The world of work was not built for introverts. It involves offices full of people, open plan offices with constant noise and chatter and lots of meeting and brainstorming sessions. Introverts need other conditions to shine. Acknowledging their special traits can unlock value and lead to greater happiness.
2020, with its stop-go rhythm of lockdowns and working from home has seen a reversal of fortunes for introverts and extroverts. While extroverts miss the constant social interaction of the office, introverts will have thrived on the peace and quiet. It has given them licence to think, alone and undisturbed.
Simply put, the difference between introverts and extroverts lies in what a person finds exhausting and what reinvigorates them. While extroverts draw energy from parties and social interactions, introverts find these things draining. A brainstorming session in a group or competing noise will have them looking for the exit. While extroverts thrive on smalltalk, introverts prefer to discuss subjects in depth. Time alone spent thinking represents rejuvenation rather than loneliness.
How introverts changed the world
Some of history’s greatest developments have come of allowing introverts the solitude they crave. Isaac Newton was a student at the University of Cambridge in 1665 when the bubonic plague broke out. The university closed and sent its students home to shield themselves from the disease. Newton, himself a introvert, went home to Lincolnshire, where he was free to reflect. As the story goes, it was while he was sitting outside one day that he saw the apple fall from the tree which led to his theory of gravity.
Other well-known introverts include Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the physicist Albert Einstein, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and J. K. Rowling, author of the enormously popular Harry Potter books. Time spent alone thinking was also the motor behind their creativity.
How introverts can find happiness in self employment
As a person with pronounced introvert tendencies, working in an office was always a struggle for me. I found the constant smalltalk and meetings where there was pressure to speak up to “score performance points” exhausting. And unfair. My natural way of working, either alone or in a small group, wasn’t seen as the “right way to be”. However, in order to get good performance assessment, I was required to bend myself into a different shape. This introvert never liked the office.
Self-employment happened to me almost by accident. And by setting up Spezialis Translations, I ended up falling into my ideal style of working. Being a translator is a rather lonely business, sitting alone and staring into a screen all day long. Even though I sometimes wish I saw more people, I much prefer to work like this and get my “social contact fix” by going out with friends after work.
I can’t be alone in this. Perhaps you are an introvert who is already enjoying the peace and quiet of self-employment and you are nodding along to these words in recognition of your own experience. Or maybe you are still employed, have never been able to adjust to office life and have been made to feel bad about it. Perhaps self-employment would be a better solution for you? Is it time to start considering making a change to the way you work and live your life?
Take care of your introverted employees
These considerations also apply to entrepreneurs who employ others. Managing people is a tough task at the best of times. When the stress is on, there’s not much time to think about the needs of each individual and how you might get the best out of them. However, it may be worth being a little more sensitive to the differences between extroverts and introverts in the workplace. It may help you to unlock “hidden value” and performance potential which benefits your business as a whole.
Do you have any employees who you know are highly intelligent but never seem to get a word out in group meetings? Be honest – have you ever felt frustrated with them for this or thought less of them? It is quite possible that they have all kinds of answers and contributions whirling around inside their heads but are too intimidated to speak out in front of others. Perhaps individual discussions would encourage these introverts to share their thoughts?
Company parties and outings are another situation containing multiple triggers for introverts. Although most introverts will need a certain level of social contact, they reach their limits far quicker than extroverts. If they leave the party early, it’s because they’re exhausted and need to recharge. It’s not because they’re anti-social or aren’t teamplayers. Go easy on them.
Harness the power of introverts
At the end of the day, introversion isn’t a disability. It’s simply a different way of being which has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. If you are an introvert, acknowledging and accepting your true nature may be the first step towards lasting professional contentment. Perhaps that path will lead to self-employment.
If you are an employer, perhaps that means taking a more empathetic, individual approach to certain employees. It’s possible that employees who formerly seemed withdrawn and uncomfortable become star performers!
Further reading about introverts and introversion:
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain (Buy at amazon)
Caring For Your Introvert – Jonathan Rauch (The Atlantic, March 2003)
For Introverts, Quarantine Can Be a Liberation – Andreas Kluth (Bloomberg, Opinion, 28.03.2020)