Back in January, when I started working for Katoka, I became very excited when, while researching possible blog topics, I encountered Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. For a little while, it generated quite a bit of interest online. Cain managed to get an opinion piece into the New York Times. Jenna Goudreau wrote a much discussed article for Forbes. And so I started to hope. Hope for a change in how the world in general and the business world in particular sees us introverted people.
It all has to do with the fact that being extroverted has not only become the social norm for “right” behavior, but also a measure of a person’s quality in the workplace. Everything is geared to this standard regardless of whether it is actually in any way helpful. It’s all about teamwork and group thinking, neglecting the good that can come from solitary innovation – and not just from introverts.
This is not to say that everything perpetrated in the pursuit of better performance and results is bad. There are certainly situations in which teamwork is crucial. But that does not include every possible situation, as the new open plan offices and immense focus on brainstorming sessions and similar things would like us to believe. Sometimes, it is necessary to take a step back and think about something. That is true for everyone, no matter whether they are introverts and extroverts.
But what for those of us who prefer to work alone? Who prefer solitude over social interaction any day? As Susan Cain pointed out back in January, we’re pretty much left in a world that neither understands us nor gets the most from our contribution. Which would be a bad thing if there were only a few introverts around, but research suggests that at least 30% of people fall on the introverted side of the spectrum. What are they all to do if being extroverted continues to be heralded as the ultimate ideal, if social skills continue to replace actual skills in job offer descriptions and if they constantly have to act in a way that is contrary to their nature?
I’ve been lucky. I found a job that allows me to work on my own without any need for networking or similarly dreaded social outings. Of course there are situation where I have to step out of my usual role and act like an extroverted person, but it only happens occasionally and thus is actually helpful – just like the most boisterous person surely benefits from sometimes acting like an introvert.
But on a larger scale, nothing has changed since January. Cain’s book came and went; it had its fifteen minutes and then was largely forgotten. Things are the same in the business world as they were before and the norms are not being questioned. Of course, it was probably extremely naïve to think they would be. But wouldn’t it have been nice if introverts writing success stories in business the world over despite having to act against their own nature could have owned up to it and been even more successful with who they truly are?
And one has to wonder: if the research is correct and about every second person is introverted, how could they not strive to change this situation? Is it just that they are not loud enough? It might really be time to take a leaf out of the extroverts’ book and speak up about these issues. Difficult as it might seem. I’m sure many of you feel the same way.