“I’m an introvert, and she’s an extrovert,” my fiancé, Galo, confidently told our priest during a recent pre-wedding counseling session. Father Peter Cebulka had just asked Galo to describe our personalities.
I’ve known Father Cebulka since I was 12 years old, so as soon as he began grinning at Galo’s response, I knew he had already predicted my retort.
“I disagree,” I said. “Sorry, I know you won’t believe me, but I’m also an introvert,” I told my beloved.
Galo and I have been dating for more than five years now, and we’ve known each other for seven, but even to this day we still have so much to learn about each other — that day Galo learned that he was about to marry a “secret introvert.”
Introverts are often assumed to be shy. I am by no means a shy person.
As my mother often likes to recall, when I was younger I loved to desert my family on the beach and go join another. I moved a lot in my youth and quickly learned the value of making new friends. And now, as a journalist, I make a living, in part, out of talking to people.
But my personability has nothing to do with my introversion. While I enjoy spending time with people, I also need time to recharge after doing so.
Susan Cain, a noted introvert and author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” created a super efficient assessment called the Quiet Revolution Personality Test. Taking her test confirmed it: while I am certainly not shy, I am through and through an introvert.
“Introversion is really about having a nervous system that reacts more to stimulation, which means it’s easier for you to feel overstimulated, but you’re probably at your most alive and happiest when you’re in quieter settings,” Cain explained to me.
“Shyness and social anxiety have to do with the fear of being judged when you’re in a social situation, and introversion is simply about having this preference for quieter, less stimulating environments.”
She says while there are many people who fall into both categories of shy and introverted, there are also plenty of shy extroverts who really crave being around lots of people but have anxiety when they’re in that setting, and plenty of introverts who are really not shy at all but just want peace and quiet.
Someone once told me that it’s probably better for a journalist to be an extrovert, since that means you can talk to people. This statement had long baffled me and, at times, made me question whether I was in the right field. But as Cain confirms, this kind of thinking is flawed and, sadly, extremely common.
“I see this all the time, and I think the reason for it is that people assume when you’re talking about introverts you’re talking about somebody with limited social skills,” she says.
Cain believes biases against shyness and introversion exist because they both result in a person who is engaging less than the social norm, “and as a society we just don’t like that, we’re not comfortable with it.”
This has huge implications, she says, because between a third and a half of the population is introverted and working in places that are set up only for extroverts. “We’re not thinking the most of people’s hearts and minds,” she says.
But while misconceptions about extraversion and introversion persist, there is hope. More and more we see companies — about 80% of Fortune 500 companies in fact — using personality assessments like the ever popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test to get people in the right roles for their personalities and help them succeed.
And Cain’s Quiet Leadership Institute has already provided in-person training and online courses to organisations like NASA and Procter & Gamble to help them better harness the talents of introverted employees.
“I think companies are really starting to understand that this is a question of productivity, a question of morale, it’s a question of engagement,” Cain says.
“Why would you not try to structure people’s workdays so that they can be at their most energetic, and why would you not try to structure your meetings so that you’re hearing the best of everyone’s brain and not just from the few people who are the most talkative.”
In a world where introverts are commonly misunderstood and misrepresented, I often wonder what steps someone like me could take to thrive in the workplace. Cain has two suggestions:
First, empower yourself with research. For example, if you want to be in a leadership position, there are many case studies available that show why introverts can make the best leaders. Too often introverts buy into the negative stereotypes society heaps on them, she says.
“Don’t sell yourself short in that way. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing and want to be a leader, then you should go for it.”
And secondly, she says to go for it in a way that draws on your natural strengths. As Cain’s personality test results explained to me, I prefer one-on-one communication, think before I speak, have a more deliberate approach to risk, feel energised when focusing deeply on a something that really interests me, and, my favourite part, have an active inner life and am my best when I tap into its riches.
That doesn’t sound so bad, now does it?
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