Last year I read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. It’s a non-fiction book that was on most of the bestseller lists in the United States and Canada in 2012 and early 2013. Cain does a great job at explaining how introverts can contribute to a more creative, empathetic, reflective and – in one word – balanced society.
The thing about “quiet” people is that they are not actually quiet. As Carl Jung (Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology and the introvert/extrovert theory) says, introversion and extroversion are extremes opposites and most people fall somewhere between the two: “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.”
And that’s why I think we can learn from the “quiet” person just as much as we can learn from the “noisy” one. The challenge is that we are overwhelmed by noise that the valuable qualities of “quiet” people are sometimes overlooked. Hence the imbalance in society and one of Cain’s central tenants in her book and “quiet” revolution.
So what have I learnt from the “quiet” person in the room?
#1. Listening combats isolation
As counterintuitive as it may sound, the best listeners – and usually the quietest person in the room – are less likely to feel the same isolation as vocally assertive extroverts. They are focused on listening rather than talking. They don’t seal themselves off from other people waiting for their next moment to talk. They listen and empathize and, in time, their listening abilities bring them to the real meaning of the conversation and the concern, fears, hopes and wishes of those they listen to.
#2. Empathy and diversity of thought leads to better decision making
Groupthink, “yes” men/women, status quo – all are results of lack of diversity in decision making. By involving more points of view, we are better able to represent the interests of our stakeholders. Quiet people, because of their empathetic nature, tend to see more points of view and can challenge groupthink if they are given the right opportunity. (For more info on how to do this visit Cain’s blog – there are some excellent articles on how to involve introverts in decision making and creative processes).
#3. It’s not always about charisma
In workplaces today, there is an emphasis on collaboration which can sometimes lead to groupthink as mentioned above. The solution is diversity of thought and to appreciate ideas not from where they come from (i.e. rank, title, popularity) but on their own merit. Charisma is not always the trait of the best leader – see Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last – but it does seem to characterize today’s leader.
Cain states that while charismatic leaders may earn bigger paychecks, they do not have better corporate performance. Quiet people have equally creative and valuable ideas that may not be heard. The best ideas are not always the loudest ones.
In closing, there is untapped potential in the “quiet” person that we can only begin to benefit from if we start to balance introversion and extroversion in our organizations. Extroversion has been the ideal for too long.