A few weeks ago, Jack Speer sent me an email saying that there has been a lot of buzz in the Type® community about the advantages of being an Introvert. As the resident INTJ at the WTA, he thought I’d have some thoughts on the subject. And then he said I’d need to share them. So here we go. Whenever I conduct a group interpretation of the MBTI®, I will ask, “Do you think that there are more Extraverts or Introverts?” According to CAPT, somewhere between 47 and 55 percent of the walking around population are Introverts. When I share these statistics, someone in the group usually responds by saying, “But I thought there were so many more Extraverts.” To which another typically retorts somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “No, it just sounds that way”. And when I ask Extroverts if there is a question they always wanted to ask their introverted colleagues, one usually asks, “Why does it take you so long to say something in a meeting?” “That’s easy”, replied an introvert. “We have to proofread our thoughts first before we share them.”
As Forbes Staff writer Jenna Goudreau notes in her article, “The Secret Power of Introverts” the buzz about the advantage of Introversion heightened recently with the publication in January 2012 of Susan Cain’s Book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Cain talks about a value system, “The Extrovert Ideal”, that she maintains sets the norm in business organizations. According to Cain, organizations value more what the extravert brings to the table: talking a lot and rapidly, making quick decisions, working in a group, socializing at company functions, networking, and being about to talk easily to anyone. Conversely, she claims that the Extrovert Ideal casts Introversion as a “second-class personality trait somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.” By fostering environments like pod arrangements in schools and open work environments in corporations that facilitate group interactions at the expense of individual reflection, society is unthinkingly making it harder for the quiet, cerebral, reflective introvert to tap into their creative and original ideas.
While some might argue that Cain is guilty of some over-statements, my experience as a human resource development consultant who uses the MBTI® extensively suggests that she is on target. I have witnessed those who have a preference for Introversion struggle to get their ideas in play in the moment of a meeting dominated by Extroverts. As one manager said to me, “I think of brilliant things to say, three days later while brushing my teeth.” While Cain’s book has caused a lot of stir, Marti Olsen Laney’s 2002 book The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World, provided numerous insights about how Introverts who could be successful in an Extrovert world.
Both books provide brief guides to help the reader assess whether he/she has a preference for Introversion or Extroversion. And while Quiet focuses on the power of Introversion primarily on the vocational side and spends a lot of time building the case for Extrovert Ideal, The Introvert Advantage offers wisdom for the introvert in the domains of relationships, parenting, socializing, as well as the world of work. Both books emphasize that Introverts can work and play well with Extroverts and are not doomed to a secondary status. I have found that Introverts – myself included – can actually come across as Extroverts when two conditions are present. First, the Introvert is engaged in a conversation about a topic about which they have a passion and deep knowledge. Second, they are in a comfortable setting. Both authors suggest approaches to help create those conditions. As with all four of the MBTI® preferences, we need to leverage the gifts of both Introversion and Extroversion, not only in the workplace, but also in all other venues of life. Even though both Cain and Laney build a case for the introvert advantage, it is critical that we never lose sight of the gifts extroverts bring to the table as well.