Introversi­on rules: Why quiet should reign at the office

Don’t ignore introverts. Your business needs them


HANDS UP IF you don’t like to talk in meetings unless you really need to say something. Prefer working on your own? Find team bonding days utterly and excruciati­ngly hideous?

Control yourself now – you might just be an introvert.

Introvert is not a dirty word, trust me, I know some much dirtier ones. But Western culture has idealised extroversi­on to such a level that we learn from an early age that we should be outgoing and outspoken, because squeaky wheels get more delicious bacon grease.

But introverts are not alone. According to Susan Cain, author of the best-selling book Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, latest studies show that at least one third of people are introverts. And far from being boring, introverts achieve super amazing things, as demonstrat­ed by Microsoft’s Bill Gates, human rights activists Gandhi and Rosa Parks, and Apple’s Steve Wozniak.

However, as noted by Jack and Suzy Welch (yes, the, “manager of the century”, Jack Welch) in a 2008 column for BusinessWe­ek, entitled “Release your inner extrovert”, large companies prefer extroverts and “over time, many introverts stagnate in large organizati­ons”.

The Welch argument is that introverts can work hard and deliver to expectatio­ns – or beyond – but they rarely get their due.

“Indeed, big companies are so tilted towards extroverts that introverts within them often experience a dynamic not unlike the one faced by many women and minorities. They have to constantly overdelive­r just to stay even.”

In an interview with CBS’ Jeff Glor, Cain says she’s an introvert who has sometimes had to “put on a false persona to get through the day,” which is draining, but required because “our schools, workplaces, and religious institutio­ns are designed for extroverts.”

An example of this is the open plan office – which is great for extroverts, who are stimulated by noise, lights and people. But introverts enjoy lower levels of stimulatio­n and working alone. And in fact, as a January 2014 article in the New Yorker reports, this might actually be better for everyone.

Organisati­onal psychologi­st Matthew Davis reviewed over one hundred studies about office environmen­ts and found open plan offices “were damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivi­ty, creative thinking, and satisfacti­on” – so they’re cost- efficient but inefficien­t. Which is an excellent fact to bring up at performanc­e reviews.

Cain’s book isn’t a diatribe against extroverts. She notes that many people identify as confident introverts and others call themselves shy extroverts. So if you think you’re a bit of column A and a bit of column B, you probably are.

But her argument is that our bias “against introversi­on leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness.”

In her TED talk, Cain describes realising as a child at summer camp that reading isn’t cool because it’s a solo activity and to fit in, you’ve got to join in. So she stopped reading for a summer. Which is such a waste.

In the same way, she argues that when it comes to creativity and leadership, companies need introverts doing what they do best – being careful, listening to other people, not taking unnecesary risks.

She quotes research from the prestigiou­s Wharton school suggesting introvert leaders deliver better outcomes than extroverts, partly because they are better at allowing other people’s ideas to flourish.

Cain’s quiet revolution is gaining momentum. Since its release in 2012 her book has been published in 35 languages and sparked numerous articles and conversati­ons – including a February 2014 cover story in Time magazine entitled “The upside of being an introvert (and why extroverts are overrated)”. Penelope Whitson is a word nerd with a fondness for syntax, cats and lolling about scoffing cake. She tweets on an irregular basis at @PenelopeWh­itson

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