The Power of Introverts

Our workplaces, the way we meet, the way we teach and the way we interact in a team, is designed for extroverts. Open plan, group brainstorming, team projects and high profile “celebrity” leaders are all part of the rise of the “extrovert ideal” which is growing in contemporary society. This tendency is permeating our culture to the detriment of introverts and impedes their significant contribution to our teams, workplaces and our lives.


Introverts are the ones who prefer listening; they innovate and create, dislike self-promotion and they favour working on their own rather than working in teams.


So how do we capitalise on the strengths of introverts and create a balance in our workplace?


I spend a lot of time developing people’s skills to help them better understand each other’s behavioural style when interacting. I work with loud ambitious groups, the quieter softer-spoken groups, and the groups with a strong mix of both the outspoken and the under-spoken behaviour styles.


The “extrovert ideal” is one I find strongly encouraged in most workplaces. We’re subliminally and explicitly encouraged to be “open” and to generate charisma, to exude confidence, and to never admit “loner” tendencies or shyness. Susan Cain’s excellent bestseller Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking takes on, and then effectively dismantles, this mythos.


Cain makes a convincing case that we undervalue introverts to such a degree that we lose an enormous amount of valuable insight that only they can provide.


Consider the last meeting you attended. While you might think everyone’s voice was heard, very often it is only the loudest extroverted attendees who contribute when gathered around a conference table. Few meeting organisers have learned to reach out to introverts by encouraging written ideas and contributions. As a result, we all pay the price by missing out on valuable input that is often more considered in nature.


I agree with Cain’s argument that we undervalue introverts but I would also argue that it is worthwhile in assisting introverts to become more outgoing. I encourage them to step up and be commanding and pioneering from time to time, particularly if aspects of their job require some of these behaviours. I would also strongly argue that some introverted tendencies are necessary in our top executives, and I spend just as much time teaching “celebrity” leaders to be more humble, less outspoken and more considered in their decision making.


In Jim Collins’ book Great by Choice (see our article Do you work for a not so great leader) Collins argues that a Level 4 leader has many of the extrovert tendencies typical of D and I DiSC styles; larger-than-life personas, a drive for high recognition and ego driven . In contrast, a Level 5 leader is more humble and modest, more plow horse than show horse, and drives detail-driven results, much like the C and S DiSC styles.


If you are interested in personality theories, you’ll like this book. If you suspect you are an introvert and want to hear about your strengths as well as ways to overcome some of the obstacles society has placed in your way, this is definitely one to pick up. If you are an extrovert who suspects many of those you work with are introverts, then this book might do wonders for your interactions.


Remember — while it’s tempting to think of introversion and extroversion as two nice big groups that we can sort everyone into neatly, that is unfortunately not the case. Here’s the key—introversion is not a synonym for “shy” and extroversion is not a synonym for “outgoing.” Dr Phil says that “human behaviour is not rocket science – it’s hard” Human behaviour is complex but this book helps explain some of the complexity we see each day


To further explore the personality styles of your team consider one of our DiSC profile workshops


What is your view? Tell me on our LinkedIn discussion page.


Some tips for working with introverts or to harness your own power as an introvert are;.


  • Understand that introverts thrive in environments that are not overstimulating; surroundings in which they can think before they speak.
  • If you want to get the best in a brainstorm session with your team, don’t simply throw them into a meeting and assume you’re hearing everyone’s ideas. Allow people to work alone first with workshop agendas or questions before coming to work in a group
  • Introverts are careful, reflective thinkers who can tolerate the solitude that idea-generation requires. Many creative people are introverts who are most creative in the quiet.
  • Give your introverted staff the space they need. Be mindful that they may need to recharge while alone
  • Realise that our culture rightly admires risk-takers, but we need our “heed-takers” more than ever to ensure a balanced outcome
  • Recognise introversion as a strong and important personality trait for a healthy workplace.