The world around us has a very misguided impression of introverts, because everybody places an enormous value on extroverts. Introverts tend to turn inwards mentally. They feel more energized by being alone and sometimes avoid large groups of people.
Extroverts get their energy by interacting with others. Introverts need quiet, minimally stimulating environments, extroverts require high stimulation to feel their best. Introverts prefer quiet time with a friend or two, extroverts seek loud, boisterous parties with a roomful of strangers. But ignoring the importance of introverts is a loss to society and mankind. They make great leaders, great thinkers and great philosophers, painters or writers.
Designed for extroverts
Our society- educational institutions, workplaces and social environment are designed for extroverts. Whether it is group work in schools and colleges or project work in offices, we are told to work as a team, thinking and doing collectively. The open-plan offices encourage this style of work. In families and in social situations, the gregarious and extroverted people grab the limelight while the introverts are not so popular.
There is a belief that introverts are incapable and shy and not good enough. As a result many introverts try to overcome this by making an effort at being an extrovert – but this only makes them unhappy and frustrated because they are pretending to be what they are not.
Teamwork is to be used with thought
What we need to do is to understand and value introverts because they contribute tremendously to the world around us. Many great people- from Darwin to Picasso to Dr Seuss, from Rosa Parks to Gandhi to Eleanor Rosevelt – worked alone, did their best work when on their own. Contrary to recent thinking group work does not always foster creativity – it often leads to the dominant member’s views and opinions being imposed on the others even when these are not the most creative or productive. It is not that team work is bad, it is not – but it needs to be used with a little bit of thought.
Introverts spend their time alone, they read and reflect – this gives them the time and opportunity to ideate, create and be productive. Research by a management professor at Wharton, Adam Grant, has shown that introverted leaders often deliver better and more productive outcomes than leaders who are extroverts. They encourage and let their talented team members build and nurture their own ideas rather than forcing their own opinions on the team. They are not egotistical – they have the bigger picture in mind and work towards the larger goal.
Reflection, thinking and creativity
Research by two psychologists, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist says that most creative people in different fields are introverted by nature because they work in solitude which is a critical constituent for reflection, thinking and creativity.
On the social front, introverts are not anti-social or shy as most people tend to believe. Being shy is a fear of social judgement but introverts are not fearful of being judged. Neither are they unfriendly – they are differently social – they like one-on-one or small group interactions. They like people in their lives but they also have a need for solitude, for their time and space when they are not answerable to anyone but themselves and when they can be at creative, productive best.