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When you think of an introvert, what comes to mind? Odds are, it’s an array of stereotypes: someone who is shy, quiet or solitary, and who cringes at the thought of public speaking or taking the lead. But what if everything you think you know about introverts is wrong?
According to Susan Cain, author of the New York Times bestseller “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” these negative myths come from a widespread cultural bias toward extroverts. She even founded an online movement called Quiet Revolution to help dispel bias, raise awareness and celebrate introversion.
We spoke to Cain to learn more about introverts’ true powers and potential, and how employers can best support people with this personality style.
Introverts sensitive to stimulation, but not necessarily shy
As a self-described introvert, writing “Quiet” was a personal project for Cain. It was inspired by her tenure in the corporate world, where she saw differences in communication styles often falsely attributed to gender.
“Now everybody talks about being an introvert, but back then … we didn’t even have a vocabulary … let alone the insights needed to guide us in harness[ing] everyone’s strengths in the workplace,” Cain says.
So, what does the term “introvert” mean, anyway? Contrary to popular belief, introverts are not necessarily shy or antisocial. Many introverts enjoy social gatherings, networking and even public speaking, and can be just as charismatic as their extroverted peers.
What separates introverts is a shared sensitivity to overstimulation, says Cain, as well as a preference for deep, uninterrupted thinking and smaller groups. This gives them a leg up in creative work, which requires individual focus. While extroverts are refueled by high-energy environments, introverts often prefer to recharge alone, such as by taking a long walk or reading a book.
Cain finds that approximately one-half to one-third of people are introverts; in fact, you might not even realize you’re an introvert until taking her online assessment. But if this personality type is so common, why does it remain so misunderstood?
American society privileges the “Extroverted Ideal,” Cain says, treating this as a norm. It celebrates those who are outgoing, outspoken and thrive in the spotlight, while the invaluable talents of introverts often go overlooked.
Introverts make the art of listening look easy
One of introverts’ greatest assets is listening, which sounds easier than it is. Anyone who’s either seen a good interview knows listening is an art, requiring genuine curiosity. This fits introverts to a tee, as they love to understand and ask questions — making them an asset to employers.
“Listening is profound, because you find out what people actually have to contribute, get people’s ideas out and [put] their skills … to use,” Cain explains.
Introverts are also blessed with the ability to focus intently on a project or problem, and thrive with long periods of deep concentration.
“We’re all losing our ability to focus in that…