It was 9 pm. I rushed to the terrace of the hotel, hoping not to have missed the bride and groom’s dance performance. After all, dance is the best thing about any wedding.
My eyes searched for familiar faces and settled on a table on the extreme right.
Hands were shaken; pleasantries exchanged.
Somebody asked in an accusatory tone, “Why didn’t you come for the party last month?” Before I could garner a response, another quipped, “oh, she does not like going for such meetings; she is anti-social.”
Such instances have been too frequent in my existence on this planet. My preference for solitude is often mistaken as my dislike for people and my lack of social skills. For years, I thought it to be an inherent disorder in my personality, something that needs to be cured, until I laid my hands on the powerful and aptly titled work by Susan Cain, ‘Quiet : The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’
Are you an Introvert?
For the uninitiated, Cain describes introverts as “people who feel just right with less stimulation, as when they sip wine with a close friend, solve a crossword puzzle or read a book. Other people are very arousing.” To put it simply, introverts may enjoy a get-together but after a while they prefer to spend time alone or with people who matter. They avoid conflicts, listen more than they talk and are not comfortable with small talks.
Of course, our personality is shaped by our upbringing, experiences, and other traits, which make us much more complex than to be put in just two brackets. In fact, none of us is pure introvert or pure extrovert as, “such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.” At the same time, it could be an important factor to make significant life choices, so as to unleash your potential without draining yourself. To know which side of the introvert-extrovert scale you fall on, click here.
Why do naturally introverted people start behaving like extroverts?
When I raised this topic in front of my friends and colleagues, surprisingly many of them identified with being a closet introvert. These are the people who could totally pass off as an extrovert. But why do we need to project something which we do not identify with? Why are certain personality traits preferred over others?
The answer, interestingly, lies in industrialization and urbanization – With a growing economy, more people worked with strangers rather than with family & friends. Selling yourself became important. First impressions started mattering. Dale Carnegie became a household name. Self-help guides shifted focus from attributes like citizenship and manners to being magnetic and charismatic, to become not only a successful leader, but also a better person.
Is more always better? : My time at an IIM
To match this demand, our classrooms designs and activities began a transformation. The metamorphosis of lecture-driven studies to group work is a testimony of this shift.
I experienced it first-hand during my post-graduate studies at IIM Lucknow, where teaching through case studies & role plays is the norm – If you were the CEO of the company and you do not have all information, what decision would you take? Not only were you expected to take decisions quickly, and discuss them confidently in front of the class, your grades & social status also depended on your ‘Class participation’.
There were so many post-class talks, about talking in the class, that terms like ‘Desperate Class participation’ had to be coined. Course-selection depended on the share of CP marks as a % of the grade. Being an introvert, I felt I was not cut out to do this and had several meltdowns in front of my close friends. I even went to the extent of discussing this ‘issue’ with one of my professors who sympathetically advised me ‘to put myself out there even when I’m not sure.’
All this would have been fine if more talking was synonymous with better & smarter insights but multiple studies show that there is no such correlation. Research also shows that solitude is important for creativity as opposed to brainstorming in a team.
Do we need more inclusion and balance?
But does this mean that we should stop collaborating and start working in solitude? The answer is a resounding NO. While ideas might come from solitude, we need expertise from different fields to build on them. Internet is the perfect example of the power of collaboration. The key, in fact, lies in balancing and harnessing the power of both temperaments, which right now is heavily tilted in favour of the extroverts.
Organizations need to rise above than just paying lip-service to the cause of inclusion. Encourage ideas to come through different ways such as submitting ideas online or discussion in smaller groups. Design your work-space recognizing introverts’ need for down-time. Have flexible work-hours. Don’t look down upon work from home.
Teachers & Parents need to be cautious and not over-push their children to try new activities and work in groups. Understand when your child is giving you signs. It’s okay to be unpopular and quiet. It didn’t stop Steve Wozniak, Rosa Parks and Newton; why would it hinder your kid’s progress?
How to exert your quiet power?
As an introvert herself, Cain had sleepless nights before going for her Ted talk on this subject. Not all introverts are anxious of public speaking, but she was, which led her to join Toastmasters and hire an acting coach. She often thought about withdrawing from the whole thing. Her talk – as told by her husband later as she was too numb to even observe -received a standing ovation and is one of the most viewed & popular Ted discussions of all time.
The point is, as often suggested in the book too , that introverts need to identify and work on their ‘pet projects’. If you are an introvert reading this, think about the type of work you like in your current set-up. Find your ways to contribute. And make sure you communicate it, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Take training. Seek support from trusted colleagues. Stretch your temperament for things you love. There is nothing wrong with being an introvert as the world will often make you believe. Be the best version of yourself, not somebody else.
And next time you see me, walk up to me. Initiate a discussion. Talk about my latest blog-post. Most likely I’m not avoiding you. I’m just grappling with my own thoughts.
You know why dancing is the best thing in a wedding – You can express yourself without engaging in small talks.