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February 17, 2012

The Quiet Influence of Introverted Communicators

Posted on the Unboxed Thought blog on February 15th by Christina Spellman

When I took the famous Myers-Briggs Typology Test to determine the most suitable occupations for my personality, I was a little disappointed when it categorized me as an introvert. In my mind, the term “introvert” conjured the image of an anti-social hermit, hiding out in the woods somewhere. Moreover, picturing my future self as a recluse didn’t exactly coincide with my dream to pursue a career in communications.

For this reason, I was pleasantly surprised by last week’s TIME Magazine cover story, which highlights the hidden advantages of the introverted personality and clears away the stigma clouding the term. The article was inspired by Susan Cain’s recently published book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. In another essay for TIME, Cain explains shyness and introversion are not the same:

“Shy people fear negative judgment, while introverts simply prefer less stimulation; shyness is inherently painful, and introversion is not. But in a society that prizes the bold and the outspoken, both are perceived as disadvantages.”

In fact, introversion also has little to do with sociability or emotional intelligence, says psychologist Marti Olsen Lany Ps.D., author of The Introvert Advantage. The difference between personality types is more about how the brain processes information and energizes itself. For extroverts, says Olsen Lany, the processes of thinking and talking are essentially the same. Extroverts organize their thoughts by talking and gain more energy by seeking outside stimuli. Introverts on the other hand, store information, reflect first, and then speak afterwards. They feel most rested and rejuvenated after they spend time alone, thinking or reading.

The two personality types also have different communication styles. According to Olsen Lany, extroverts tend to be great leaders and orators because they communicate verbally constantly, and with ease. Introverts on the other hand, tend to be better listeners and writers because they like to digest and analyze information before choosing to respond.

The introvert’s ability to listen can prove to be a strong leadership skill. Contrary to the energetic, fast-talking executive often depicted in movies and television, introverts can also make surprisingly great leaders. It has been reported that 40% of executives are introverts including Bill Gates, Charles Schwab and Warren Buffet. Their leadership success is in part due to their ability to encourage proactivity from their employees, says Cain:

“As adults, introverted leaders have even been found to deliver better outcomes than extroverts when managing employees, according to a recent study by management professor Adam Grant of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, because they encourage others’ ideas instead of trying to put their own stamp on things.”

This concept of empowering the entrepreneurial spirit of employees by listening to their ideas, rather than top-down management, is exemplified by CJP’s own business model.

This is not to say that extroverts cannot be great leaders too. But, as Susan Cain explains, possibly the most creative teams consist of a combination of both “innies” and “outies,” for instance:

The famously charismatic Steve Jobs teamed up with powerhouse introverts at crucial points in his career at Apple, co-founding the company with the shy Steve Wozniak and bequeathing it to its current CEO, the quiet Tim Cook.

While it may be obvious why introverts make great tech whizzes, it may be less apparent why they would be essential in the communications world. However, I think Cain and Olson Lany’s findings reveal that in the public relations field specifically, a combination of introverts and extroverts can create a dynamic team. By combining the strengths of both introverts (writing and listening) and extroverts (oral presentations and phone calls) teams can create better pitches, press releases and presentations. The different personalities can also help each other to improve their communications skills; extroverts can encourage introverts to voice their ideas and opinions more, while introverts can teach extroverts to be better listeners and to put more thought behind their words.

So, if like me, you’ve tried to reject your inner “innie,” embrace it! Some of history’s greatest communicators (including introverts like Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Thomas Jefferson) effectuated great changes in the world because they knew how to listen.

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