“Noise” Got You Down? Maybe You’re an Introvert. | The Value of Quiet

Quiet-pb-book-jacketActivity is the centerpiece of the workplace. We work alone and with others. We’re directed to apply our knowledge and skills to tasks, new and unfamiliar.

Every day we’re busy–responding to requirements, change, or even crises. This is our on-the-job “noise.”

So why do some of us feel energized by the swirl of things and others wearied by them at the end of the day?

The answer lies in our temperaments.

Introvert or extrovert

If you’ve ever taken the Myers-Briggs personality test (I’m an INFP, if you’re interested) or read Carl Jung’s book, Psychological Types, you’re familiar with clinical definitions of introvert and extrovert.

In her fascinating, best-selling book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain recaps Jung’s findings:

Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them: extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.

Simply put, introverts are drained of energy when engaging with people while extroverts are energized.

Cain adds,

…today’s psychologists tend to agree…that introverts and extroverts differ in the level of outside stimulation that they need to function well. Introverts feel ‘just right’ with less stimulation….Extroverts enjoy the extra bang that comes from activities like meeting new people….

If given a choice between attending a large cocktail party on a Friday night after a tough day at the office or spending the evening curled up on the sofa with book, most introverts would prefer the book.

Introversion and extroversion are temperament descriptors that, like most human behaviors, fall on a continuum (including ambivert, someone who aligns with both) and are often situational. Cain explains how we evolve in those temperaments and adjust them as needed.

What’s interesting is how our degree of introversion or extroversion comes to play in our jobs.

Cain writes:

Many psychologists would…agree that introverts and extroverts work differently. Extroverts tend to tackle assignments quickly. They make fast (sometimes rash) decisions.

Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration.

Cain points out that introverts face unique challenges and discomforts, especially when the workplace seems to respond more positively to its extroverts.

She researched both history and scientific studies, illuminating and validating the styles and contributions of introverts. For me, as an introvert, she put the awkwardness, self-questioning, and anxieties that were part of my work life into a perspective that was something of a relief.

Introverts on the job

Being introverted does not mean being shy. It’s about needing quiet time, away from  interactions with others, to refuel oneself.

Because a workplace is often an intense “people place,” it doesn’t always fit the ways introverts prefer to operate.

Here are some examples of introvert challenges, raised and validated by the studies that Cain covers:

Brainstorming exercises: Introverts formulate more and higher quality ideas, innovations, and new perspectives on their own than in rapid-fire group discussions where the loudest, fastest voices usually prevail.

Public speaking: Introverts are more comfortable in public speaking situations when they’ve been able to prepare fully. They tend to be highly sensitive to the reactions of the audience, continually scanning it while speaking, so they can adjust.

Participating at meetings: Introverts tend first to assimilate the content of meeting discussion before framing their input. They tend to say less, but concisely, not always commanding the full attention of others.

Leadership charisma: Although introverts make effective leaders, there may be a culture of charisma in a company that rewards leadership positions more often to those with “big personas” rather than a solid vision and effective decision making.

The value of quiet

The workplace is made richer by the diversity of temperaments. So it’s important to make sure that the value inherent in both introverts and extroverts is cultivated.

Cain reminds us:

Without introverts, the world would be devoid of:

  • the theory of gravity
  • Chopin’s nocturnes
  • The Cat in the Hat
  • Google

So please make space for a bit more quiet among the noise.

Your Generation’s Workplace Brand—Fair or Foul? |Taking Issue

Isn’t it actually stereotyping? A kind of “when you were born” profiling? I’m talking about those labels—Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y (aka the Millenials, Generation Next, Net Generation, Echo Boomers).

These labels, initially designating our birth era, have become cultural brands, creating either positive or negative perceptions, depending on who’s watching, especially at work. We even use them to categorize ourselves. 

Stories can spawn truth or myth. 

On her morning talk show this week, NBC’s Hoda Kotb and guest co-host, Willie Geist, an MSNBC TV commentator, swapped stories about interns they’d hired. 

Hoda needed to locate a J. Smith in NJ for a segment, so she said to her intern, “I’ll start calling this half of the names in the phone book and you can take the other half.” 

The intern replied, “Oh, I don’t make cold calls.” 

Geist’s story was similar. When given a weekend assignment, his intern informed him, “I don’t work Saturdays.” 

Both Kotb and Geist called these reactions signs of “narcissism,” reflective of that generation nineteen-year-olds. Fair or foul? 

I suspect that you know plenty of entry level professionals who would have walked through fire for KotB and Geist. But stories like these feed the brands of whole generations. 

The perils of painting with a broad brush 

Why do we find it unacceptable to attach sweeping labels to the styles of our coworkers by ethnicity or race but find it acceptable to use the era in which we’re born? 

We’ve become pidgeon-holed: 

  • Baby Boomer—a person born during the Post-World War II baby boom
  • Generation X—a person born after the Western post-World War II baby boom, from the 1960s to the early 1980s  
  • Generation Y (Millenials, et al)—a person born after the Gen Xers, from about the mid-1970s to the early 2000s.   

(Some people refer to Millenials as their own generational group.) 

These labels have been allowed to represent our work ethic and the ways we interact. For some reason, as managers and employees, we’ve become comfortable categorizing each other and ourselves using these labels. 

Here’s what several career-minded professionals posted on a site I follow: 

  • “Generation X and Baby Boomer managers complain about poor performance.
  • Generation Y whines about a lack of responsibility and/or high demands in the workplace.
  • Millenials pick up important cues because they are native technology users; Boomers sometimes miss those cues because they’re not.” 

People write statements like these and everyone nods. But are they true about everyone in these groups? About you? They sure aren’t true about me. 

Why aren’t we angry about this? 

I’ve been frustrated by these labels for a long time. There’s a danger in them when they’re perceived as truths.

Every time we refer to ourselves as a Boomer, a Gen Xer, or a Millenial, we agree to be defined in the context of others we don’t even know. We accept the stories that went with them, rather than creating stories that showcase ourselves  and what we have to offer.

When we accept those labels, we foster division. Each person, not generation, brings something important to the party. It’s our job to figure out what that is and grow from it. 

Please stay out of the boxes!

Success is about YOU. There’s no value thinking in labels. Instead, find people where you work you who are considered the best contributors, the standout leaders, and the examples to follow. 

Find mentors with varied experiences and knowledge. Don’t just hang around with your own clan. Bridge every generation and engage all the talent you can. Defy the labels. Be your own person. Then see how your career takes off!

Try this: List the people in your company who have distinguished themselves. Find a way to talk to them about something related to your work in the next 30 days. See what happens. You’ll be amazed.