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.