This Isn’t Your Father’s Introvert

I was rewatching an old favorite the other day; the 1990 Christian Slater movie, “Pump Up the Volume.” It got me thinking about people who have short-wave radios and then I started thinking about podcasts. As my mind wandered, as it does, I jumped over to this idea of introverts, and how, contrary to Slater’s character in the movie–a introverted loner who felt alienated and isolated from society–introverts today have become an accepted personality. Now, we celebrate them as unique and different, and if you believe the psychologists, Gen-Z is chock-full of them.

When I was coming up, introverts were considered maladjusted, or at least, that’s what I was taught to be believe. Children were supposed to be social and active and fun, and, while I was all of those things, I still enjoyed my downtime. I liked playing by myself or putting on a good record and just listening to it in my room, alone. I haven’t changed much TBH.

That said, I don’t have anxiety disorder, nor does the thought of being the center of attention paralyze me. I can be THAT person just fine. I just prefer not to be, day in and day out.

As I have been aggressively job hunting of late, I can’t help but notice a complete lack of regard for the kinds of behavioral characteristics traditionally associated with introverts: a desire to be alone, not wanting to stand out, a quiet demeanor, introspective.

But unlike the way society seems to embrace the introvert, every job description today demands candidates be outgoing go-getters, have a startup mentality, and exhibit strong interpersonal skills. Why the double standard? Why hasn’t the business world come to terms with the fact that not everyone fits–or even needs to fit–the mold of what is traditionally believed to describe a successful business leader? If nearly 50% of all Gen-Zers don’t have the traits described above, what does that mean for the future of business?

Did you know, according to today’s accepted standard of what makes a person an introvert, anywhere from 30-50% of us are? If you’re not sure whether you fit into the introvert classification, ask yourself these questions about Introverts from WebMD. Do you or are you:
(my answers in blue)

  • Need quiet to concentrate (hmm, sometimes)
  • Are reflective (yes)
  • Are self-aware (I like to think so)
  • Take time making decisions (yes)
  • Feel comfortable being alone (YES)
  • Don’t like group work (sometimes)
  • Prefer to write rather than talk (YES)
  • Feel tired after being in a crowd (YES)
  • Have few friendships, but are very close with these friends (yes)
  • Daydream or use their imaginations to work out a problem (yes)
  • Retreat into their own mind to rest (sometimes)

Arguably, I’ve done just fine professionally, as have many of my direct managers, and we all shared many of these same characteristics. How then, did being an introvert get such a bad rap? And why does every job description, presumably outlining organizations’ requirements for what a candidate needs to be successful, read like a “Who’s Who” of Ted Talks?

You don’t have to “exhibit” (definition: “to show or display outwardly especially by visible signs or actions”) strong interpersonal skills; you just have to have them. This idea that you wear all of your personality traits on your sleeve for everyone to see is silly, particularly when you’re looking for candidates. How is one supposed to “exhibit strong interpersonal skills anyway?” And are you really going to get a good sense of that in a few short interviews?

But here’s the thing, if there are so many “introverts” out there, then why isn’t it more acceptable to BE an introvert? Look, today’s introvert is not the shady malcontent of years past. Rather, as Forbes’ Leadership Contributor, Christina Park suggests, today’s introvert is reflective, they weigh alternatives carefully and make decisions based on data (which is HUGE in Marketing). They are observant (which makes them good listeners), and they are often more empathetic than extroverts (which makes them likeable leaders). And not for nothin, but there’s a good chance your favorite author is an introvert.

So, can we stop with the constant press to only hire people who want to stand up and present in front of audiences? And can we stop putting employees into group dynamics (um…open office spaces) that literally force nearly half the population into the very situations they personally choose to avoid?

If organizations truly care about their people, and want to celebrate diversity and what makes each person unique, then the idea that only people who exhibit traditional extrovert tendencies can be successful, should be dismissed for the absolute bunk it is.

The reality is that most people who feel they are more introverted than not, are fully productive members of both society and the business world. I can, and have, presented in front of thousands of people. I have no problems making decisions or taking the lead when I need to.

However, given the choice between writing the script for my CEO to present on stage, or standing up there and giving the speech myself, I’ll let my CEO take the spotlight nine out of ten times. But, when the situation requires me to step up and be more assertive, I have no problems doing it. Just give me some personal downtime afterwards and I’ll be fine.