Professional life seems to revolve around the extrovert. The ones thriving on social contacts, interaction, crowds and chaos. Those able to feel at ease among strangers within seconds. But what about the ones not eager to expand their already intimidating social circles — what about introverts?
Modern companies often value the personalities that are able to keep up with constant change, new actors and novel environments. Successful CEO’s too are often extroverted, surrounding themselves with other extroverts. Unconsciously, we have created a professional world that celebrates the extrovert and oftentimes frightens the introvert. That’s a shame, because introverts too contribute greatly to the performance and wellbeing of a company. If they’re given the chance.
During the nineteenth and early twentieth century, education and professional life revolved heavily around personal inquiry. Solitude was considered necessary for the mind to come to ingenious revelations. No wonder many great thinkers, novelists or scientists at the time often withdrew from the hustle and bustle of everyday life to contemplate in isolation. However, this appreciation for individual exploration no longer fitted the fast-paced development of the mid-century technological rush that surfaced after World War II. Focus shifted to collaborative efforts, doing before thinking and rapid development.
Retreating deep into the woods to find inspiration did not fit this emerging modern world view. This marked the end of an era in which the introvert flourished.
Today, business is often constructed around the talents and desires of extroverts. The open plan office for example. This contemporary concept, rapidly conquering the minds of interior designers and office managers as well as management gurus all around, reflects the essence of extroversion. Open, rowdy, social, direct.
For some, this is the ideal work space. For others, it’s limiting. Extroverts thrive on this open and accessible environment, but introverts are likely to suffer from it every once in a while. They need that figurative retreat into the woods to do what they do best: get creative. They need a room with a door.
The introverted colleague
Considering the values and talents of extroverts and introverts in any HR process, it’s important to remember that there is no clear-cut blueprint for either profile. It’s a spectrum, which allows for individual cases and overlapping characteristics. Someone might feel themselves leaning towards the introvert side of the spectrum, or the extrovert — but they might as well feel the perfect mix of both. The label you stick on it is not important. Understanding what it means for their needs, however, is.
It’s also important to be aware of your own judgement and bias; extroverted people tend to choose other extroverted people to do the job. The same line of thought goes for introverts. You trust the familiar. But as an employer, this means that you might be missing out on great talent.
Research(1) shows that adding introverts to a team can increase the level of creativity and productivity significantly. Not because they individually carry the workload, but because their qualities are strengthened when they work together with extroverts. However, it’s essential for them to be able to sometimes work independently and in a closed-off space, without any commotion or disturbances. In fact, introverts’ creative thinking is intensified while working alone. So please, do send them into the woods every now and then.
The possibilities and performance of a company are built on the composition of people that embody its vision. Today’s professional climate demands agility, adaptation and communication. But it also demands thoughtful contemplation, creativity and reevaluation. A company solely composed of introverts will probably function as poorly as a company only employing extroverts.
It’s a misconception that introverts by definition dislike extroverts. On the contrary, they often gravitate towards each other in life and work. Even though we are inclined to go with the familiar, we can’t deny the curiosity that comes with the unknown.
When people with divergent personalities come together, great things follow. New perspectives, valuable feedback, stretched comfort zones — results that keep your business moving.
So don’t be afraid to hire an introvert, they might surprise you. But make sure you give them (a) room to think.
(1) Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Crown Publishers, 2012.