Thanks to Susan Cain’s superb book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, people have suddenly made a stunning discovery: Introverts aren’t shy, reclusive losers; we actually add value!
Why Is That a Surprise?
This is surprising to many, in part, because introverts like Cain (and me), have done such a good job of pretending to be extroverts. We’ve done this because, if we wanted to be noticed by an extrovert-oriented world, we had to.
As Cain notes in her book’s introduction, “You wouldn’t be reading [this] if I hadn’t been able to persuade my publisher that I was enough of a pseudo-extrovert to promote it.”
The Pseudo-Extrovert Skill Set
Many of my public speaking clients are introverts who feel that being quiet and thoughtful isn’t winning them points at work. (In fact, the research bears this out.) They come to me to learn how to “pass,” and I teach them pseudo-extrovert skills such as:
- Making small talk (it’s like ping-pong, where you hit the conversational ball back to your partner)
- Using body language to command more space
- Speaking more loudly and confidently
- Talking “off the cuff,” and more.
According to Cain, these are the same skills you learn at Harvard Business School, an extrovert bastion that’s famous for producing leaders whose motto might as well be often wrong, but never silent.
How to Be a Proud Introvert
Of course, you don’t want to take pseudo-extroversion too far. While it’s useful to occasionally open a not-quite-natural bag of tricks, it’s far more useful—and sustainable—to tap the steady power that comes from being your best self.
Here are some ways we introverts can make that happen:
- Come out of the closet. When I leave a party after 45 minutes, I’ve stopped pretending to have a conflict, and started saying, “I need to go home and be an introvert.”
- If you have something important to say, push yourself to get the words out, even if they’re not as perfectly crafted as you would prefer.
- Strive to be “off” when you’re not actively “on,” including just before you give a presentation (this is not a good time for introverts to mingle).
- Honor your preferences for a smaller group at dinner, a quieter restaurant, a less frantic schedule, and whatever else you need to keep outside stimulation at a manageable level.
There’s Nothing Wrong with How We Do Things!
Perhaps the most debilitating part of being an introvert in an “extrovert ideal” society is the constant message that you’re doing things wrong. Susan Cain makes this point in her superb, 18-minute speech at TED. If you grew up hearing things like, “Why have you always got a book in your hand?” or “What’s wrong with you for staying inside?” or “What’s the matter, cat got your tongue?” it’s all too easy to feel that you’re lacking.
You may decide to speak up, or not. You may play the pseudo-extravert, or not. You may fight to be noticed, or not.
But whatever else you do or don’t do… start by not believing that hype!