Revenge of the introverts

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Contrary to popular opinion, an introvert is not someone who is anti-social or shy.

Do you hate crowds and small talk? Is your idea of heaven a weekend with nothing to do but spend time with your family and read a book? Do you find it exhausting to be around people all the time - even if they are people you really like?

If the answer to these questions is yes, the chances are you an introvert. Contrary to popular opinion, an introvert is not someone who is anti-social or shy. Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that aren’t over-stimulating.

Unlike extroverts, who are the life and soul of the party – and need to be around other people to recharge their batteries – introverts need a lot of quiet time and reflection. They crave time alone and are happiest in their own inner world.

Where you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum is the most important aspect of your personality – the ‘‘north and south of temperament’’ as the scientist JD Higley puts it. It influences our choice of friends and partners, and how we make conversation, resolve differences and show love. It affects the careers we choose and whether we succeed at them.

It governs how likely we are to:

* exercise (a habit found in extroverts)

* commit adultery (extroverts)

* function well without sleep (introverts)

* learn from our mistakes (introverts)

* place big bets on the stock market (extroverts)

* delay gratification (introverts)

* make considerate, well-balanced leaders (introverts).

As with other complementary pairings - masculinity and femininity, East and West, liberal and conservative - humanity would be unrecognisable and vastly diminished without both personality styles.

And yet many of us have been made to feel there is something wrong with being quiet.

We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal – the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious and comfortable in the spotlight.

The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He or she favours quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong, works well in teams and socialises in groups. We like to think we value individuality – but all too often we admire one type of individual, the kind who is comfortable ‘‘putting himself out there’’.

Introversion — along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness — is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Extroversion is a hugely appealing personality style but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.

As parents, we urge our children to socialise, and worry if they’d rather read a book. As adults, many of us work for organisations that insist we work in teams, in offices without walls, for supervisors who value ‘‘people skills’’ above all. To advance our careers, we’re expected to promote ourselves unabashedly.

But we make a grave mistake to embrace the Extrovert Ideal so unthinkingly. Some of our greatest ideas, art and inventions – from the theory of evolution to Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and the personal computer – came from quiet, cerebral people who knew how to tune in to their inner worlds and their treasures to be found there.

Without introverts, the world would be devoid of Newton’s theory of gravity, Einstein’s theory of relativity, Chopin’s nocturnes and even Harry Potter. It’s not just creative geniuses who benefit from introversion. Studies have shown that introverts thrive in all areas of life, making better managers, wonderful friends and loyal lovers. It’s time to embrace the power of quiet.

INTROVERTS MAKE THE BEST LOVERS

Science tells us that social connections make us happier and healthier – and science is right.

But there are different kinds of social connection. While extroverts are never happier than in a crowd, introverts focus their energy on a small circle of friends and family. They’d rather have a meaningful conversation with one good friend than make small talk with strangers.

All the evidence shows that this is a wise path. A study by University of Arizona psychologist Matthias Mehl found that the happiest people have twice as many in-depth conversations as the unhappiest, and participate in far less small talk. Even introverts’ tendency to bury their nose in a book can serve them well – studies suggest reading makes people more empathetic and improves social skills by helping us better understand other human beings.

But that’s not to say extroverts aren’t great, too. In fact, extroverts and introverts are often drawn to one another by a sense that each completes the other – one talks, the other listens; one is sensitive to life’s slings and arrows, the other barrels cheerfully through each day. It can also cause problems when couples pull in opposite directions, though. For instance, one partner might want to socialise more than the other. The introvert might come home from work exhausted and spent, desperate to recharge alone.

It can be hard for an extrovert to understand how much introverts need to recharge after a busy day. It’s also hard for introverts to understand how hurtful their silence can be. The answer? Introverts must respect loved ones’ need for socialising and balance it with their own need for solitude. Maybe the introverted partner could take half-an-hour to him or herself each evening before joining the family at the dinner table. Maybe they could agree to go out every Friday night but stay at home every Saturday night.

But how do you find a partner if you are an introvert singleton?How do you meet someone if you hate going to bars or parties? Well, you might have to ‘‘fake’’ extroversion in order to achieve your goal. Make an agreement with yourself that you will push yourself to go to social events. Decide in advance how many of these events you can comfortably stand. And when you’ve met your quota, you’ve earned the right to stay home without feeling guilty.

IT'S OK TO BE THE OFFICE MOUSE

WhenI trained as a lawyer almost 20 years ago, I believed success belonged to the table-pounders of the world, and that my soft-spokenness was a liability. But over the course of my career I have learned my introverted traits can be very useful.

Things like listening well, preparing thoughtfully, forging one-on-one alliances behind the scenes, thinking deeply - all these qualities are highly effective. So if you are the work introvert sitting in an open-plan office full of extroverts, then fear not - there is a way to play to your strengths.

Introverts and extroverts work differently. Extroverts tend to tackle assignments quickly. They make fast (sometimes rash) decisions, and are comfortable multitasking and risk-taking. Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration. They’re relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fame.

Extroverts might seem to come out on top in meetings – they’re never afraid to speak up – but research shows introverts make the best leaders. One study found that many of the best-performing companies of the 20th century were not run by charismatic CEOs but quiet, focused introverts.

Introverts tend to be motivated not by ego or a desire for the spotlight but by dedication to their larger goal. They also let their employees run with their own ideas, as opposed to extroverts, who are dominant and want to put their stamp on everything. Introverts are also more cautious and deliberate – they tend to think things through more thoroughly, which means they can often make smarter decisions.

Perhaps surprisingly, introverts can make good networkers, too. While they hate working the room, their reluctance to make small talk means that introverts are more likely to strike up a genuine conversation with a potential contact. If you are an introvert who dreads work events, aim to have just one good conversation and follow it up the next day.

One honest relationship can be more productive than fistfuls of business cards. Even in sales roles, introversion can be an asset. I met a man who broke sales records because of his listening skills. Instead of being a fast talker, he followed the principle ‘we have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionately’. As an introvert, he discovered what his customers’ needs were and how best to help them — this is something that even the most gregarious extroverts could learn from. Less surprising is the fact that introverts can be creative. Many brilliant innovators – from Steve Wozniak, who co-founded Apple computers, to Chopin and Darwin – were introverts. Isaac Newton was one of the world’s greatest introverts. So, what do you do if you’re an introvert trapped in an extrovert office? Or what if your job involves public speaking and constantly meeting people? First, ask yourself if this is the best job for you. Then, see if there is a way to improve your working conditions. If you find it exhausting to be in a noisy office, ask your boss if you can work from home one day a week.

Finally, appreciate your own strengths. In a world that can’t stop talking, remember there is a name for quiet people who are in their heads all the time: thinkers. – Daily Mail

TAKE THE TEST: ARE YOU AN INTROVERT?

Answer true or false for each of the following:

* I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities.

* I prefer to express myself in writing.

* I enjoy solitude.

* I seem to care less than my peers about wealth, fame and status.

* I dislike small talk but I enjoy talking in depth about topics that matter to me.

* People tell me that I’m a good listener.

* I’m not a big risk taker.

* I enjoy work that allows me to dive in with few interruptions.

* People describe me as soft-spoken or mellow.

* I prefer not to show my work or discuss it with others until it is finished.

* I like to celebrate birthdays on a small scale with only one or two close friends or family members.

* I dislike conflict.

* I do my best work alone.

* I tend to think before I speak.

* I feel drained after being out and about, even if I’ve enjoyed myself.

* I often let calls go to voicemail.

* I’d prefer a weekend with nothing to do to one with too many things scheduled.

* I don’t enjoy multitasking.

* I concentrate easily.

* In classrooms, I prefer lectures to seminars.

The more ‘‘true’’ answers you have, the more introverted you probably are.

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