Remember PSHE? Personal, Social... something Education. That awkward school subject shoehorned in to a derelict corner of the timetable that was somehow meant to prepare you for the rest of your life as a human being. I remember a lesson when I was about 14, where the teacher (a pleasant pupil-pleaser who the class had made cry the previous week by throwing her father’s prized coin collection around the classroom because children are terrible people) had asked why we thought introverts didn’t like being around other people.
The answerer, a short, burly bully who’d later end up working in Sales and having nothing of note to say about anything, said, “Because they’re shy.” The teacher’s response was, “No, but I think we can tell from that answer that you’re an extrovert!”
He beamed from ear to ear like he’d just been made tribe chief, lifted aloft and placed on a throne made of popularity.
I remember that episode because every single part of it was wrong. Introverts like being around other people just fine. They may be shy or they may not be; it’s an unrelated phenomenon. And, perhaps above all, extroversion is not a moral good. Making children feel that they are wrong for having quieter, more individual social desires is a tremendously unfair and unhelpful burden to place on them.
But here’s the thing, my quiet friends: introversion is not a burden, it’s a super power. And the good thing about introverts is that they’ll never see you coming.
We have excellent powers of listening and observation. Whereas extroverts tend to process new information interactively and therefore jump right into conversations then figure out what they think as they go along, introverts gather information and think, coming to conclusions themselves before broadcasting to those around them. We spend a lot more time listening, not just preparing our next conversation piece, and when we do say something, it’s something worth listening to.
We also take more time to observe the people around us: body language, tone, facial expressions, use of personal space. This gives us tremendous insight into the other people in the group, bolsters our ability to empathise and helps us spot insecurities (to ease or exploit, depending on your current mood).
This tends to lead us to being more thoughtful, making considered contributions rather than filling silence with noise. The introverts are the ones you want to follow on Twitter, if you can find them.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, introverts build incredibly successful teams.
We choose our friends (and colleagues, if we have a choice in the matter) very carefully. As other people drain our batteries, we have little time for fair-weather friends or hangers-on. The people in our inner circle form strong connections with us, creating loyalty, understanding and free-wheeling openness of a kind we don’t tend to have with acquaintances.
Introverts also make inspirational leaders, forming cohesive teams around them. By listening, observing and considering, introvert leaders make the people in their team feel valued and understood. And when time comes to take credit, introvert leaders are usually far happier to step aside and let the team have the limelight.
So go forth, my friends. Have confidence that you can change the world without needing to incessantly talk about changing the world. In a world of noise and bile, a little thoughtfulness is a panacea.