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Have I been making Introverts more invisible?

The introductory chapter of the book  Quiet. The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking landed a large kick in the pants for me and my liberal open-minded approach to people and their fears about public speaking.

I encountered the research of Prof Susan Cain and mentioned it when I was talking on Facebook  on 21 November 2019.  I was intrigued by the concepts explored in the article by Adam Grant.

All my previous focus had been on developing behaviour disruptors and fear displacement techniques for people who fear public speaking.  I am still very happy with those principles. I know how well they work in helping people become more confident about speaking in public.  What I have failed to take into account properly, is the place where clients stand on the introvert-extrovert spectrum of personality.

This is not a full review of the book Quiet by Prof Cain. I want to discuss the effect it had on me and my understanding of past and present clients as a coach. Even more importantly, my mindset as a human being standing towards the extrovert end of the spectrum.

Introvert-extrovert spectrum

Cain says our place on this continuum is the most important aspect of personality.  She explains that this individual place we stand on will influence the friendships we choose, how we communicate with people and manage conflict and even ‘show love’.  This list goes on to cover career, exercise, recovery from mistakes, leadership potential and whether we will ‘what if’.   She says it is represented physiologically, emotionally and chemically in neurotransmitters.

The kicker for me, as mentioned above, was that only a narrow range of personality seems acceptable for us in society today.  Being bold is GREAT. If you are unsociable, how you can be HAPPY? In developing my training material for over 30 years, have I only been catering for Extroverts who have lost their way and need to get back ‘there’ to be successful at public speaking?  I don’t think it has been as brutal as that; I am not a bulldozer in my coaching style.  I have much food for thought in revising what the ‘start’ and ‘end’ points for some of my clients might be.

Note to Frances: Introverts may not be on the same trajectory as you when it comes to a ‘successful’ presentation.


Extrovert equals smarter?

It is true to say that an Extroverts will be more likely to take the opportunity to air their ideas. This does not automatically make them higher quality, better ideas: they are just heard first. Cain makes a fabulous point about what the world would be missing if Introverts were not around: theories of gravity, relativity, Peter Pan, Harry Potter are just a few on the list.

So reflecting on my work with a client very recently. K is a very talented engineer and mathematics whiz who was presenting a powerful paper at a conference.  She asked me for assistance with her fear of public speaking. K was a quiet measured speaker and had loads of important stuff to share. On reflection, as I see now, K was not a shy person who needed a boost, but a person whose personality was given to quiet and profound reflection and needed some guideposts and safe rehearsal time to polish her brilliant presentation.

Does that mean I gave her poor service?  Absolutely not! But I would have started our conversation and coaching session from a different place and perspective. By defining, what success meant to her within her perspective and how I could assist with getting her there. I am never contriving a personality makeover for my clients, simply a place of confidence to deliver their message. I have been ignorant about what that might REALLY mean for them.

Second note to Frances: Introverts may have differing motivations for speaking in public. Success has an infinite number of ‘shades’.

Do Introverts dread the spotlight?

It is too easy to assign wrongness for the differences displayed by an Introvert. Personality, social ability, preference to be alone, lack of ambition, avoidance of crowds are all deemed not good enough when compared to Extroverts. There are no valid reasons for this distinction to have ever reached the ascendancy that it has now.  Introverts don’t necessarily dread the spotlight. It is only that, these people entertain vastly different reasons for being there, particularly when not of their own volition. Their talents and strengths are not on immediate display and require skilful mining by the coach to identify and celebrate them

A final note to Frances: Every client seeking assistance in developing and delivering a quality presentation will have a different motivation for taking the step. That motivation will look and feel different every time. Your job is to make the space for those differences and tune in more specifically to how a ‘ready to present’ Introvert might be distinguished from a ‘ready to present’ Extrovert.

What’s the next step for us?

Well, this has been a powerful journey for me to embed the lessons I learned from this research.  Continuous improvement and delivery of quality products and services, every time, remain the goal for Polish Your Pitch (PYP). Introverts and Extroverts are not and inferior/superior comparison. They each deserve the freedom to begin and end their journey at the best possible place.

Introversion has not been invisible for PYP just maybe not visible as a starting point for the work we do together.

Where do you stand on this spectrum? Does it influence your daily choices at work, at home, at play?

Please send your comments, I value your thoughts.


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