Describing introverts as bad communicators is an enduring myth of the communication world that needs to be debunked immediately. The shy almost reticent nature of introverts is often misconstrued as poor communication skills, especially when pitted against extroverts’ boisterous character.
To the world, it may seem that introverts are not communicating much because they don’t meet the preconceived societal ideas of good communication – loud, gregarious, and assertive. Susan Cain explores the phenomenon in detail in her book Quiet, stating how she, a vehement introvert, finds it difficult to feel at peace in a world that is constantly extolling the values of the hyper-energetic.
Introverts communicate just as well as extroverts
To understand the difference in introverts and extroverts’ communication style, we have to go back in history. In the 1900s these terms, introversion and extraversion – critical to understanding human personality traits – were coined by Swiss Psychoanalyst Carl Jung. According to him, extraverts/extroverts directed and gained energy from external stimuli like interacting with other people. On the other hand, introverts looked inwards for energy, leading to thoughtful activities and a calm communication style.
At SoME, we don’t believe in labelling people as introverts and extroverts. But, for this article’s sake, we will use traditionally understood traits of introverted behaviour to comprehend introversion and communication.
Introverts communicate well enough; the difference lies in how this communication is delivered. They communicate in a subtle, calm, and direct manner. They don’t rush to respond, but comprehend the context, the dialogues, and provide an informed reply. Most introverts revel in intense philosophical and intellectual discussions while shunning small talk.
In workplaces, they often enjoy working alone, preferring to speak when spoken to. These traits and the ability to listen keenly, have quiet reflections, and astute thinking capabilities make introverts assets to any organisation, helping in problem solving, innovation, and productivity.
Evolving human behaviour and introversion
Viewing extraversion and introversion as concepts independent of each other can be reductive and counterproductive to our understanding of how these traits impact communication skills. Our behaviour is constantly evolving, leading to changes in our personality that manifest in sometimes extroverted, sometimes introverted behaviour. This means our style of communication is also continuously shifting. Introverts may prefer their solitude to a loud gathering, and still deliver a passionate, well-informed, persuasive speech in front of many.
Communication is a continuum that transcends our personalities, and there is rarely a one size fits all rule. Centring our failure to communicate properly on a personality trait is an oversimplification and fails to consider myriad other possible factors.
On this week’s episode of Conversations with Rakesh, Rakesh Godhwani, Founder, SoME, demystifies the link between communication and introversion, discusses problems with stereotyping in communication, and sheds light on human behaviour’s ever-evolving nature and its impact on our communication skills.
Introversion: time to delete the word
On my webinars, I get many questions about communication and personality traits. One such question is, “I find it very discomforting to talk to people. I think I am very quiet by nature and an introvert. What should I do to solve this problem,” says Rakesh. This is a layered question, and I would like to focus on the introvert part of it.
This idea of introversion and extraversion has been misunderstood and is not relevant in today’s world. These terms were discovered in the 1900s, researched thoroughly through the ‘50s and ‘60s, are essential tools to gain a basic understanding of people’s behaviours, but are wrong ways to comprehend one’s communication skills.
Saying you are not communicating well enough because you are an introvert is like saying I have a headache, so I can’t communicate. Pills will solve your headache, but they will not solve your communication problems. Your personality trait need not dictate your communication skills.
Understanding introversion and extraversion from a historical standpoint and its relevance today will give us a new perspective. In the post World War II world when factories were booming, the factory owners and management consultants wanted to find the right people for the right jobs.
So, if a job required one to talk to other people, then a person who doesn’t like these interactions would fare poorly. Similarly, if a person was required to sit at a desk without many interactions and do their job and their behaviour did not match this requirement, they would be very unproductive. This classification of the labour force along behavioural lines furthered the ideas of introversion and extraversion.
The start of stereotyping
Unfortunately, this 1950s theory has gone haywire, and we are using it to stereotype people, which is wrong. The words introvert and extrovert should be deleted from our vocabulary.
In a given day we can behave both as an introvert and an extrovert. We could have a quiet morning reading a book, and in the evening, meet investors and passionately pitch them our ideas.
A word that does a better job at capturing the essence of our fluctuating behaviour is ambivert.
Some are gifted conversationalists, interacting with anyone at whim. But many of us are not comfortable talking to random people, or even people we know. We fear judgement or mockery. So we walk away without attempting to initiate a dialogue. Then we stumble upon these theories of introversion, put two together and declare ourselves as introverts. We find comfort in these labels, and say we will never talk in public. That’s a mistake. To survive, grow and achieve our goals, we have to learn to communicate our ideas boldly.
If you persistently feel tongue-tied in front of the public, you might have a social anxiety issue or Glossophobia, and these are significant issues in the 21st century. There are treatments for these issues too.
In his wonderful podcast How I Built This, Guy Raz gives fantastic examples of celebrated entrepreneurs who identify as introverts and have built empires and communicate very well. Some names include former CEO of Zappos, the late Tony Hsieh, P&G’s first black CEO, Tristan Walker, and Fashion Designer Eileen Fisher.
I too think I have traits of an introvert, but I have to connect with people because that is my bread and butter. I practice my communication skills every day and ensure my work gets done.
Let’s stop stereotyping people as introverts and extroverts, and instead focus on brushing up our oral communication skills. It is critical to remember that we can learn anything, and that alone defines our success as we move forward.
Watch Rakesh’s video on introversion and communication.