Are you guilty of Quietism?


I thought I was clever with this title, having invented a new word:  Quietism.  Then I thought I’d better check it, just in case, and of course it turns out it already exists, as any of you who study religious mysticism will know:

1.  A form of Christian mysticism enjoining passive contemplation and the beatific annihilation of the will.

2A state of quietness and passivity.

What I had hoped Quietism might mean was a form of bias against people who have a preference for Introversion, as defined by the Myers Briggs Type Indicator.  It is estimated that up to two thirds of the population has this preference for the inner world of thought and feeling, as opposed to the extroverted world of people and activities.  And yet we live in a world where the Extraverted approach seems to be the one given preference, by a long way.

Susan Cain

Susan Cain

Susan Cain has written a superb book on this topic:  “Quiet: the power of Introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.”  I find so  much of interest in this book, not least because Susan used to work as a Lawyer, and a negotiations consultant, and I am lapping up her thoughts on how a quieter, less adversarial approach as an Introverted negotiator gave her so much more power and options when negotiating with Extraverts.

She gives an example how this plays out across the table from a bunch of aggressive opponents:

“Being mild-mannered, she could take strong, even aggressive , positions while coming across as perfectly reasonable.  And she tended to ask questions – lots of them – and actually listen to the answers, which, no matter what your personality, is crucial to strong negotiation.”

But coming back to the point of workplace bias:  here’s what she has to say about it, that rang so true for me:

“Introversion – along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness and shyness – is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.  Introverts living under the Extravert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are.  Extroversion is an an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.”

What forms of oppression might you or your organisation be guilty of?  Here are some I have encountered/perpetrated:

  • Promoting selfDeferring to the loud and fast talkers and excluding the quieter types
  • Using group brainstorming sessions as the way to unlock new ideas (these are a perfect fit for extroverts but absolutely lock in the creativity of the introvert)
  • Setting up the workplace so there are no barriers between people, as a means of improving “teamwork and collaboration”
  • Encouraging self promotion and rewarding it with career growth
  • Rewarding quick decision making, multitasking and risk taking (the word “Banker” springs to mind).  Slow, deliberate thinking (if you haven’t read Daniel Kahneman‘s “Thinking Fast and Slow” yet, put it on your list) using the Introverted ability to focus and concentrate, scores fewer brownie points.
  • Long meetings with huge agendas, driven at the speed of light.

I could go on indefinitely, but won’t because I’m an Extrovert and am bored with my list now!

Imagine what it would be like if Introversion was the accepted cultural norm.  When introducing a new topic in a meeting, it would be a good idea for everyone to think in silence and jot a few notes down before opening up the discussion.  How weird would that be?!  If you were planning a workshop to generate some solutions to a problem you would send the details of the issue out in advance and ask people to think about it before attending the meeting.  Whoah there!  When negotiating, if the other party raised an objection, there would be a pause before responding.  This would then be followed by some questions, rather than trying to bat the objection into the long grass.  Freaky!

I think we should organise a National Introversion Week:  organisations have to go about business as usual, but modify the processes and behaviours used to appeal to the Introverted Preference.  This would be a breath of fresh air for half the workforce, and an eye opener for the other half.

Who’s up for organising it?  Let me give you time to think about that before responding!

Come on you Introverts, time to speak up and assert yourselves!  We know you don’t like conflict, but without it we Quietist Extraverts are going to always have it our own way.

Here is Susan giving a TED Talk called “The Power of Introverts.”  Well worth watching.

About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at www.hownot2.com
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14 Responses to Are you guilty of Quietism?

  1. Pingback: Solve Career Struggles | Career Advice | Career Solution

  2. Michael – thanks for sharing this great book and its related research. I have read it and recommend it for other business leaders. We need to do a better job in the workplace for all the reasons you mention. We indeed miss out getting ideas from our introverts. I have changed my approach to generate feedback and ideas based on this book. No longer does the team go into a conference room to brainstorm from scratch. An important part of the discussion is to say the words out loud – “We have introverts in our group. BTW, I am one. This is how we can proceed better to gather the best input from everyone.”
    I highly recommend watching Susan’s talk on this subject – so well done. I believe it is a TED talk.
    All the best – Michael H.

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  3. I prefer to be quiet. I find that people who talk all the time don’t get to know what others are thinking (as much), but of course if everyone were quiet nobody would know anything, so that’s no good either. Happy medium?

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  4. Dave Loewy says:

    Anther great blog Michael. I can almost hear you shouting your excitement as you write it! We seem to be following a separate and parallel path of exploration at the moment. For me, it started with Nancy Kline’s Time to Think, which explores the power of Giving Attention, or fully listening. As well as Kahneman, my path has led to “Presence”, by Senge, Jaworski, Scharmer and Flowers and I’m now taking a short detour back to a closely related book, “Dialogue” by William Isaacs. All highly recommended as a way to get deeper and enduring change through groups, rather then rushing to re-apply old habits.

    The strange synchronicity is that I’ve just qualified in Lego Serious Play, which is another great technique for facilitating both Introverts and Extraverts to share their thoughts and opinions. Let me know when you want to know more!

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  5. Enjoyed your post Michael. Not all introverts look to avoid conflict. This one for example relishes it n professional context (not so much in social settings). I’ll give you half credit. 🙂

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