This post is a translation from my Polish blog. It’s one of the few I’d like to publish here.
The world was built by extroverts for extroverts.The pandemic isolation, the chaotic returns to offices, the changes in people’s behaviour, but also the way employees are valued and promoted in different companies – all of this has confirmed that what I have long thought is unfortunately true. Extroverts have arranged this world.
I don’t like labels, but I admit that they can sometimes be useful, and so it is this time. Dividing people into introverts and extroverts is a huge oversimplification, is often hurtful and even more often – completely misunderstood.Therefore, before the substance, first the definitions. And a warning: this text will contain generalisations. To describe the world you need generalisations, otherwise you end up with a scientific work that nobody reads.
Being an introvert, contrary to popular belief, does not mean being unsocial. Just as being an extrovert does not mean being a social soul. The difference between the two attitudes is not in the behaviours observed, but in the way energy is gained and regenerated once it is used up.Introverts need silence, peace and solitude to regenerate, extroverts on the contrary thrive and recharge their batteries by being with other people. Most often, both groups follow the stereotypical image, but there are cases – not so rare – that a hasty assessment can lead to wrong conclusions. I know many introverts who are excellent speakers, managers and coaches, who find their way around events and are able to build relationships, but at the same time are aware that they are paying for this with their own energy and regularly need to spend time alone to rejuvenate themselves. As they are … alone in this solitude, no one knows. I also know extroverts who are embarrassed when they have to start a conversation, faint at the thought of going on stage and at impromptu performances mainly listen. But they do everything they can to spend as much time as possible with people, they love working from the office and their phone is never silent. This is how they relax and recharge their batteries.
I come back to the first sentence: extroverts built the world for extroverts. This is not a criticism, it is a statement of fact. It’s a natural process, because introverts were reading books at the time gathering strength before their next social interactions. It’s hard to blame someone for building something they know in a way that suits him/her.It is what it is and resenting reality will not change anything. What can bring change – is attentiveness. Attention to the other person, to his/her needs and limitations.
Why is it important that the world is ‘extroverted’? One of the characteristics inherent in introverts is the way they process stimuli. Actually: not processing. Shopping in a large-format shop, where the light burns your eyes and the music tries to penetrate your brain through noise-cancelling headphones, can be a nightmare. Alternatively, there are small neighbourhood shops, but you have to visit several of them to complete the same basket, each repeating the social ritual of queuing.Also a nightmare. It would be enough to dim the overhead lights in the market, illuminate the shelves and turn down the music. That’s all. Nobody thinks about it, because extroverts don’t mind, and introverts are reading books.
And then there’s working in an office. Extroverts love working in an office. Contact with people, gossiping over coffee, loud brainstorming sessions in overcrowded, stuffy and extremely well-lit conference rooms, going out to lunch together and solving problems at a colleague’s desk in a team of four. Four people is already a meeting, really, the conference room is inviting with its wonderful lighting.
There are endless examples like this; introverts encounter far too many such problems on a daily basis. And the solution to them all is mindfulness, sensitivity and understanding that we are different. People are different. They have different needs, capabilities, limitations. Most often, however, the majority that is heard igorns the needs of the minority that tries to adapt and survive. I for one am sick of adapting and smiling, just so I don’t make someone uncomfortable because they have spent so much time and energy to make it great and nice for us. I appreciate. And I suffer. And all I had to do was ask what I needed and what was good for me.
There is something else.
Many introverts have excellent competence in both managerial and specialist areas. And it is not true that only extroverts can be managers. As I wrote at the beginning – being an introvert is not determined by the ability to deal with people only by the need to relax after social interactions. An introvert can also be a great manager and an introvert an excellent leader. It’s just that someone next to them, higher up in the hierarchy, has to be attentive and sensitive enough to recognise this talent and help it to develop. And respect different needs and abilities.
What we sometimes consider to be a disadvantage can lead to solutions that do not occur to us, but which have an after-effect on the world around us. I, for example, can’t stand meetings, I hate them, I do everything I can not to organise them and take part in them. This has helped me develop very effective methods of communication and collaboration based on asynchronicity, instant messaging, task lists, even emails. The meetings I do organise, however, are appreciated for being concise and to the point, and the participants know that if I’m already organising a meeting, it’s really worth coming to because it’s about an important issue. If I did like everyone else and organised stand-ups every day and weekly coordination I wouldn’t have what I have. And in the process a few people get back a few hours a week. It’s also a real business gain.
It’s worth giving the people you can’t see or hear a chance, because we may have talents and values in the organisation that we ignore simply because nature has given them a mental construct that’s different. People who are more reflective, more quiet, more withdrawn – they are not worse. They are different. Culture and society have taught them to sit quietly and not to spoil the humour of those around them with their otherness.
Look around you, try to learn to be attentive and sensitive to the needs of others, pay attention to how much value you can find where you can’t see it.
Stop waiting for someone to save you and if you want or don’t want something, speak up. This world may not be fair to you, but it is what it is, and if you want change – start making it.