Having faced accusations of being too quiet or shy for most of my life, I have always assumed it has been an affliction for which I need to apologise. So when I found myself working in internal communications my feelings of hiding a dirty secret were only amplified.
When accepting my first internal communication job, I had naively thought that I would spend my days writing articles, dreaming up campaigns and filming videos. At no point did I think that my personality would come under scrutiny and that my ability to do my job could be quickly undermined if I wasn’t perceived to be outgoing, confident and wildly creative.
For some time, this has been a view that has frustrated me. My friends affectionately refer to me as ‘a thinker’. I like to mull over ideas and consider different possibilities, think about how it fits in with the strategy and the different audiences we’re connecting with, while still being creative. But on more than one occasion I’ve found my ideas being sidelined for those of a colleague that chances are has a louder speaking voice than me and thinks up crazy spontaneous ideas on the spot. Whether these ideas ever become reality has never seemed to matter, for ever more that person is known as ‘the creative one’. (It is worth noting here that I have also had the pleasure of working with some fantastic people who valued the ideas I brought to the table).
Over time I have found myself fighting all my natural instincts and forcing myself to be more extroverted, whether that has been at networking events or in meetings or just around the office. And while, I have certainly seen the benefits in doing this, and to some extent it has become natural, I have always felt like a bit of a fraud.
So when two IC colleagues recommended I watch a Ted Talk by Susan Cain on the power of introverts, I was intrigued. I hadn’t realised other people in creative or demanding professions felt the same way as me. Was it possible I wasn’t the only one faking being an extrovert?
I sat down one Saturday morning to watch Susan’s video and was quite honestly inspired as well as a bit emotional. She so accurately described the feelings of inadequacy that plague introverts such as me. Susan identified how the world seems to crave extroverts and that there isn’t room for anyone that doesn’t fit into that ideal. But, Susan insisted, they’re wrong.
While many of our institutions such as schools and workplaces favour extroverts through their open plan spaces and encouragement on collaboration in all areas, it doesn’t take into account that creativity often requires elements of solitude and reflection. In fact research has never been able to corroborate the perceived link between extroverts and creativity. Susan also pointed out that many introverted people are passed over for leadership roles despite the fact that research shows that introverts are more risk averse and are more likely to listen to the ideas of others allowing them to flourish. In contrast extroverts have a tendency to get so passionate and eager to put their own stamp on things that other people’s suggestions rarely make it to the surface.
But that’s not to say that extroverts are bad people! Or for that matter any worse or better than introverts. Being extroverted or introverted is about how you respond to stimulation, for example introverts feel most creative in quieter, lower key environments whereas extroverts prefer louder more collaborative situations. But whatever your preference is, Susan’s point was that a balance of both is needed to have the best outcomes. Steve Wozniak (introvert) and Steve Jobs (extrovert) would arguably not have had the success they did with Apple had they not joined forces and the while it may sound extreme, the world could have been a very different place today.
Susan’s Ted Talk inspired me to re-evaluate the way I view myself personally and professionally. I decided to ask my Twitter network for their thoughts and not only did I get a quick and strong response, I was pleasantly surprised to find that many of my peers considered themselves introverts. I was not alone! There were also extroverts, and interestingly ‘omniverts’; people who considered themselves a mix of the two.
I have now started reading Susan’s book Quiet and already I’m hooked. She has done a huge amount of research on the subject and really gets into the science of it. Watch this space for the book review.
This blog first appeared on All Things IC on 11/09/13