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  1. #1
    Symbolic Herald Vasilisa's Avatar
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    Default The science of introverts and the workplace

    The science of introverts and the workplace
    BY LILLIAN CUNNINGHAM
    September 24, 2013
    The Washington Post

    Excerpt:
    IN THE YEAR SINCE SUSAN CAIN published “Quiet,” several other bestselling business authors have joined her effort to weed from that genre the “extrovert ideal”—the bold, outspoken personality type that many self-help books idolize. That ideal, Cain says, took root in organizations in the 20th century and has since hurt the way we identify leaders, award promotions and even structure our meetings.

    Cain spoke with Lillian Cunningham, editor of the Post’s On Leadership section, about what it would look like to cultivate the assets that introverts bring to the workplace.

    Q. How have you seen the extrovert ideal play out in corporate America?

    A. It permeates every aspect of our corporate life and culture. Everything from how we structure our offices to how we expect people to be creative to whom we groom for leadership positions.

    The vast majority of employees work in open-plan offices, where you’re in a big open room with other people. There are economic reasons for setting up offices this way, but the theory is that it’s said to produce greater collaboration and greater creativity. For many introverts, in particular, this is a really uncomfortable way to work. It’s an incredibly overstimulating environment, where it’s hard to concentrate.

    Ironically, it’s not really much better for extroverts. There are lots of deleterious effects of these open-plan offices. They impair people from concentrating, they make people physically ill—literally, because there are so many germs floating around—and then the greatest paradox of all is that they actually prevent people from forming close friendships. If you think about it, the way that you start a friendship with somebody is that you exchange confidences. That’s the currency you offer as a friendship forms. If you’re in a big, open office and you feel like you can be overheard, you’re less likely to have intimate relationships with people.

    Q. And in terms of creativity and leadership grooming?

    A. We live with this value system that I call the new groupthink, which holds that creativity and productivity come from a very gregarious place. When we want people to come up with a new idea, we tend to call a meeting. But again, this is especially bad for introverts, because it’s not the way introverts like to be creative. They tend to prefer to go off by themselves to think, rather than thinking out loud.

    And as with open-plan offices, it doesn’t work that well for extroverts either, because extroverts too do better when they have some solitary time to think. We know from 40 years of research into brainstorming that individuals who brainstorm by themselves produce more ideas and better ideas than groups of people brainstorming together. And yet, we structure our workplaces increasingly around group activities.

    When it comes to leadership, extroverts are much more likely to be recognized early for leadership abilities, and then brought up the ranks. This is really a shame, because although introverts don’t at first blush have the qualities we associate with leadership, research that came out of the Wharton School by Adam Grant shows that introverted leaders often produce better outcomes than extroverts do.

    When introverted leaders are managing proactive employees, they’re more likely than extroverts to let those employees run with their ideas and really implement them. Whereas extroverts are more likely to want to put their own stamp on things and don’t hear other people’s ideas as much. Extroverted leaders do better when you need charisma and a rousing call to arms.

    The bottom line is that we need both styles of leadership, but what we’re doing in general is training just the extroverts and not the introverts.

    Q. Solutions to these problems likely lie with company management, or with some larger cultural shifts we need to make. So in the meantime, what advice would you give introverts who need to go to work every day in that environment?

    A. On the one hand, you need to develop the skills to act in a more extroverted way. It’s fine to do that, as long as you’re not doing it all the time. Extroverts need to do that also—they sometimes need to act more introverted than they really are.

    On the other hand, it’s really a question of how to draw on your own natural strengths. So for example, Douglas Conant, who was the CEO of Campbell Soup, describes himself as shy and introverted. He was well known for identifying employees who had really contributed, and he would sit down and write letters of thanks. During the time he was at Campbell, he wrote 30,000 of these letters—an astounding number, and something no extrovert would do. It had profound impact. People really felt connected to him and recognized by him.

    Q. Harnessing introversion when you’re CEO is one thing, but how do you even get to a top position if your greatest skills tend to be the ones that superiors don’t notice?

    A. I think successful introverts do find ways to be recognized for the substantive value they add. Larry Page is an introvert, and he’s the cofounder and now CEO of Google. People talk about him not having the classic personality of a CEO, but people do realize that the strategic thinking he brings to the company is something real and not to be discounted.

    That said, most introverted leaders will tell you that they coach themselves to do things outside their comfort zone. They do things like set personal daily quotas for how many times a day they leave their office and walk through the hallways of the company. There was one CEO who had to remind himself when walking down the hallway to make eye contact and greet people, because his natural inclination would be to walk lost in thought, solving some problem. But he realized people thought he was being aloof and dismissive of them.

    <full story>

    Related:
    The Upside of Being an Introvert
    The Crystalline Wall
    the formless thing which gives things form!
    Found Forum Haiku Project


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  2. #2
    Theta Male Julius_Van_Der_Beak's Avatar
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    This thread warrants more attention, but I do think it's really irritating when I'm trying to work, and two or three people are hanging out to the right of me, loudly joking about nothing. Especially if I happen to be on the phone.

    A. The key to overcoming really any fear is what’s called desensitization—which is a fancy way of saying, to practice over and over doing the thing you fear. You practice it in very small, manageable steps so that your anxiety level is never out of control.
    Helps me over the phone. I used to never feel like i could communicate anything over the phone. Now I've figured out exactly how to do this. The one thing I have a problem with is when people are insistent on being vauge, and refuse to give me more concrete information that could actually help me. I asked the same question 30 times, and they always give me a roundabout answer that doesn't really answer anything.

    I believe introverts today are where women were in the 1950s and 1960s, when people first started to write about the women’s revolution and some of those books really touched a huge national nerve. They surfaced things that women felt but couldn’t totally articulate, and suddenly it gave people a socially acceptable way to talk about things that had been bothering them at a very fundamental level. The women’s movement was in everybody’s interest, because when women’s lives are fully realized, that benefits companies and society at large.
    Interesting, Very interesting, actually.

    It is weird that i get virtually no recognition for solving a difficult problem or having a good track record of not fucking up, and what does get rewarded is stuff like "community engagement" and "being pleasant" (of course that matters over the phone, but it's hardly the only aspect of the job). It seems to me that to get recognized for any of that stuff, I have to do politicking or make it loudly known and trumpet that over and over. Which, I suppose I'll need to figure out how to do. Mostly, it bugs me how often I have to help out some overly chipper person who doesn't know anything at all, even stuff they should know, especially because they probably make more than me.

    Anyway, mostly I'm venting about how I need a different job. I may be able to provide something more analytical in the future.
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  3. #3
    Senior Member Forever_Jung's Avatar
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    I actually read Cain's book on introverts: Quiet. It was kind of neat, especially the chapter she did on pseudo-extraverts.

    Quote Originally Posted by msg_v2 View Post
    Helps me over the phone. I used to never feel like i could communicate anything over the phone. Now I've figured out exactly how to do this.
    I can relate. I used to be that kid who stutters, and blushes and generally looks like he's about to cry during his book report. Fastforward 10 years or so, I've done so many presentations, that I've become the go-to guy at my company, for speeches/official statements. I still get jelly legs but most people won't even believe I'm not 100% confident and loving it, when I'm up there.

  4. #4
    Administrator highlander's Avatar
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    I used to have a real "thing" about this when I was working hard to progress up the ranks. It bothers me less today.

    I see a lot of introverts that essentially turn themselves into extroverts for work. That's how they succeed.

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    That said, most introverted leaders will tell you that they coach themselves to do things outside their comfort zone. They do things like set personal daily quotas for how many times a day they leave their office and walk through the hallways of the company.
    One year in my performance review I was told to socialize more with my fellow employees. The very next year I was told I was wasting too much time walking around the office talking to people. Hahaha, so glad I don't work for that schmuck anymore.


    I agree with the central point of the article but I resent the implication that introverts dread public speaking and big presentations. I love them.

    The real problem is this:

    ...extroverts are more likely to want to put their own stamp on things and don’t hear other people’s ideas as much.
    If your boss is an extrovert they're more likely to want their employees to be extroverts too. That dominoes and makes a corporate culture of schmoozers and people who have meetings about meetings.

  6. #6
    Wake, See, Sing, Dance Cellmold's Avatar
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    This is a lovely thread.

    The insights are relative, even if people were to consider me extraverted and there are many who do. But I've never been able to ease myself into social settings without the aid of alcohol and that is a poor sign to me.

    I have developed as time has gone by, but I still find it difficult to partake in the immediacy and pace that seems required of people in most workplaces these days. At one of my current jobs, there is a plan to make everyone into a customer adviser whose job it is to prowl the shop floor offering help to anyone who 'appears' to need it.

    The idea is terrifying me, because while I can hold my own with people I have built a relationship with, I find it hard to warm up instantly to people who I know I most likely will never see again, nor care about.

    But then I reason there are other jobs...and perhaps even a future....somewhat distant, with little to no jobs...once we realise we cannot sustain the idea of employment.

    I'm with @93JC the domino effect is very real in terms of office and corporate cultures in a workplace. Part of it is complacency, but mainly it is people strengthening a system to themselves and others like them in order to reinforce a more solid position. In other words it actually stems from hidden insecurity and fear.

    The trouble with both of those is that they are inherently irrational and so we end up with workplaces that benefit certain styles of people and reject others, under the delusion that the issue lies with those it does not benefit, instead of perceiving just how that entrenched system falls short of people who are different.

    A notion that can be applied to many areas of life.

    It reminds me of a person with serious issues in their life, who deals with it by not dealing with it, but by avoiding it at every possible cost. Then finding themselves in turmoil and defeat, they stand on the table and shout "IM WINNING" before it breaks underneath them. Such are the mental gymnastics a person will go through to hide from self-revelation.

    As the article points out, this imbalance of attitudes is as damaging to extraverts as introverts and rather than a position of blame, we should attempt to cultivate a position of understanding. After all I cannot blame extraversion as a collective grouping.
    'One of (Lucas) Cranach's masterpieces, discussed by (Joseph) Koerner, is in it's self-referentiality the perfect expression of left-hemisphere emptiness and a precursor of post-modernism. There is no longer anything to point to beyond, nothing Other, so it points pointlessly to itself.' - Iain McGilChrist

    Suppose a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?"
    "Suppose it didn't," said Pooh, after careful thought.
    Piglet was comforted by this.
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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by AffirmitiveAnxiety View Post
    I'm with 93JC the domino effect is very real in terms of office and corporate cultures in a workplace. Part of it is complacency, but mainly it is people strengthening a system to themselves and others like them in order to reinforce a more solid position. In other words it actually stems from hidden insecurity and fear.

    The trouble with both of those is that they are inherently irrational and so we end up with workplaces that benefit certain styles of people and reject others, under the delusion that the issue lies with those it does not benefit, instead of perceiving just how that entrenched system falls short of people who are different.

    A notion that can be applied to many areas of life.


    In retrospect I regret attributing this sort of behaviour to extroverted people, but if you personified corporations I really do think most would be extroverts.

    I immediately think of experiences with my clients, many of which have been government bodies and large corporations. The government bodies in particular have cultivated corporate cultures where extroversion is prized and it shows whenever I deal with them. Everybody is given their time to add their two cents' worth of input, whether or not it's pertinent, and most meetings I have with them are almost irrelevant because no one there actually has any real power to make decisions. All in all it results in a colossal waste of time and money but that is the system that has been developed and no one dares to speak against it. If everyone goes along with it no one gets fired or faces any real repercussions because no one is accountable for their actions.

    It really is about reinforcing their own positions. It's about being visible, because in their corporate culture being visible is important. It makes them important. People who aren't going to meetings and aren't participating in team-building exercises and so on are obviously not important to the running of the corporation. It's a twisted, backwards way of thinking but that is how it is done.

    It reminds me of a person with serious issues in their life, who deals with it by not dealing with it, but by avoiding it at every possible cost. Then finding themselves in turmoil and defeat, they stand on the table and shout "IM WINNING" before it breaks underneath them. Such are the mental gymnastics a person will go through to hide from self-revelation.
    Have a read, and don't hurt yourself laughing: http://imgur.com/a/ZJDLQ

    (Supposedly the company went bankrupt in 1980. )

  8. #8
    Wake, See, Sing, Dance Cellmold's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 93JC View Post
    Have a read, and don't hurt yourself laughing: http://imgur.com/a/ZJDLQ

    (Supposedly the company went bankrupt in 1980. )
    Haha wow, he reminds me of a real life Jeremiah Fink...except Fink tried to be benevolent to hide his atrocious view on workers: http://bioshock.wikia.com/wiki/Jeremiah_Fink

    Plus this guy was first.

    But..yeah wow, anal retentive doesn't even begin to describe it. Scrooge ain't got nothin' on him. If he is real that is. And unfortunately I can believe it to be true.
    'One of (Lucas) Cranach's masterpieces, discussed by (Joseph) Koerner, is in it's self-referentiality the perfect expression of left-hemisphere emptiness and a precursor of post-modernism. There is no longer anything to point to beyond, nothing Other, so it points pointlessly to itself.' - Iain McGilChrist

    Suppose a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?"
    "Suppose it didn't," said Pooh, after careful thought.
    Piglet was comforted by this.
    - A.A. Milne.

  9. #9
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    Really interesting article. I'm glad the thread is getting attention.

    Quote Originally Posted by highlander View Post
    I see a lot of introverts that essentially turn themselves into extroverts for work. That's how they succeed.
    That's what I did, and it works. Being an introvert and quiet and reserved doesn't pay off when people have an expectation on you to act the opposite.

  10. #10
    Wake, See, Sing, Dance Cellmold's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Saturned View Post
    That's what I did, and it works. Being an introvert and quiet and reserved doesn't pay off when people have an expectation on you to act the opposite.
    But it comes with a price. At least for me it does; if I have to 'perform' for too long it puts me into a rather miserable cycle and I must get away or I implode.
    'One of (Lucas) Cranach's masterpieces, discussed by (Joseph) Koerner, is in it's self-referentiality the perfect expression of left-hemisphere emptiness and a precursor of post-modernism. There is no longer anything to point to beyond, nothing Other, so it points pointlessly to itself.' - Iain McGilChrist

    Suppose a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?"
    "Suppose it didn't," said Pooh, after careful thought.
    Piglet was comforted by this.
    - A.A. Milne.

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