Introversion – Quiet is NOT BAD at all!

I have observed that when you keep to yourself and have not spoken up in a while or in groups, people think it’s a little weird.

“Why are you being so quiet?” Parents, friends, teachers, acquaintances, even people I barely know are prone to asking me this question. I think most mean well. They probably want to know if I’m all right, or if there’s a reason that I’m keeping to myself.

I don’t think there is a clear-cut answer to this question. Sometimes people are quiet because they are in the middle of a thought or observation. Sometimes they are more focused on listening than on talking. Often, though, the reason could be because that’s just the way they are – their nature.

If you are an “Introvert” by nature, you will relate to this one for sure.  You face such reactions from people throughout your life.  What could be the reason? Where did it all start?

In a family – a parent gets very anxious and concerned if the child remains aloof and finds it stressful in the company of people.  They start to wonder if there is anything wrong with their child that resists social contact.  I’ve heard parents egg their children on to go out, meet people and socialize as if being to oneself is not a good idea and has negative consequences in life.  “I don’t know, my child doesn’t mingle with people much and that concerns me”, is a refrain I have heard many times from anxious parents.  The funny part is from parents who themselves are introverted by nature.  Somehow, they themselves have grown up with a belief that being introverted is not all that beneficial.

In school as well, it always seemed as if “outgoing” was the highest compliment a person could get. In classes, teachers often ask students to speak up more. At school, kids are at times forced to participate in group programs and activities.  Given a choice, some kids would have preferred not to engage in group work and be left alone.  Most get stressed doing so and end up participating in group activities reluctantly which is stressful.

Some are forced to tag along into loud, crowded parties in college, who couldn’t shake the feeling that they would have had a better time eating dinner with a friend or two and going to a movie. Somehow, they never seem to complain about it, though. They might have thought that they were supposed to do these things in order to be considered “normal.

In-office – people who were predisposed to extraverted behavior ended up getting not just visibility but were also considered to be great team players.  A lot of emphases was laid on networking, teamwork, collaboration, so much so that those who preferred to work alone were labeled as non-team players.  I have had several conversations with senior leaders and HR professionals and often heard them say that we need these guys to be more interactive, speak up in groups and meetings.  “Why not get them into a team-building program, where they learn to work with others?”

In all such team-building events and programs, I’ve found some reluctant participants, who somehow seemed to be pushed into situations they are most uncomfortable with.  They were the private types who preferred to be around a limited set of people or to themselves.  This is not to say that they did not interact at all with others or were anti-social.  They just seemed to have a low threshold for noise and social interactions. They were introverts.  These introverts also find that their more extraverted colleagues get more visibility (which is encouraged) and reach the top much faster than them.  This gets them to believe that extraverted behavior is more acceptable even in corporate setups.

“Is it fair?” – not at all.  In fact, they are the ones who actually form close bonds and trustful relationships though with a limited number of people, are predisposed to have meaningful conversations, pose insightful questions, and have the ability to think independently.  They come with a very important trait – that of listening, which is what leads to greater understanding.

In fact, come to think of it, some of the most famous leaders and successful business owners are known introverts.

Why then this bias?  Why do lay so much emphasis on extraversion?  Are we being fair?  Are we pushing people to move away from their natural traits?


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