A more vocal and outgoing employee might get showered with accolades that a quieter co-worker will never receive. But that doesn't mean there's a talent deficit between the two.
As Susan Cain, author of the New York Times best-seller "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking," explains to U.S. News, introverts bring their own admirable traits to the workplace. An introvert herself, Cain, 45, maximized the attributes of her quieter personality to achieve success as a Wall Street lawyer with the firm Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton LLP.
"The popular stereotype of attorneys is of bold showmen who take courtrooms by storm," Cain says. "But the best lawyers in my firm were deep, careful thinkers, who had a natural tendency to think through ramifications."
If you're an introvert, you might feel that your demeanor has precluded you from opportunities afforded to extroverts in your office. But as Cain explains, introverts can get ahead by tapping into the finer qualities that come with their personality: solid listening skills, the ability to concentrate for extended periods of time and being open and enthusiastic about the ideas of others. Her responses have been edited.
Can you explain for us the difference between an introvert and extrovert, and how do those differences manifest themselves in the workplace?
The classic distinction between introverts and extroverts is that introverts recharge their batteries by being alone, while extroverts recharge them in company – often, a lot of company. Many introverts have great social skills, but they still feel depleted by too much socializing.
But there's much more to it than this classic definition. Introverts and extroverts also think differently. Extroverts tend to be quick-thinking multitaskers who lean toward impulsiveness and quick gratification; introverts like to process slowly and deeply before they speak or act, and are comfortable with delayed gratification. Introverts tend to function best in quiet autonomous environments, while extroverts do well in noisier, more stimulating situations.
[See: 10 Things Only Bad Bosses Say.]
In your book, you note the positive work relationship that employees can have with an introverted boss. But when can a boss's introversion become problematic in the workplace?
Introverted bosses need to remember that their role requires a lot of engagement – that employees crave feedback from the boss. If you're an introvert and a boss, and you love to spend a lot of time behind your desk, make sure to explain to your employees who you are and how to interpret your behavior. Find your own way of telling them you love them. Douglas Conant, the former CEO of Campbell Soup and a self-described shy introvert, wrote thousands of letters of gratitude to employees who had served the company well.
What's the risk for a company run by a boss who puts an overwhelming amount of faith in the advice of extroverted employees?
If you systematically listen to the most extroverted employees, you may or may not be getting the best advice. Many extroverts are excellent communicators, but there's no correlation between expressing an idea assertively or charismatically, and having a good idea. Introverts' ideas may be poor or excellent; the same is true of extroverts. We need systems that reward the best ideas, not the best presenters.
How can introverts achieve success in people-oriented professions such as politics, public relations and journalism?
Introverts achieve success in these professions all the time – we just don't realize they're introverts. On my media tour to promote my book, I noticed that the majority of the TV and radio interviewers confided after the show that they are introverts. And recently I sat on a panel moderated by Arianna Huffington – virtually everyone on the panel, including George Stephanopoulos, Candice Bergen and Angie Hicks [founder of Angie's List] announced that they were introverts, too. We introverts are trained from a young age to act more extroverted than we really are. The real challenge is not only pushing ourselves outside our comfort zones but also allowing ourselves to stay home on Saturday nights and feel great about that choice.
Do you see a possible shift in the workplace that leads to a greater celebration of introversion?
Oh yes, I'm seeing businesses embrace the Quiet Revolution as the next great diversity issue of our time. I travel around the world speaking to leading companies, and I've been so encouraged to see how receptive they are to these ideas. I'm also starting a Quiet Revolution organization, launching soon. We'll be partnering with various companies to develop tools and other resources for harnessing the strengths of introverts at work.