by Diana La Femina
previously published 9/8/14
The Power of Introversion
I’ve been reading Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference by Jennifer B. Kahnweiler. It’s an interesting, short book explaining how introverts can make the most of their innate strengths and translate these strengths into their careers. Kahnweiler discusses six main strengths: taking quiet time, preparation, engaged listening, focused conversations, writing, and thoughtful use of social media. There’s also a quiz to show you how strong you are in each of the above strengths and which you need to improve, as well as sections in each chapter that explain the dangers of overusing each strength and further steps to help you become stronger in these areas.
The book is excellent and I highly suggest reading it, mainly because it shows that introverts are not weak. It’s not that introverts don’t like being around people or that they aren’t good socializing; being an introvert means you gain strength from solitary endeavors and recharging. By contrast, extroverts recharge by being in social situations. For some reason, though, there’s a pervasive belief that introverts are weaker than extroverts.
I’ve read a number of books and articles on how to move forward in your career (or, really, just how to start a career) and most of the suggestions were very extrovert-centric. The tactics I’ve found suggested for networking and selling yourself don’t play to an introvert’s strengths and make it seem like you have to be an extrovert to get ahead. Perhaps librarianship is a bit better, but in my experience this belief pervades most workplaces.
I worked on Wall Street for a year, and I was dumbfounded how people who talked a lot were seen as better workers, even when they didn’t contribute anything. (A popular tactic was to repeat exactly what the last person had said, only reworded.) It’s disheartening when your first instinct is to roll a situation over in your mind and figure out the best solution without flapping your mouth about.
This “inferior introversion” belief holds true outside of the workplace as well. I have a friend (who truly has my best interests at heart) who is constantly trying to force me to become an extrovert. I made the mistake of having Quiet Influence on me the last time I saw them; the floodgates opened. They ripped the premise of the book apart and discounted any notion that introversion has inherent strength. What they argued boiled down to this: building on the strengths of introversion was a cop-out for people who didn’t want to put in the effort to become more extroverted.
If you’re an introvert you probably have someone like this in your life, though hopefully someone a bit less forceful (don’t worry about me, I have a very strong sense of self). Ignore them. They’re most likely trying to look out for you, but you know yourself better. Build upon your quiet strengths and use them to their full potential. If your extroverted, then build upon your own innate strengths but also try to work on your introverted side.
We live and work in an extrovert-centric world but introversion should not be so easily discounted. Introverts have the power of introspection, of being able to mull over an issue on their own and come up with a unique answer. Introverts can be better in public service rolls because they tend to listen to a person rather than just hearing what they’re saying, thus figuring out what the real problem is.
So when you’re putting your resumes together, or going on interviews or what have you, don’t try to hide your introvert nature and learn how it can be a strength. Building on our weaknesses is a fantastic endeavor, but we’ll never truly reach our potential unless we also build up our strengths as well.