of a group and the way our school children are forced to work in group environments from an early age. She looks at the model of extroverted manager to introverted employees and vice versa, finding hidden strengths in each specific dynamic. Ms. Cain has compiled a great deal of fascinating research, ultimately creating an interesting and thoughtful book that speaks to the work environment, teams and individuals.
To learn more about this book, click here: