If you’ve ever felt out of place or distracted in a workplace culture that emphasizes fun, constant collaboration, and endless team meetings, here’s a book that will reassure you that you’re not weird. It’s called “Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength” and was written by psychologist Laurie Helgoe, Ph.D. I acquired the book after reading an article the author had written in Psychology Today magazine. The cover slug for the magazine article was “Revenge of the Introverts.”
As an introvert myself, I found Dr. Helgoe’s insights enlightening, uplifting, and dead-on accurate. She explains why introversion should not be regarded as a deficiency, but rather as a source of power. In the book, she outlines ways introverts can improve both their personal relationships and careers by helping others understand why introverts need space and time to think.
Here are a few points Dr. Helgoe makes that might interest creative professionals (and the people who hire them!)
Introversion is defined as “an inward orientation toward life and extroversion is an outward orientation.” Although all of us use both introversion and extroversion at different times of our lives, one of these orientations generally feels more natural and more energizing. Introverts gain energy through internal reflection; extroverts gain energy through interactions with others. Conversely, extroverts expend energy reflecting and introverts expend energy interacting.
Introverts outnumber extroverts in the U.S. by a 57% to 43% majority, according to the most recent population studies published in the “MBTI Manual: A Guide to the Development and Use of Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.” However, introverts often go unseen because American culture values extroversion. In cultures such as Japan and Norway, introversion is more highly valued.
Introverts should not be viewed as withdrawn loners, who are quiet and scared. As Dr. Helgoe points out, “We’re not anti-social, asocial, or socially inept. Rather, we get energized and excited by ideas.” Instead of having multiple, superficial interactions (e.g. at crowded, noisy parties), introverts tend to prefer spacious interactions with fewer people. Some introverts do well in people-oriented professions, but often need to reserve some alone time after work.
When introverts converse, we are more interested in sharing ideas than news and gossip about other people. We listen well, think first, and talk later. We often prefer communicating in writing, because we can express ourselves without intrusion or interruption. Introverts can find parties exhausting, unless we can find a like-minded person who wants an in-depth discussion of ideas.
Introverts tend to collect thoughts, and sort them about when they are alone. Introverts use solitude to make sense of the present and future. Extroverts get bored by too much solitude.
People enjoy the products that introverts create. As Dr. Helgoe puts it, “Introverts talk to us every day through their stories, theories, movies, technology, paintings, songs, and inventions.” For the introvert, conversation can be a very limited form of expression.
People are often drawn to the quiet introverts in the room. When introverts choose to speak, they often raise challenging questions and new perspectives.
It’s shortsighted to see introverts as grumpy loners hunched over their computers for hours and hours on end. What people aren’t recognizing is that introverts are usually deeply engaged in the flow of creation. Getting “in the zone” is energizing and exciting.
To succeed at work, Dr. Helgoe advises introverts to seek jobs that allow a more desirable balance between work that feels “natural” and work that feels “imposed.” Introverts often seek out creative jobs that they imagine would feel “natural.” But sometimes these jobs leave introverts disappointed and frustrated, because they get interrupted so often or are assigned work that seems meaningless or at odds with their ideals.
Dr. Helgoe writes that, “Executives and managers need to consider how introverts—at least half of their workforce—produce. Employees require energy to produce and, conveniently, introverts come with their own generators.” Instead of trying to entertain us with lots of chatter and team-building meetings and parties, “mute the chatter, and give us some space.”
Instead of insisting that introverts attend brainstorming meetings, allow them to submit written ideas. For many employees, “less is more: less discussion, fewer meetings, and less so-called fun.”
That doesn’t mean introverts should be allowed to totally isolate themselves off and appear grumpy and unwilling to collaborate. Instead, Dr. Helgoe urges introverts to make the rounds to the people who are most likely to intrude and tell them that you are organizing your day to minimize interruptions: “Ask them what they’ll need from you, jot it down, and once you’ve collected these requests, retire to your space.”
And, she recommends that, “When you negotiate a new job or a raise, be upfront that your strong suit is your ability to work independently and pursue answers without interrupting others.”
Dr. Helgoe believes that properly managed introverts can efficiently advance every field of human endeavor, from science to business and education to politics: “Leaders only need to drop the scales from their eyes to produce more—much more—with the people they already employ.”
In the intro to the book, Dr. Helgoe writes “Introverts, it is time for us to claim our space, our time, and our vitality.”