This post is part of a short series I have written on introversion and extroversion. Read my previous two posts: The Lonely Introvert and Born To Be Wild (Or Not) to find out the difference between introverts and extroverts, and whether there is a biological basis for this difference.
“I wish she’d contribute more in class”
“She needs to speak up more”
“Maybe soon she’ll come out of her shell”
Throughout my time at school, the feedback at parents’ evening was always the same (apart from those couple of times when I was in fact told that I talked too much – how ironic the world is). Apparently, my lack of “putting my hand up” and joining in was a problem. If I wasn’t sharing my answer to a maths problem with everyone, or reading out my work in English, I wasn’t making a “positive contribution” to my class; I wasn’t helping myself to learn effectively. But what if being forced to work in groups and tell everybody our every thought in class and work actually stifles some peoples’ creativity?
The ability to work in groups and to communicate our ideas is of course an extremely important skill, and one which by this point I have become much better at (so if you’re a potential employer or admissions tutor of some sort, please don’t take this the wrong way). Clearly I see the value of these skills, particularly in my chosen subject of science, or else I wouldn’t be here, sharing my ideas with you. I completely agree with the critiques of my previous teachers: I should have contributed more at times, and although I did improve (in certain subjects more than others), I was never the loudest or boldest in my classes (and never will be) and so I still seemed to be offering less to discussion.
We Favour Extroverts Without Even Realising It
Job advertisements and university admisssions pages often advertise their desire for a “well-rounded” individual; a strong communicator and a teamworker. While I’m not saying this isn’t a valid desire for employers or universities, this type of personality seems to be increasingly necessary, even for jobs which traditionally would not require large amounts of group work or communication. Extroverts, who feel energised from socialising are more inclined to take part in group discussions, to collaborate and add their opinion into the mix than introverts. Whether this means they have something more valuable to say than those who choose to keep their ideas to themselves, is another question entirely. In fact, much like my teachers at school, we encourage introverted children to become more extroverted, and “come out of their shells”, sometimes even seeing extreme introversion as some kind of personality defect. Introverts can of course communicate effectively. They are often excellent listeners, and therefore good teamworkers and leaders: there’s nothing worse than a leader who doesn’t listen, but this seems to be a greatly undervalued trait.
In the kind of environment which favours those who shout loudest, introverts can sometimes be overlooked. They often feel their creativity is stifled from having to come up with ideas in a crowded environment, sitting in a big group and brainstorming ideas. Introverts may be more productive, and free to be more creative in their own space, without peer pressure or the watchful gaze of their colleagues. Maybe the ideal set-up would allow them to develop their ideas alone, free from judgement or competition, and then join a group later to discuss what they have come up with, and collaborate when needed. Everyone thinks a little bit differently, and while these kind of work environments can work excellently for extroverted personalities and boost productivity, it can actually stifle introverts.
We Need To Find A Balance
There is huge value in collaboration and the discussion of ideas: two minds are better than one, after all. Scientific advances are rarely made alone, and they would never be known unless scientists can communicate their findings to the rest of the world. One famous example is the scientist, Henry Cavendish, who discovered the hydrogen atom and measured the density of the Earth. He was notoriously shy, solitary and regarded as eccentric. Because of his shyness, he avoided socialising, even to the point of avoiding publishing his work. After his death, it was found out that he made discoveries, which other scientists had been credited for, simply because although he’d got there first, he never told anyone what he had discovered.
This example is a clear case for making sure we are all provided with the tools we need to effectively communicate our ideas and findings, and I can’t stress enough how important this is. Introverts do need to learn to work productively in groups and speak up for themselves, or else they will face being overlooked when surrounded by louder personalities.
But it’s not all about how introverts can help themselves to be noticed. While it’s great that we’re embracing everybody’s ideas and working together, we’re not utilising introverts as well as we should be. Maybe we need to think about how we can truly get the most out of everyone, playing to our individual strengths. Perhaps we could perform Myers-Briggs type tests on employees, not for discrimination, but to find out where in the workplace each individual would fit, and how to best utilise everyone’s strengths. We need to allow introverts to become comfortable with the way they think, to embrace their need for solitude, not critisise it, if we want them to reach their full creative potential.
As ever, thank you for reading. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section: do we need to do more to incorporate introverts in a way which allows them to be comfortable and productive, or is it up to the introverts to adapt themselves to the demands of teachers and employers?