THE BLOG

The Extroverted Society

21/06/2013 11:50 BST | Updated 21/06/2013 11:50 BST

The essence of this article is influenced by the fantastic Susan Cain and her work on the cult of the personality in Western society. You may have watched her highly popular TED talk about the power of introverts or read her additional study, 'Quiet. The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking', that details the societal pre-occupation with extroversion. Her work struck a chord with me, as I'd describe myself as a naturally introverted person. No, I don't live in a cave and communicate solely through Facebook (there's no Wi-Fi). One of the most fundamental misconceptions about introversion is that it's synonymous with shyness and that it's an absolute state of being. It can be more easily and accurately understood when thought of in terms of stimulation. For someone who is more extroverted, social occasions and busy scenarios can provide ease and inspiration, their best ideas and conversation can be provoked by these situations. In contrast, an introverted person may thrive in smaller groups, in quieter places or by themselves. But presenting a binary is problematic; they aren't static notions. You could obviously feel a bit introvert-y on Wednesday and stay in watching Parks and Recreation, eating a multi-pack of Quavers and then be up for an extrovert fest on Friday down the pub.

Unfortunately it's almost time to become a real person. Thrust from the bosom of university into the cut-throat world of council tax and the unspoken expectation of being able afford to buy other people's drinks as well as your own. From fruitlessly perusing graduate schemes, corporations seem to be misguided as to what a real person actually is, albeit an incredibly restricted version. My qualm as I try relentlessly to secure an elusive job, is that a lot of companies appear to be asking for an Apprentice hybrid that I don't feel I can compete with; Nick Hewer would pull so many faces at me. We live in a society built for extroversion, especially institutionally. From the open plan design of offices to the grouped tables in school, we're present in environments that are more facilitative for extroverts. Michael Gove's recent plans to refresh GCSEs by taking them back 679030 years means that coursework is going to be scrapped for the majority of subjects, but an individually produced body of research is a significant skill. Solitude is important and this has become lost in a consumer driven world of big business that evidently seems to be trickling down to education. When considering that almost half of people are introverts, the workplace seems to encapsulate a model of unrealistic uniformity. Ideas often surface from working alone; university encourages 'independent learning' here, there and everywhere, but the emphasis of being able to work exceptionally in a team is often paramount in a company.

When thinking about interviewing and assessment centre processes, do employers put the idea of presentation over substance? A lot of skills are considered, but performing on the day and in a stylistic, confident manner can take precedence. A big part of work culture is that cursed word, 'networking'. Do you have the ability to circulate the room and pretend you're Don Draper or do you head for the wine and hope you'll bond from the safety of a toilet cubicle? In short if you can talk the talk then can you...secure a well-paid occupation, with a company car and an excellent pension scheme? Society has been conditioned to believe that those that possess charisma and charm are the people that have the best ideas. Therefore they are marketed as the most intelligent and valuable workers. We are expected to acknowledge the ideas of the people that talk the loudest. Obviously this is wholly illogical; if we think that both introverted and extroverted people have the same amount of good and bad ideas, it's more likely that more bad ideas will get brought forward and accepted if the loudest have an easier time conveying ideas.

I'm not concluding that the link between extroversion in companies and economic meltdowns is causal or that everyone involved is extroverted, but the culture perpetuated in these environments is interesting. Whereas historically banking was founded on principles of trust and security, the mid-80s saw a change in market economics and an emphasis on short-term profits. This created a pressurized structure, where workers became more reckless, inclined to risk and spoiler alert; it didn't end well. Cain cites in her book that extroverted individuals are more reward-sensitive and tend to lack as much deliberation when there are indications that things are not going to plan. I don't think that introverted workers would've been financial super-heroes and prevented collapse, but perhaps more of a considered approach to the economy would have wielded less devastating results. The people involved may not have all been extroverted but they were in an environment that encouraged them to be so.

I've lost count of the amount of times I've not applied for a job because I've become so apathetic because of the job requirements. The psychology behind a job application can end up being a detriment to a company if their workforce will consist of a homogeneous group. Occupational psychologist Professor Binna Kandola has researched the influential and often demotivating role of language in job applications. Deloitte, the leading consultancy firm, literally has a picture of a pair of boxing gloves on its recruitment page, with the slogan 'are you ready to make an impact?', it's beyond parody, am I supposed to fight a bear in the interview, what is this? Western society has always favoured the 'man of action', but where has this got us?

There needs to be a compromise when recruiting talent and consequently the way that people are encouraged to work and how their environment is structured. It isn't convincing to think of individuals as wholly introverted or extroverted and therefore workplaces and applications that are suited to the heavily extroverted will not be effective in the long-term. We need diverse, balanced workforces that accommodate different styles of working and different ways of talking.