WOMAN: OK, so we’ve spent a lot of time in the past couple of weeks talking about the psychology of success, and today we’ll take an in-depth look at the role of extroversion and introversion in personal achievement.
But before we go on, let’s be sure we are all on the same page about what exactly these terms mean. Extroversion and introversion are two opposite ends of a personality spectrum that explains how people both get and use energy. Hmm... that may be a bit vague. Perhaps I should give you some specific examples. All right. Now, extroverts are people who gain energy from spending time with others, and who rely on external validation. The archetypal extrovert is more adept at acting than contemplating, doesn’t mind taking risks, and is relatively confident. He or she enjoys working in teams and makes decisions quickly.
Introverts, who make up between one-third and one-half of the population, are the reverse of extroverts. They, uh, feel drained after socialising and really do need a lot of time to themselves. Being alone gives them a chance to recharge their batteries, so to speak. In general, introverts are more reflective, and are likely to think long and hard before acting. They are more detail-oriented and neurotic than their extrovert counterparts, and often come off as more serious...sometimes even withdrawn. I wouldn’t say they are less social, but I think it’s fair to say that socialising comes a bit less naturally for them. Oh, and they really don’t like being the centre of attention. Nothing causes more anxiety in an introvert than having to talk in front of a large group.
Anyway, that’s just a basic overview of the traits that define extroverts and introverts. I want to focus on how we...I mean, we as a society...perceive these different personality types. I’d argue that there is a subconscious, and even sometimes conscious, assumption that extroverts are more likely to succeed in life. It’s true that the public faces of success...you know, politicians, celebrities...are usually the outgoing, charismatic types. So, we see these people the most and internalise messaging that it takes being an extrovert to achieve success and happiness in our increasingly extroverted world.
But in actuality, that’s far from the case. In fact, the vast majority of geniuses are introverts. Van Gogh, Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Mahatma Gandhi...the list goes on and on. Many of the greatest ideas and creations in the history of humanity have come from people who are able to tune out the rest of the world and go inward.
And it’s not only creative and intellectual innovation that introverts excel at. They are quite effective leaders as well. This is not simply my opinion...it’s backed up by scientific studies. For example, a study done at the University of California-Los Angeles in the United States showed that extroverts contribute less to teams than their introverted colleagues. They tend to not be great listeners, and their energy for projects wanes quickly. In contrast, introverts listen well and actually gain momentum as projects progress.
Does that mean employers should put a hiring freeze on extroverts? Not at all. But it does indicate that there are strengths to both personality types that can facilitate success. Ideally, extroverts are best in positions where they are, are working with large groups, or in an educational capacity. Their charisma makes them excellent salespeople and speakers. But they don’t necessarily make the best leaders. A study from the University of Bristol estimates that over half of the world’s CEOs are introverts. The reason for this, aside from the attributes I’ve already mentioned, is that introverts tend to be motivated more by dedication to goals than by ego or a moment in the spotlight.
My point is not to criticise extroversion, but just to suggest that we need to rethink some of our assumptions about success. Rather than pressure introverts to fit into some extrovert ideal, we should be appreciating them for their own unique strengths...and there are many!