In praise of introversion

5 minute read
EMBA group chatting

Throughout my academic and professional career, I have noticed that those who sit back, take their time to observe, and introspect before speaking are some of the most intelligent and interesting people I’ve known. That impression has only been strengthened during my two-year tenure while completing the Executive MBA programme. Many of my most insightful, diligent and capable colleagues did indeed demonstrate introvert characteristics that inspired me to do this further analysis and write this blog.

Psychological theory divides us personality-wise into the categories of extrovert and introvert. Over the centuries, an impression developed that extroverts are successful whereas introverts are considered reserved, negligible, lame ducks, and sometimes even dull. For instance, the dictionary definition of an introvert is ‘someone comfortable focusing on their own thoughts and ideas’, a definition that I find profoundly inadequate and misleading.

In real life, our experiences are normally contrary to this generalised categorisation of introverts. Throughout history, we find many examples of immensely successful introverts: Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Einstein and Kafka to name just a few.

In reality, it’s in the practical arena that your qualities as an introvert or extrovert can be utilised to earn success. Politics or public relationships are fields in which charisma, public speaking, style, and attitude matter most and can influence thousands of people. But when it comes to the strategy, decision-making, critical thinking, and understanding the core of an issue, introverts tend to be more successful.

Sometimes extroverts tend to brag to make themselves look big, important, and sometimes assert themselves to gain respect. Their boasting leads ultimately to a lack of credibility. An ideal balance between introversion and extroversion involves knowing the right time to talk and the right time to remain silent. In rare cases, especially rarely amongst politicians, people can alternate chameleon-like between the two extremes in order to meet the circumstances, something to be achieved only with long experience and which cannot be precisely taught.

Keeping quiet is not just a quality but a characteristic worth adopting, especially when there is meaningless noise around you.

Silence adds a seriousness to your personality and keeps you away from the trouble that outspoken people often face. Sometimes, it shatters the confidence of a very frank and bold person if you can silently look at them without saying anything. They start thinking about you instead of focusing on their work. Not only does this let you focus on your work but it boosts your confidence as well. If you can smile in such a situation, it can confuse your opponent greatly.

Quiet people have some surprising qualities that ultimately lead to their success:

  • Listening — being a good listener means being able to accept advice well from others. This doesn’t necessarily mean that more talkative people are not good listeners, but that silent people often let others talk first, thus allowing them to analyse what others are thinking about.
  • Remembering — by listening rather than talking, especially about yourself, you can gain an advantage, for instance in a negotiation, by reminding the other (extrovert) party about what they just said or said long ago in contradiction.
  • Planning — quiet people tend to think and introspect more, affording them time to critically analyse different scenarios, which, in turn, implies excellent planning abilities.
  • Creativity — quiet people tend to think a great deal and link different scenarios with the situation they are encountering. This makes them creative thinkers and gives them the ability to come up with new and innovative ideas.
  • Selective vocabulary — being quiet means being careful, hence allowing you to choose your words more carefully; it is indeed viewed as a good quality to speak concisely.
  • Keen observers — being a good observer means being adaptable to your surroundings, which helps you to devise your next move and helps with strategising.
  • Selective in relationships — introverts are very selective in their social circle, and they prefer quality over quantity. An introverted businessman, for example, might associate himself with people who are meaningful and beneficial for him and his business as opposed to sycophants who readily accept all he says.
  • Trustworthy — silence is considered a sign of self-control, thus more quiet people are less likely to spill the beans than outspoken people who can be easily exploited to extract useful information. 
  • Self-awareness — whether a person is silent by choice or by nature, they tend to consider the possible outcome of their words and actions. They are more aware of their weaknesses and strengths and are more likely to address their flaws.
  • Practical — introverts don’t indulge in purposeless discussions, activities, or debates; they prefer productivity over pointless chatter. Accordingly, they are more practical in their approach instead of wasting time on irrelevancies.

Best utilisation of introverts in an organisation: as a leader/manager, you must know your workers to best utilise their capabilities in the best interests of the organisation. Here are some suggestions to maximise the capabilities of introverts working in any type of organisation.

  • Encourage them to speak their mind, not in meetings but in a more intimate place in case they are shy about speaking publicly. If they are not that shy but only take more time before speaking, they can be informed in advance about meeting agendas to prepare themselves well.
  • Boost their confidence by showing that you trust them more. This encourages them to do their best in terms of communication.
  • Advance their creativity by giving quiet people the ability to think more. Giving them confidence leads to the enhancement of their creativity, broadening their vision about any given task, and devising a plan.
  • Listen to them, since quiet people tend to become silent if they are interrupted while talking; listening encourages them to say more, meaning they will speak their minds more often.
  • Give them leading roles; introverts are less engaged in aimless actions; they tend to focus on their work. Giving them a leading role creates an environment of practicality at work and discourages futile distractions or controversy.

Once introverts are encouraged, given value and instilled with confidence, they have the ability to change the environment around them for the better. An introvert’s qualities help them toward success. Their ability to think deeply, their practical approach, their careful observation of the environment, trustworthiness, and self-awareness are some of the best qualities they possess. In fact, these are much-needed qualities and an essential adjunct to the more outspoken or sometimes even aggressive characteristics of the typical extrovert!