Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Be Proud You Are An Introvert

                                        Be Proud You Are An Introvert! 


It's important to feel positive about your personality type.  But you may have been criticized for being an introvert, described as shy, stressed, socially awkward, quiet and withdrawn. If you are a closet introvert, keep reading. You’ll find why its great to be an introvert. Until now most people preferred to be called extroverts.  This country is the most extroverted nation in the world, and the extrovert has been touted as the ideal personality, sociable and gregarious, action oriented.  I’m bringing you the rest of the story.

 

I am proud to be an introvert: along with Einstein, Chopin. JK Rowling, Steven Spielberg and many many others. I’d like to help you understand, celebrate and feel comfortable with your life as an introvert.  If you're an extrovert, I'd like you to understand your introverted friends and perhaps your introverted spouse and children.  Start with two articles I published in the Advice Line section of this website: "Are you an Introvert or an Extrovert?" and "Who Rules the World? Introverts or Extroverts?"  Then I'd like to introduce you to a wonderful book which was just published, "Quiet. The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain, Crown, 2012.  You can check it out at the library or, better still, keep it to underline and cherish.  Cain is an introvert who makes us all proud. The book is comprehensive, extremely well researched and makes us happy with quotations such as "There's zero correlation between the gift of gab and good ideas." Let me say there is no difference in important characteristics (such as intelligence, emotional health and social agreeableness) between introverts and extroverts, just differences in sensitivity and patterns of behavior.  It's important to emphasize that shyness and introversion are different characteristics. Introversion is a behavioral preference while shyness is a fear of social disapproval.  It's certainly possible to be a shy extrovert like Barbra Streisand who experiences paralyzing stage fright during her performances.

 

I was fascinated by Cain’s description of the history of the cultural shift to extroversion. I wasn't around in 1899 when a popular social manual, "Character: The Grandest Thing in the World" was published. Although character is still seen as somewhat important, or at least given lip service, characteristics such as honor, reputation, morals, integrity, duty, golden deeds are now seen as less important than personalities which are dominant, forceful, energetic or magnetic. Interestingly, the author of the book I mentioned switched his tune, by 1921 producing a social manual called "Masterful Personality." The 1920s also developed the term "inferiority complex" to describe individuals who may not appear self-assured in public. Today introverts may even be accused of being maladjusted or psychiatrically diagnosed as suffering from "social anxiety" when they are simply behaving in a manner which is socially comfortable for them.  It's important to remember that true character consists of internal values which are not always readily apparent in social interactions. Extroverts may tend to brag about themselves, while introverts who live moral lives will not broadcast their virtues.

 

Our culture today celebrates action oriented leaders and too often is suspicious of intellectuals.  Cain’s research reinforces the self-confidence of introverts while also being helpful to the business community. She discusses "the myth of charismatic leadership", explaining that extroverts and introverts practice different styles of leadership which can be effective in different situations.  She describes research which has shown that extroverted leaders may be more effective when employees are passive, but that introverts are effective leaders when employees are proactive and take initiative. Extroverts tend to be socially dominant and implement their own business strategies which may allow workers to become followers.  Because introverts are good listeners, they encourage coworkers to become leaders and take initiative in their professional careers.  Cain states definitively that "the ranks of effective CEOs turn out to be filled with introverts."  In this culture we tend to assume that assertive leaders are the most effective and we rate quick talkers as more effective than slower or more deliberate speakers. Research, however, has not verified these assumptions. 

 

Also helpful to business is Cain's chapter "When Collaboration Kills Creativity: The Rise of the New Groupthink and the Power of Working Alone."  Introverts do have a creative advantage over extroverts, and the supposedly superiority of the group brainstorming model has been disproved by research. Today over 70% of employees work in an open plan environment. Although the open plan has been thought to produce greater productivity, research has demonstrated the opposite: that the top performers in business work for companies where they enjoy the most privacy, personal space, control over their work environment and freedom from interruption. Open plan offices not only reduce productivity, they also elevate stress, increase physical ailments, impair memory, cause social disruptions and high staff turnover.

 

Cain discusses the fact that extroverts are more reward sensitive and risk-takers.  Introverts are more successful at regulating their feelings of excitement and delaying gratification when appropriate. These different characteristics result in performance differences in personal lives as well as in the business world. While extroverts do better under time or social pressure or on multitasking, introverts think before they act, stay on task longer and work more accurately. While introverts are not smarter than extroverts, they do obtain more graduate degrees.

 

Throughout the book Cain explains and supports the introvert’s personal style, showing the many advantages of this style to individuals as well as society. Instead of feeling different and deficient, introverts can end up feeling comfortable in their own lifestyle and proud of themselves.  Cain compared introverts to orchids who can wilt without support, but under the right conditions "can grow strong and magnificent."  Cain does discuss ways in which introverts can maximize their social personality when needed.  Generally, however, she recommends that they remain within their comfort zone, living with the appropriate level of simulation for their personalities.   At times introverts act more extroverted, especially in social situations where this type of behavior is the norm. Cain describes "self-monitoring" where some people can learn to modify behavior according to the social demands of the situation. While this kind of adaptation can be useful, Cain admonishes that the introvert not try to assume a personality style foreign to their character. She states "This is not self-monitoring; it is self-negation."  Everyone needs to feel comfortable in their personality and their behavior. The extrovert needs stimulation, while the introvert flourishes with more limited or controlled stimulation and what she calls "restorative niches" in their daily lives. Cain finishes with a discussion of the communication gap between introverts and extroverts and advice about dealing with the opposite personality type in social situations or relationships.

 

The moral of the story: Be yourself!  It’s important to honor and cherish yourself as well as your friends and colleagues, whether introverts or extroverts, and always follow the golden rule.


Postscript.  An alert member on the Chatham Chatlist told me about an inspiring talk by Susan  Cain on TED Talks.  You can find it here: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html