a shy, reticent person.
Mention introvert and the image that comes to mind is of a person sitting quietly in a corner, surrounded by a mountain of books. They might enjoy hobbies like knitting, drawing, video games, or going for long walks on the beach on their own.
Extroverts, by comparison, are the ones who are forward and ‘think on their feet’; social butterflies who enjoy meeting people. If these terms ring any bells, it’s because they are traits companies use to describe desirable employees. Everyone loves the party animals, because they’re fun-loving, engaging, charismatic. Introverts, on the other hand, get a lot less love. The corporate world is setup to value speed and aggression, and there seems to be little to no space for introspection.
I am here to tell you why introverts matter, and why companies shouldn’t dismiss an employee’s potential, simply because we don’t fit into the conventional mold of what society deems a quote unquote, ‘good’ employee.
Now, before we dive deeper, let me just put it on the table that I have nothing against extroverts. Extroverts are awesome and I envy them their ease at fostering connections and their ability to bring people together. But just like everything in life, I believe in balance – and I think the world would be a better place if we can tap into the strengths of both extroverts AND introverts.
Many people assume that I’m antisocial, because I’m only good to ‘hangout’ for short periods – and even then it’s usually with a small and intimate group. This is untrue. I do not hate meeting people. Being an introvert simply means that I need time to recharge my batteries. Unlike extroverts, who get their energy from being around people and bouncing their ideas off others, introverts are like sponges – we absorb information and process them within. Think of a sponge that has soaked up too much water: it needs to be squeezed and emptied before it can be used again.
An ex-boss once told me not to be ‘antisocial’, when I politely declined another glass of beer at an office gathering. “You’re so uptight. Chill lah. Open up,” he said, while waving a bottle of Heineken in my face. “Live a little.” This is a very extraverted way of thinking. Live in the moment. Enjoy a bottle of beer, preferably while it’s cold, in the company of colleagues. And I’m not saying that’s wrong or anything, but introverts tend to take a bit more time to process things. Mine went like this: Another beer will get me drunk = I will have difficulty driving back home = Endangering others = let’s not have a beer, even if everyone else is and they call it ‘socialising’. Needless to say, the way he delivered his well-intentioned (?) remark did not help me to ‘open up’. If anything, I grew to dread office gatherings because I felt like a total freak, even when I was trying to socialise with others.
The Value of Introspection
“Spur of the moment” is used to describe something that happens without advance planning. Extroverts tend to have this way of thinking – speak one’s mind / get something going first, then work out the deets later. And while it can be a good thing in some cases, other decisions require deliberate and thoughtful introspection. Warren Buffet, one of the world’s richest men, is a famous introvert, and has said before in interviews that he often takes time off to do his own research and deliberate on decisions.
In a meeting, extroverts tend to dominate conversations, as they are more outspoken and willing to share, while introverts tend to be sidelined as they might only speak up when they feel that they have something valuable to add. This might lead people to believe that they do not have any good ideas at all, when in reality, they are simply taking their time to analyse and process the information, before they share their thoughts. If you need someone to create a report or summarise the minutes – I can guarantee you that introverts will excel nine times out of ten, because of the way our minds are wired. Remember = sponge.
Introverts are often chastised for their inability to socialise or network well. If you base success on the number of people you manage to pass your phone number to at an event, then sure – introverts are probably not as good as extroverts. But I disagree that we don’t connect well with people. It just takes us longer to find that one person who is worth spending our precious time and energy, because to introverts, this is a very limited resource that has to be spent wisely. We may not be naturally charismatic, but it is precisely because of this that many introverts place a high value on their relationships, both personal and professional, and work hard to maintain these r/ships. These deep and loyal bonds can be a great asset to a company, and friendships for that matter.
The Quiet Sweet Potato Is Filling
The above is a literal translation of the Malay saying, “diam-diam ubi berisi” lol.
There’s nothing fancy or particularly appealing about a sweet potato’s appearance. And yet, this humble root vegetable fills you up. It means that just because someone doesn’t outwardly say or appear to fit into a certain mold, that doesn’t mean they don’t have anything of value to add, or that they’re stupid. The closest equivalent to this proverb that I can think of is ’empty barrels make the most noise’, although it doesn’t capture the simplicity and essence of diam-diam ubi berisi.
There is a common misconception that leaders have to be outspoken, pushy go-getters. This setup means that charming, charismatic people, regardless of whether they can actually do a job well, are often given leadership positions. I have personally worked with and met people in leadership positions who are all air and no action: nice to look at at first glance, but with no substance within.
In contrast, quieter, less outgoing leaders are usually more focused on getting a job done rather than gaining approval from their employees and peers – which means that they can be more efficient. I have worked with several introverted bosses, and they are some of the best leaders I’ve had the chance to work with. And because their personalities gelled with mine, they understood how to bring out the best in me.
Many of the world’s most gifted creatives and analysts – from Bill Gates and Steve Jobs to Einstein – are introverts. Magic happens in the space between solitude and monotony, because creating a work of art, whether it’s writing, drawing, painting, etc. is often an introspective activity. We may be inspired by our surroundings, but creativity is drawn from within. We are no lesser, nor stranger, than the rest of the world. There is strength in being an introvert, and we should embrace who we are and work to realise our full potential.
Signing off with a very insightful Ted Talk by Susan Cain !
**PS: You can read more stuff like this on Patreon! Subscribe here. You can also follow me on other social media channels on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Your support would mean the world to me! 🙂