Many years ago as a college newspaper reporter, I had the chance to go backstage to interview Steve Martin in Orange County, California, where he had grown up. Standing in a thick white bathrobe, Martin had just finished a raucous comedy show where he was out-of-his-mind loud or, as he termed it, “wild and crazy.”
I had expected to meet the super-outgoing character from the stage and instead I met a super-quiet, introspective person--in short, an introvert. I could hardly hear a word he said and often had to ask him to repeat himself.
This was a revelation for me. I was shocked to learn that someone that introverted could perform publicly. Later this was confirmed for me, when I worked for a California Senator in Hollywood and met many actors and other public figures who were also pure introverts.
The Myth of Introversion
My misconception is shared by much of our society. Many people believe that introverts are simply “shy” and don’t like social interaction.
The truth is that the difference between introverts and extroverts is how they draw their energy: extroverts crave stimulation, drawing their energy from being with others; introverts restore their energy alone in quieter surroundings.
Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, reports that about one-third to one-half of the population is introverted, yet our culture caters to and rewards extroversion--often devaluing the contributions of introverts.
She notes that our schools and workplaces are designed for extroverts with little privacy and forced collaboration even on work that would benefit from individual attention.
Cain, an introvert by nature, has forced herself to be a public advocate bringing awareness to our cultural bias toward extroverts. In her book and on her website, Cain does great work in highlighting the incredibly valuable contributions of introverts throughout history and today.
Are you an introvert? Extrovert? Ambivert? You can find out by taking a simple 10-question quiz on Cain’s website. I took the quick quiz. (Extrovert, for sure ;-) I have the link at the end of this post.
In my coaching and workshops for presentations, I use the example of Steve Martin and others to encourage introverts to share more of themselves and their ideas with their colleagues and the world. I also encourage extroverts to talk less and listen more to their introverted associates.
As Cain says, the world needs the contributions of all of us.
What about you? Which are you?
Please use the comments to describe your introvert/extrovert experiences at home, in school or at your workplace.
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Quiet Revolution 10-question quiz
Susan Cain’s book: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
Susan Cain also gave a great TED Talk in 2012, which you can watch here: Susan Cain Ted Talk.
photo credit: Jim Summaria via Wikimedia