Introverts unite!

I attended an event tonight where there was a panel of people talking about a career field- consulting and what it’s like to be a consultant and the traits of successful ones. One of the traits a long-time consultant said was extroversion because consultants have to present and communicate in a straight forward and clear way so clients will give them lots of money. Introverts can do that too. We just need our time to recharge as well as time to sit quietly and work on things (like putting together the data for that proposal to said client). I think this was the first time I’ve witnessed a huge bias against introverts in person. I get that in the United States at least, extroversion is idealized (Thinking, what the heck is that? Doing is what it’s all about!). This guy did say he knew a consultant who he said ‘fought’ his introversion to be a successful consultant. I’m not so sure that that’s the case- he may have extended himself to do the more extroverted parts of a consultant’s job, but it may not have been a ‘fighting’ process- just a challenge to get through to do what he loves: consulting.

The ironic thing: many scientists and Ph.D.’s are very introverted and are in demand in the consulting world. The misconception that an introvert doesn’t like people or can’t work on a team is simply wrong. We do communicate differently and perhaps are slower in some ways, but what we produce is just as good. In reading Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet’, one thing she points out is that research shows introverts can be more effective leaders of teams that are full of self-motivated people- like a consulting team. Abraham Lincoln, back in the day, was the chief executive- and an introvert at the same time, so the two things aren’t mutually exclusive. Susan Cain also points out just how biased the private sector is to introverts…they’re virtually unwelcome in some business schools (introverts there pretend they’re extroverted, quite painfully I imagine). We’re everywhere and just as driven and passionate as our extroverted peers.

I only recently embraced my introverted nature whereas before I thought there was something truly wrong with me. Why don’t I enjoy being out and talking to people all the time? Why do I prefer sitting at home in front of my computer or reading a book? It is a little discouraging to think that my introversion may well prevent me from getting a job because I do things differently from the extroverted norm.

All this said, it was pretty informative. I’m not sure consulting is for me, though I do like some of what they get to do. I think teaching is still more in my wheel house. Introverts unite!

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Author: Ian Street

Ian is a plant scientist and science writer relating stories of plant science and scientists on his blog, The Quiet Branches as well as other outlets. You can find him on Twitter @IHStreet.

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