Do we really give introverts a hard time?

The Apprentice In a group situation, it's not necessarily the talkers who have the best ideas

It is often assumed extroverts do best in life, but according to a new best-selling book, introverts are just as high achievers. It claims there is a bias towards extroverts in Western society. So do we discriminate against introverts?

Barack Obama, JK Rowling and Steve Wozniak.

They might not immediately stand out as introverts, but according to Susan Cain, American author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can't Stop Talking, they are.

That is because she says, contrary to popular opinion, introverts are not necessarily shy or anti-social, they just prefer environments that are not over-stimulating and get their energy from quiet time and reflection.

Conversely, extroverts need to be around other people to recharge their batteries.

Cain argues that although a third of the population are introverts, most institutions, from schools to workplaces, are geared towards extroverts, while introverts are often undervalued or misunderstood.

Extroversion and introversion

  • Extroverts are typically seen as outgoing, confident and happy to join in conversation
  • Introverts are thought of as quiet and inwardly thoughtful
  • One school of thought, first popularised by Carl Jung, and later adopted by the authors of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality tests, says everyone falls into one camp or another
  • A second school of thought argues there is a scale of extroversion

"Whether it is job adverts using words such as 'upbeat, people person and team players', practices like open-plan offices or brainstorming, the overall ability to put yourself out there is the great value of the age.

"But research shows there is no correlation between the most talkative person in the room and the best ideas," she says.

The self-identified introvert says there is a similar pattern in schools, where speaking up in class, group work and "show and tells" is emphasised.

She also cites studies which suggest that the majority of teachers think the ideal student is an extrovert, and more extroverts are groomed for leadership positions in the workplace.

Mark Dykeman Mark Dykeman says he learnt how to act like an extrovert in meetings

Her book, which hopes to rehabilitate the introvert, has struck a chord with readers and sparked a debate among commentators and armchair psychologists, while her TED talk has been watched by 1.5 million viewers.

In American magazine Wired, Clive Thompson thinks Cain's book might help introverts get a better reputation. But in the New York Times, introvert author Judith Warner argues that a "more quiet argument" would have been much more effective.

Meanwhile the Guardian's Jon Ronson is bemused that after concluding his whole family are ambiverts - which Cain defines as a mixture of extrovert and introvert - the group barely gets a mention in the book.

One introvert who can relate to Cain's campaign is Mark Dykeman, an IT business analyst from Canada. The 42-year-old, who has written a number of blogs on introversion, agrees there are plus points to being an introvert, but says it can be difficult.

"At university there was a lot of encouragement and pressure to socialise with other people. I was OK with that for short periods of time, but after a certain point it became very tiring.

"It wasn't until I was in the workforce and I had training that I started to understand the difference between introverts and extroverts. It opened my eyes to how I'd been thinking about certain situations, and gave me a bit of comfort," he says.

Dykeman says he found it difficult to voice an opinion in meetings earlier on in his career, but soon realised he needed to speak up and make points.

"I learnt how to act like an extrovert. I think a lot of people learn the rules of the game learn to function.

"It can be a bit harder, but everyone can contribute. I'd suggest anyone that does feel uncomfortable in public settings educates themselves on introversion," he says.

JK Rowling and Barack Obama Susan Cain tags JK Rowling and Barack Obama as introverts

Felicity Lee, a chartered occupational psychologist, says it is perfectly possible for introverts to try to act like an extrovert, but it will be more tiring for them.

American and Canadian culture tends to value the qualities of extroverts more than other cultures, but Lee thinks a bias towards extroversion also exists in the workplace and wider society in Britain.

But she says just because someone is an extrovert, it does not necessarily mean they do extroversion well.

"Someone can be an extrovert or an introvert and very self-aware and socially skilled. Or they can be very unaware. Extroversion has nothing to do with emotional intelligence, or competence," she says.

Lee also points out that there is evidence to suggest that whatever the psychological nuances, most people just want to be an extrovert.

"In the 1990s, when the Myers-Briggs personality type test went through validation with UK and Europe distributors, 92% of people said it was better to be extrovert, even though only half of the population is extrovert in the type version," she says.

Anecdotally, when you go back to the school playground, children would probably say it is better to be an extrovert - to be social and have friends, she adds.

Cain's 'introverts'

  • Barack Obama - "Obama's not a shy introvert, but he is one. In his book, Dreams From My Father, he identifies himself with a lonely old man who lives in his building," says Susan Cain. "Introversion has been one of his assets. He plans his campaigns intricately and gives very cerebral speeches."
  • Steven Wozniak - Cain says we often associate Steve Jobs with Apple because of his dazzling statements, but Wozniak is credited with designing much of the first Apple computer by himself. "He still advises people to work in solitude," Cain says.
  • JK Rowling - "The Harry Potter author has described herself as an introvert, particularly when she refers to her childhood," she adds.

Jo Silvester, a professor of organisational psychology at Cass Business School, says it is easy to see why such desirability exists.

She says most organisations looking to recruit would steer towards extroverts, on the assumption that they make better leaders.

But Silvester says some industries do not necessarily attract the types of personalities people might think.

"Politicians for example are a lot more introverted. In politics it doesn't pay to show all of your cards too quickly, and introverts are more willing to stand back and listen and take extra time to come up with a conclusion.

"People would probably assume sales requires extroversion, because they deal with a lot of people all of the time. But if somebody is selling to research chemists, they might need to be more introverted, as people tend to get on best with people like themselves," she says.

Rodin's The Thinker Many people prefer a "doer" to someone who likes to contemplate

However, Richard Dodd, at the British Retail Consortium, says the notion of dividing people up into extroverts and introverts is over-simplistic as there are many more variables in people's characters.

He thinks people naturally tend to gravitate towards jobs that suit their personal qualities and make the best use of their abilities.

But he says most successful teams and workplaces have a mixture of individuals with a range of characteristics and qualities.

"There is a place for selling yourself and making sure your achievements are recognised in most jobs, which might be easier for some personality types than others," he says.

"But I think in successful organisations the approach to management and appraisal is to be able to get beyond the superficial impression, and to make sure people's contributions are identified and recognised - regardless of whether people are shouting from the rooftops."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    I think it truley depends on the situation most of the time, put me in a room full of people I dont know and all trying to make themselves heard and I go into myself and cant seem to find my voice. Give me a week to get to know them and I feel far more comfortable and will happily contribute to anything I feel I have a valid view on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    I think this is all getting out of hand. Just accept people as they are. Where would we be without the fantastic OTT comedians or the great solo thinkers of the world. People are people and it is only the behaviour of the desperate to be noticed or the desperate not to be noticed who may cause a raised eybrow or two from either camp. Who cares either way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    A M-B defined introvert, I can be gregarious when I need to be but it takes a lot of energy. At school I preferred solo pursuits and quiet interests and had few friends. As an adult I am happier with one or two close friends who understand me. Unfortunately the trend for open plan offices is detrimental to introverts, many of us unable to switch off from the noise around us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    @ 469 Abdi
    I would describe myself as a natural introvert who's mastered the art of extrovertedness for special instances like job interviews and presentations

    You might want to have a Myers/Briggs test, how you describe yourself is often very different to your actual personality type.

  • rate this

    Comment number 476.

    "The danger really comes from the idea that 'social activity' is related to how well you do your job."

    Agreed, I always wondered why we do not pay well the person that sits quietly and does excellent work at low level in the business but throw money at someone that is barely passible at his job but higher up the ladder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    "How judgmental can you get?"
    Just to clarify, I'm an introvert (in the Myers Briggs sense). The point I was trying to get across was that you need a mix of personalities to have a productive work environment. There seems to be a lot of unfair extrovert bashing on here.

  • Comment number 474.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 473.

    "Do we really give introverts a hard time?" yes and we usually expect them to be happy as the extroverts seek a willing congegation for their fatuous policies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    @468 Mayna @ 469 Abdi

    Agreed, being extrovert definitely has strengths, they are better at motivating than introverts are, and, as long as people remain aware of their personality types' strengths and weaknesses, it's fine, and, as has been mentioned before, most people are a mixture of both.

    The danger really comes from the idea that 'social activity' is related to how well you do your job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 471.

    Like some great protector, the BBC loves to pick any portion of society it chooses at random, and shine the discrimination beem at them to show their supposed 'weakness and vulneribility'! BBC, get lost and pick on someone else like left-handed people, I'm sure they must have a 'daily struggle' which can be reported about
    It's utterly insulting & patronising. up yours BBC!

  • rate this

    Comment number 470.

    13 Minutes ago
    7. chiptheduck
    Take The Apprentice for example - it seems you have to be a nauseating loudmouth to be on the programme, and the most repugnant usually wins.

    That's just 'supposed' to make good telly (for all those like-minded extroverts)!

  • rate this

    Comment number 469.


    I would agree, but no matter how brilliant you are if you can't communicate your brilliance you risk falling through the cracks. That is why many extroverts are windbags, they can sell themselves well.

    I would describe myself as a natural introvert who's mastered the art of extrovertedness for special instances like job interviews and presentations

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.

    456 Ken1760

    Maybe, it is that extroverts & introverts have different strengths & weaknesses. The introvert for example may be over looked & a good idea lost while the extrovert must prove his idea or be found publically wanting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    This is a bit weird, all these introvert posters "coming out" here on this HYS forum, and no extroverts daring to self-identify.

    And we're saying introverts are the persecuted ones?

    Yes, I'm an introvert too, but surely there's room for all kinds ...?

  • rate this

    Comment number 466.

    Everyone feels they have to be an extrovert to be noticed. I have always had comments such as "You might not say much but when you do say something it is worth listening to". Remember, by jumping in trying to impress everyone you are letting people know how much you DON'T know as much as how much you do!

  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    @456 Ken1760

    What complete and utter rubbish, the people doing the discrimination are extroverts, not introverts, that's like saying racism is the fault of the victim for being from a different race.

    For example, why should my ability to 'party' after work affect my promotion chances IN work? And yet, because I don't drink alcohol or go to football matches etc, it has.

  • rate this

    Comment number 464.

    Who is the "we" is "do we discriminate against introverts"? Maybe we introverts discriminate against each other too? Certainly on this HYS there are a lot of introverts saying very nasty things about extroverts, doesn't say much for us as humane beings does it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 463.

    The problem is introverts, as people, do not fit very well into the all important sports analogies that have been at the fundamental core of how British management has worked for the last 20 years or so. Worse, some of them aren't even interested in following competitive team sports... who knows what other foul disgusting things they are capable of? Stay well clear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 462.

    The problem with labelling people as one or the other, is that it produces this kind of adversarial debate. Personality type is a broad spectrum, far too intricate to simplify in terms of 'I' or 'E'. We should not be labelling one another and then hurling insults accordingly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 461.

    Jung died in 1961, he first wrote about this. How many people drive a 60 year old car? Come on BBC is this hackneyed headline grabbing nonsense the best you can do? People vary according to the conversation they are having and the agenda which develops. You like some people and dislike others and are indifferent to others again and you speak to them accordingly.


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