OPINION: Why are introverts underestimated?

Robert Labayen -- ExecuTips

Posted at Jul 26 2018 04:07 PM | Updated as of Jul 26 2018 04:08 PM

Were you participative in class recitation? If not, it does not mean you’re less smart.

Introverts are also not vocal in meetings, presentations and brainstorming sessions. That’s the reason why their talents are often unrecognized even though they may be the most intelligent persons in the group.

Susan Cain is a graduate of Harvard Law School, a popular TED speaker, an introvert, and author of the revolutionary book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking". Her research has confirmed that the western business culture is slanted towards the more outgoing personality. The corporate culture that we know favors employees who are great at presentations, who are vocal in meetings and who like to rub elbows with peers and superiors in cocktail parties.

Extroverts appear smarter

Companies perceive the extroverts as more leader-like, better team players, fast thinkers–and therefore reward them with higher positions. Ms. Cain found out that the Harvard Business School (HBS) trains their students to become extroverts. Their curriculum entails rigorous involvement in seminars and collaborative work. Even socializing at night is encouraged.

She quotes Quin Mills, an HBS professor and expert on leadership styles. "The HBS method," according to Mills, “presumes that leaders should be vocal and in my view, that’s part of reality.” But he admitted, “The risk with our students is that they’re very good at getting their way. But that doesn’t mean they’re going the right way.”

Ms. Cain also reported that studies in group dynamics conclude “we perceive talkers as smarter…even though grade-point averages and SAT intelligence scores reveal this perception to be inaccurate.”

Ms. Cain clarified that many extroverts are really good in school and at work. That’s not the problem. Her concern is that a lot of great ideas and opportunities may be wasted if the bright introverts don’t get their share of voice.

The misunderstood ones

Ms. Cain wrote “the vast majority of teachers believe that the ideal student is an extrovert” The quiet ones are “prodded to ‘come out of your shell.’” She also noted how, as a child, you “have overheard your parents apologize for your shyness.” She has received many emails from fellow introverts. A common theme will be about being misjudged as “lazy, stupid, slow, boring.”

Some introverts are shy or are perceived to be shy but Ms. Cain emphasized that shyness is not a synonym of introversion. “Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating.”

Ms. Cain mentioned that in the 1920s, the psychologist Alfred Adler proposed the concept of “Inferiority Complex." It became a popular, “all-purpose explanation” for problems related to social anxieties. The term made people think that extroverts actually felt inferior, or were actually inferior.

She is not blaming our parents, teachers and employers. Ms. Cain believes they had good intentions but just didn’t know much about the science of behavior and personality.

Getting to know the introvert

The concept of the extrovert and the introvert was first explained by Carl Jung in 1921 in his book "Psychological Types." He said that introverts are drawn into the inner world of thought and feeling while the extroverts lean to the external life and activities of people. Introverts recharge when alone while extroverts get their energy from socializing.

Even Jung said there are no normal people in the extreme ends of the extroversion-introversion scale. We are all in between with partiality to either side. There are some who are ambiverts, the ones right in the middle; and some are introverts who can act like extroverts when the situation calls for it. (More about this in a follow-up article. )

Introverts may look absent-minded because they are often in deep thought. A lot of them love reading, solitary engagement in a hobby, and daydreaming.

Many introverts who appear lackluster are exceptionally brilliant. But before they speak in a group, they like to think through. They want to make sure that what they say is blameless and relevant. That is why many introverts are good writers. They wait for the best way and the right time to express their opinion.

Silent Genius

Introverts are at their best when they work in isolation. The greatest among the solo flyers includes Stephen Wozniak. Steve was mostly alone when he developed the world’s first personal computer. He said, “Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me–they’re shy. They’re almost like artists…and artists work best alone.”

Among the words most disliked by introverts are group work, mingling and public speaking.

Introverts who changed the world include Albert Einstein, whom teachers thought was dumb; Isaac Newton, who was most likely alone when an apple fell on his head; Frederic Chopin, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, George Orwell, Bill Gates, Google founder Larry Page and Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg. Even Moses admitted he was “slow of speech and tongue” when God called Him to lead the Chosen People.

Ms. Cain recalled a 1990-1995 study by psychologist Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi covering “ninety-one exceptionally creative people in the arts, sciences, business and government.” The finding was that many of his subjects “were on the social margin during adolescence, partly because ‘intense curiosity or focused interest seems odd to their peers.’”

She also referred to a 1956-1962 study by the Institute Personality Assessment and Research at the University of California, Berkeley. It assembled architects, mathematicians, scientists, engineers and writers who “have made major contributions to their fields.” The conclusion: “The more creative people tended to be socially poised introverts.”

Ms. Cain also lifted information from one of the most famous business books of the early 2000s, "Good to Great" by Jim Collins. The author had the side discovery that each of the awesomely-transformed companies featured in the book were led by a CEO who was “quiet, humble, modest, reserved, shy, gracious, mild-mannered, self-effacing, understated.”

Susan Cain’s book was not an attempt to compare extroverts and introverts intellectually. There is no consistent correlation between personality and talent. She only asked us to never dismiss the quiet guys in the room because they might just amaze us. Ms. Cain has started what she calls a “quiet revolution.” It’s a movement to inform the world so that we can make changes in the home, in the schools and at work.

I hope this article helps, too. By the way, I am an introvert, that’s why I decided to write articles instead of engage in debate.

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Read more about ExecuTips on www.robertlabayen.com

About the Author:

Robert Labayen spent 22 years in advertising prior to joining ABS-CBN in 2004. He was VP-Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi and Executive Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson, two of the country's leading ad agencies. He is currently the Head of Creative Communications Management at ABS-CBN. His job involves inspiring people to be their best. He is a writer, painter and songwriter.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.