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The power of introverts

February 5, 2014

When we think of diversity—especially within the context of a formal diversity and inclusion program—we typically think of ethnicity, religion, culture, and sexual orientation/identity. But humans also exhibit diversity in their personality traits.

Carl Jung popularized the terms “introversion” and “extroversion” to describe how people respond to stimulation. Extroverts crave lots of stimulation. Introverts feel most capable when they are in quieter, more low-key environments.

The extrovert bias

One-third to one-half of people are introverts. Some of the world’s most inspiring leaders have been introverts, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, and Gandhi. And introverts such as Chopin, Dr. Seuss, and Steve Wozniak have delivered contributions that have had a profound influence on business, culture, and the arts. In her best-selling book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author and self-professed introvert Susan Cain argues that today we design our workplaces, schools, and religious institutions for extroverts. This bias creates a waste of talent, energy, and happiness.

Louder isn’t necessarily better

Cain_Susan
Author and self-professed introvert Susan Cain.

Susan’s intensive research in psychology and neurobiology combined with prolific interviews show that introverts are capable of great love and great achievement, not in spite of their temperaments, but because of them. But when people get together in a group—and contemporary business culture is highly group-oriented—they instinctively mimic others’ opinions; often they will start aping the opinions of those around them without even realizing it. And groups follow the opinions of the most dominant person in the room, even though there is zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.

So it’s important not just to recognize that introverts are different than extroverts, but to take full advantage of what they have to offer by acknowledging and accommodating their environmental and social needs. This doesn’t mean there isn’t enormous value to group constructs. It does mean that organizations must create working conditions that will enable both extroverts and introverts to thrive.Susan is overcoming her own inherent introversion to give a keynote speech at our 2014 Institute for Leading Diversity & Inclusion. In her address, she will share insights and stories that will permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.

What type of environment do you thrive in? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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