In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain relays the story of Rosa Park and the Montgomery Bus Strike during the Civil Rights Movement.
On that fateful bus ride, Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus and quietly repeated the word “no” when she was asked to get off. When the police forcefully removed her from the bus, she walked silently next to them, only occasionally asking questions such as, “Why do you push us all around?”
Later, when Martin Luther King Jr. organizes a rally in support of Parks, she stands quietly by his side. But, “her mere presence is enough to galvanize the crowd.”
Rosa Parks’s historic bus ride is considered the starting point of the Civil Rights Movement, a movement that changes the course of history in the United States, with many Jews and Jewish organizations strongly in support of integration and equality.
You would imagine that Rosa Parks, the instigator of this change, would have been an outspoken, loud woman. You would think that she stood on podiums and preached to the crowd. In reality, Rosa Parks was a very quiet woman. But, she was also a very strong and determined woman. Is that possible? Can you be shy and courageous?
The answer is, yes. And, that is the power of introversion.
Introverts vs. Extroverts
Cain describes the introverts and extroverts as the north and south of temperaments. Introverts are people who prefer to be alone, enjoying the lack of stimulation and noise. On the other hand, extroverts thrive off of other people’s conversation and energy. While introversion and shyness often overlap, people who are shy experience anxiety when faced with social situations. In contrast, “Introverted people aren’t bothered by social situations,” says Louis Schmidt, director of the Child Emotion Laboratory at McMaster University in Ontario. “They just prefer not to engage.”
By some counts, roughly thirty percent of people fall into the introverted temperament end of the spectrum. And, while we might think that introversion and extroversion are choices we make, a study at Harvard University illustrated that even four month old babies exhibit tendencies towards introversion and extroversion that correlate with their personalities when they get older.
Benefits of Introversion
While American culture values extroverts, there are some key benefits that introverts possess. Firstly, because introverts spend less time talking, they are wonderful listeners. Listening is an essential element in nonverbal communication, perhaps one of the most important skills when going on a date, making friends or interviewing for a job. Recent studies show that introverted CEOs of major companies are most successful because they are able to listen to the creative ideas of their employees, instead of asserting their own ideas on a consistent basis.
Another benefit of introversion is good decision making. By nature, introverts are less likely to take excessive risks and therefore are more likely to weigh their decisions carefully before acting. Cain explains that “Extroverts are much more likely to get really excited by the possibility of a reward, but because of that, they won’t always pay attention to warning signals. Introverts are much more circumspect.”
Yet another benefit of introversion is the skill mastery, which has to do with the introvert’s ability to spend significant patches of time alone. Studies done on chess masters, concert violinists, athletes, and even regular university students preparing for exams demonstrated that the more time spent practicing or studying alone, the more skilled the person became. Florida State University psychologist reasoned, “You gain the most on your performance when you work alone. And the introverted temperament might make some kids more willing to make that commitment.”
Disadvantages of Introversion
While introversion does have benefits, there are some very real disadvantages as pointed out by a new study published in the Journal of School Psychology.
The study looked at the social and academic progress of children aged 3 to 5 throughout the school year, following over 4,400 pre-kindergarten children in the Head Start program in a large northeastern urban school district. The study found that children who were extremely socially reserved or withdrawn were at risk of falling behind in math and reading once they reached kindergarten.