Be proud not being loud

J.K. Rowling says she's one. So too is Gwyneth Paltrow. No wonder experts say it's introverts who are quietly triumphing at work and at home


Do you hover on the fringes of parties? Get tongue-tied in work meetings? Struggle to make small talk?

Despite what other people might think, you’re probably not anti-social or unimaginative. It’s likely you’re an introvert — but in society’s eyes, that’s much worse.

Thanks to a tsunami of self-help books and so-called ‘confidence gurus’ we’ve been conditioned to admire and emulate the extroverts who dominate the party and rule the roost at the office.

Shy retiring types may have the last laugh, because latest research suggests that introverts are actually among the greatest social influencers

On the QT: Shy retiring types may have the last laugh, as latest research suggests that introverts are actually among the greatest social influencers

But shy retiring types may have the last laugh, because the latest research suggests that introverts are actually among the greatest social influencers.

With superior reasoning and ­better decision-making skills, they’re able to maintain longer-lasting relationships and exude calm in our frenzied world where phones bleep incessantly, emails pour in and waiting more than two minutes for a coffee in Starbucks is liable to cause a riot.

Around 40 per cent of professionals at executive level — as well as some of the most prestigious writers, artists, inventors and diplomats — display strongly introverted characteristics.

Author J.K. Rowling — recently voted the most influential woman in Britain by a panel of magazine editors — is a self-proclaimed introvert.

Others who lean towards introversion include Hollywood stars such as Meryl Streep and Gwyneth Paltrow, business billionaire Bill Gates, the Queen and even U.S. President Barack Obama.

THINK LINK

The terms introversion and extroversion were first popularised by psychologist Carl Jung

According to recent studies, introverts show increased blood flow in the frontal cortex of the brain responsible for good memory, planning, problem-solving and highly complex research.

The inner world of the introvert also means they’re more able to hear their own thoughts, with an in-built ability to resist external distractions in a way that extroverts can’t.

Happily for the shrinking violets among us, psychologists are seeing a backlash against the ‘cult of extraversion’ as more people seek to capitalise on their introverted traits to get ahead in their career and improve their relationships and family life.

According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test (the most commonly used in the world) we all have introvert and extrovert traits, with one dominating.

While an extrovert will thrive in noisy, fast-paced environments, an introvert will draw energy from within themselves, finding solace in a kind of internal world where they’re free to reflect and explore ideas thoroughly.

Self-proclaimed introverts: Revered writer J.K. Rowling and Oscar-winner Gwyneth Paltrow tend to veer away from being the centre of attention
Self-proclaimed introverts: Revered writer J.K. Rowling and Oscar-winner Gwyneth Paltrow tend to veer away from being the centre of attention

Self-proclaimed introverts: Revered writer J.K. Rowling and Oscar-winner Gwyneth Paltrow tend to veer away from being the centre of attention

Consequently, introverted women can often suffer at work, according to Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of The Introverted Leader.

‘They can struggle to contribute to quick-fire brainstorming sessions among colleagues who are adept at ad-libbing, ­perform well at public speaking tasks or claim the credit for projects they’ve worked on. 

'They feel like a failure when in fact they’ve just been seduced by the myth that extroversion equates to success.’

But, rather than trying to compete with extroverts, introverts should let their independence and flair for original thinking and attention to detail speak volumes for them.

FIVE SIGNS YOU'RE AN INTROVERT

  • You feel energised by time alone, but drained by being around ­people for extended periods.
  • ‘Think first, talk later’ is your mantra.
  • Forget multi-tasking, you value depth over breadth and often become totally absorbed in work projects.
  • Others turn to you for reassurance or mediation during times of crisis and dispute.
  • You experience physical symptoms (back, head or stomach aches) when overwhelmed by groups, but feel well once away from them.

Preparing questions and practising in advance of meetings and group presentations will help introverts appear more engaged and prove themselves to be a greater asset to a company than someone who relies on quick-witted retorts and ‘winging it’.

Plus, the introverts’ tendency to avoid office politics means they can use their skills as a one-to-one communicator to build lasting, loyal contacts rather then superficial business acquaintances who buckle in competitive environments.

As Corinne Sweet, a relationship psychologist, points out, an introvert’s ability to retreat to their own world means they exude an air of calm that pacifies and reassures more highly strung members of the family, as well as fractious colleagues. 

‘My introverted clients are often the hidden power behind the marriage. They can be overwhelmed by group confrontation, yet by approaching each person in turn — whether it be fighting children or facing that difficult conversation with their partner — they’re able to mediate squabbles and get their point across successfully.

‘What’s essential is recognising that time alone — even if it’s just a quick walk around the park away from the family — is lifeblood for introverts, rather than something to feel guilty about.’

We’ve become so accustomed to valuing extrovert behaviour, that introverts are often thought to be shy. In fact, they’re not only one of the most successful social groups — they can also be one of the happiest.

They aren’t hell bent on being the most popular person in the group, or getting that promotion, finding Mr Right, or indeed any other external events beyond their immediate control, and their inward focus allows them to gain contentment from being alone with their thoughts.

USE YOUR INTROVERSION TO GET AHEAD

  • Stop seeing introversion as an abnormality. Half the population are introverts — they just don’t shout about it.
    Arrive early to work meetings to establish contact with others on a one-to-one basis first.
  • Use your flair for the written — rather than spoken — word, to voice concerns or ideas with notes at home and emails in the office.
  • Single introverts can get involved in group activities when working alongside each other (rather than facing each other over the dinner table) is required. This will remove the pressure of ­providing a never-ending stream of small talk.
  • Make the most of social times with friends and family in the knowledge that you’ll savour time alone later — even if it’s while ­driving to the supermarket.

Having left her job in the high-octane, extrovert environment of the City to become an author, Helen Walmsley found that she discarded the negative perception she had of herself as an introvert.

‘I don’t suffer the same highs and lows that more extroverted people do in response to a stressful day at work or some good news,’ says Helen.

‘I tend to be more neutral and only voice opinions and ideas when I’ve really thought them through. That kind of considered honesty is hugely valued, both in terms of my work as an author and in my relationship with my partner.’

Patsy Rodenburg of The Guildhall School of Music and author of Presence: How To Use Positive Energy In Every Situation, has worked with stars such as Charlotte Rampling, Emma Thompson and Madonna on how adaptations in voice and body language can influence the way others see us.

‘People make the mistake of thinking our great actors and performers are show-offs,’ she explains.

‘In fact, many of my clients are natural introverts who use their talent for self-analysis to add depth and integrity to the characters they play. They master using non-aggressive body language and powerful voice control to establish an irresistible presence that never relies on simple extroversion.’

It’s this sense of authenticity and ­sincerity, believes Patsy, that will give introverts the upper hand as our social values go through a period of change.

In a new age of austerity, while imposing yourself physically and verbally on those around you will seem brash and rather shallow, traits such as restraint, sincerity and a more meditative approach to life will come to the fore.

She who shouts loudest does not always win the argument.

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