I recently finished reading the book Quiet, by Susan Cain. In it, Susan Cain puts forth her concept of the “Extrovert Ideal” in western culture, and what introverts can do to help themselves in a world dominated by extroverts. In addition, she makes a case for why introverts are often exceptional leaders at all levels, although this may depend on the dynamic of the workplace itself.
As a self-avowed introvert, I found much of what she said to be very appealing and helpful. Most useful to me was the idea of a restorative niche, an environment to which you naturally go whenever you’re feeling a bit down or out of place. I enjoy this part of the book in particular, as it is personality-agnostic. She makes a case for having self-awareness of your personal restorative niche, regardless of your introversion or extroversion. The reason being that we all need a place to go and revitalize ourselves.
Introverts are often characterized by susceptibility to over-stimulation. As a result, it is often necessary to seek a quiet place of solitude, or perhaps one or two close friends. I know whenever I had to be in front of a large group (anything more than eight for me) I could do it, but then felt very drained. It was imperative that I find a spot to be to recover, or perhaps connect with a single person in that large group quickly so that I have something concrete to focus on.
Conversely, the group situation above can often be the restorative niche of an extrovert. After a long day at work or studying, they crave a group of friends to go spend the evening with. Perhaps they work somewhere and find themselves severely under-stimulated (a common occurrence and your average campus job) and just need to unwind with a large group of friends. The key is to know where you stand, and seek out a schedule which maximizes the time spent in your restorative niche.
Of course, this is not to say that every introvert should work alone from home all the time, or that extroverts should spend every waking hour at the stock exchange. There is a balance to be struck. But understanding your own mood patterns, as far as they relate to your social habits and preferences, is powerful when trying to form a schedule that suits your needs.
Another point of interest is how introverts and extroverts interact with those of similar and opposing dispositions to them. There was a study in which groups of introverts talked with themselves one-on-one, as did extroverts; then the groups were mixed together so that introverts talked with extroverts.
In the first part of the conversations, introverts tended to immediately delve into personal topics about each other’s lives, or about current events in the world. They often found a common topic of interest very quickly, and were able to stay focused on one or two ideas for most of the time. Extroverts required a bit of warming up, talking about the weather and more surface-level details about the other person’s lives. The dynamics were clearly quite different.
Once introverts and extroverts joined together, they were able to adapt to each other. Introverts let the conversation become a bit shallower, and the extroverts reported feeling at ease, since they felt heard to a greater extent than when talking to other extroverts. Introverts reported being more at ease, since the other person would lead the conversation. They were both able to interact well, and had very good ratings of how the conversation went.
What’s important here is that we can all help each other, and serve a role, whatever our social preferences are. Extroverts can often talk about many things very quickly, processing things out loud with other people, and having an introvert who will happily sit quietly just to listen, and respond when appropriate, can be very helpful for this. In addition, an average introvert may not always want to be engaged in incredibly serious discussion, or just wants a bit extra social interaction. Being carried along in a conversation (or some other situation) with an extroverted friend can help move someone out of their comfort zone.
This book has some very important ideas for everybody to be aware of. While I did not touch on some of the larger ideas presented (how extroverts dominate the business world, and the ways this effects employees), even just the two things that resonated with me are worthy of significant discussion. Give it a read. It’s a very concise narrative style, easy to follow, with great ideas and advice for becoming more aware of how you operate within the wider world. I know it had a great effect on me.