The value of introversion in an extroverted world


The words “introvert” and “extrovert” bring up a variety of ingrained, mental images: the introvert, sitting alone surrounded by a pile of books, hiding away from the world, and the extrovert, out partying on a Friday night. In reality, however, introversion and extroversion are simply two temperament types that can have nothing to do with hobbies or pastimes. Psychologists typically define introverts as people who gain energy from being alone and extroverts as people who gain energy from the being around others. Over the past years, American culture has grown to increasingly value extroversion, praising people for being outgoing and social while disregarding the beneficial traits that often come along with introversion. Society should come to appreciate these traits, and teach introverts to take pride in what they are good at.

Over the years, society has come to value intrinsically extroverted traits over introverted ones. From a young age, children are taught to be outgoing, speak up and get out of their comfort zones. They are praised for sharing their ideas, and chastised for keeping them to themselves. In school, intelligence is often equated to speed, despite the value of taking time to think through answers. As introverts often feel the need to consider questions on their own before sharing with others, they can get left behind in conversations and be labeled as lacking in intelligence. In schools, collaborative learning is becoming an increasingly common teaching strategy, to the detriment of introverted students who learn better on their own. As these kids grow up, they enter a job market which also unfairly favors extroverted characteristics. Workplaces often list personality skills as necessary for their ideal applicant to have, and these skills invariably favor extroverts. One article by Business Insider described the top three most valuable skills for a job applicant as leadership, communication and collaboration. Although these skills are undoubtedly important, many firms disregard the power of being able to think through one’s own problems and get work done, and instead focus exclusively on public relations skills, as this article does.

It can be hard to succeed in the American corporate workplace without being able to advertise one’s own skills. While many extroverts are, by nature of their temperament, comfortable with this, introverts, despite being able to carry out their jobs just as well, may have more trouble getting hired. As a result, social skills become a greater indicator of success than skill or ability. Introverts may have more trouble succeeding in the workplace despite their skills. Offices transitioning to open-plan spaces in order to increase collaboration are another example of this trend. For many introverts, being constantly surrounded by people leads to burnout and decreases productivity. Having a personal office or cubicle, on the other hand, allows employees to choose when they need to be on their own to concentrate and when they would like to collaborate with others. In leadership positions, too, candidates are often chosen based on a charismatic personality rather than actual capability. According to Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, the most effective leaders are often people who actually don’t vie for these positions. Quieter, less outgoing leaders focused on ensuring that the job gets done rather than being well-liked by others can often be more effective. Choosing leaders based off of enamoring personalities rather than vision and productivity can lead to incapable leaders or people in subordinate positions being blinded by their attractive personality.

Despite this trend, however, it should be recognized that introverts offer many valuable skills that should be appreciated by society. Their natural tendency to turn inwards and spend more time in their heads leads to creativity and inventiveness. Many introverts find comfort in music, writing, art or other creative activities, hereby contributing to the wealth of art in the world. In addition, they are often able to come up with new and innovative ways to solve problems if given time to think through them. A study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, in the 1960s analyzed a pool of people deemed most successful in creative fields and discovered that the factor that most of them had in common was a preference for solitary work and a more introverted personality. The brains of introverts also process dopamine differently, causing them to make fewer impulsive decisions than extroverts do. Having introverts on a team can balance out the propensity of many extroverts to jump at decisions and ensure that the implications are well-thought through first. Introverts often make good leaders, as their quieter personalities push them to let others work out their own problems and steer projects in the right direction without controlling them.

It is paramount that society stops portraying introverted characteristics as weaknesses that need to be overcome, and raising extroverted characteristics up on a pedestal. This trend both negatively impacts the mental health of introverts and inaccurately portrays certain character traits as better than others. Instead, introverted children should be praised for their intrinsic skills and taught to cultivate them, as well as gently pushed to step out of their comfort zones. Although it is important for introverts to step up and be social in certain situations, extroverts should also be taught to think introspectively and process things quietly. In addition, opportunities should be provided for introverts to spend time alone and process quietly, both in classroom and workplace situations. It is also important to work actively to destroy stereotypes about introversion and recognize that not all introverts are the same. If efforts are made to include introverts in society and allow them to make use of their natural skills, humanity as a whole will be able to benefit from the positive outcomes.