A couple of years ago I was part of the team working on producing our company’s first website. Naturally it involved much discussion and many brainstorming sessions. I was the “copywriter” for the project, and would put together drafts for each of the pages and sections which we then would meet and discuss.
I really enjoyed that writing project, and it wasn’t difficult to come up with ideas to explain the kind of work we did and why it was beneficial. What I knew nothing about at that time was local business marketing or local search engine optimization. Discussion on these topics often came up as well, in reference to getting “hits” on our website to increase our “presence” online and elevate our local listings. However, I could sit in my quiet corner cubby and completely lose myself in describing the ways a medical case manager could help you if you’d been injured in an automotive or work related accident.
But when we’d get together for those group meetings, my brain went into hibernation. Even though there were only three or four of us, when everybody started talking about “what if we said this” or “maybe we should talk about that,” my creative thinking cells shriveled up and died. It was only when I could retreat to the quiet of my own space that I could come up with anything to say regarding our discussion.
Apparently that’s standard operating procedure for introverts like me. In fact, studies have shown that “brainstorming sessions” (which were pioneered in business in the 1950’s) are actually counterproductive. According to organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham, the “evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups. If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.”
An interview in Scientific American with Susan Cain, author of the book Quiet : The Power of Introverts, defines an introvert as someone who “prefers quiet, minimally stimulating environments.” And it’s not just social stimulation that introverts tend to shun-we also shy away from excessive noise and lights. (Perhaps that explains my aversion to bright lights and loud televisions, and most especially to both at the same time!) Apparently, introverts even salivate more than extroverts do if you place a drop of lemon juice on their tongues. So, says Cain, “an introvert is more likely to enjoy a quiet glass of wine with a close friend than a loud, raucous party full of strangers.”
The article states that one third to one half of Americans are introverted, so I was happy to read that I’m not alone – even though society tends to view being extroverted as the preferred social behavior. Cain asserts that there is a societal bias against introverts. “In our society, the ideal self is bold, gregarious, and comfortable in the spotlight,” she says. “We like to think that we value individuality, but mostly we admire the type of individual who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.” When I googled “photos of introverts,” there were a surprising number of images with negative connotations – people looking very dejected or lost.
According to Cain, most introverts “learn to pretend they are extroverts” in order to better fit the expectations of school and the workplace and avoid being treated like “second class citizens.”
That surprised me.
I’ve never tried to hide the fact that I’m introverted or act like I’m having a great time when I’m forced into situations that make my skin crawl. I prefer my own company to just about anyone elses. I work best in a atmosphere of quiet seclusion. I’d rather spend an evening with one or two close friends than go to the fanciest party in town. I know I work best in an atmosphere of solitude, where I have time to think my own thoughts.
I’m not always the most self-aware person, but I know this much for sure.
I am an introvert.
So bring on the lemons.
How about you? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How has this aspect of your personality effected your life?