It’s been a while since life and work have offered up the type of pattern that has prompted me to write a blog, but this last month there has been a theme in a number of areas of my life that I wanted to share with you.
It has come to my attention that society from schooling through to adult working life has fallen into a trap of thinking that there are those who are naturally confident and loud and those that “need to be fixed”. Let me give you a couple of examples and then offer my thoughts on this.
Management Team Training
A coaching client has been struggling recently due to their work being insistent on “bringing the management team together” via a series of away days and training sessions which all include ice-breakers and team games. The client in question is an introvert. They are not shy but their nature is such that the performing, acting and general silliness of some of these activities makes them wish to be anywhere else. To the point that they feel so uncomfortable they at times question their entire job. They have been made to feel that their unwillingness to jump around with a post-it note on their head pretending to be a wild animal means they need to “come out of their shell” and are not actively supporting the business. Yet this person is a confident, intelligent and valuable part of their management team so why are the company getting it so wrong?
Year in year out we dutifully go along to Parents Evening to be told my, now 9 year old, son is “too quiet” and that they are working on techniques to make him more confident and loud and be one of the children jumping out of their seats to be chosen to give an answer or volunteer to take part in a performance. My son is not this type of child, and in the same way his Dad and I were also not this type of child, he never will be. He is confident in comfortable surroundings, at ease talking to new people quietly, has lots of friends and does very well academically, yet the school have lead him to believe that he is a problem and needs to be fixed. A great confidence boost, hey?!
So given that we are all of different nature and teams work best when there is a blend of personality types, why is it still being drummed into both adults and children that those who are quiet by nature need help / training / guidance in order to try and be something they’re not? Why are we not happy to shape our classrooms and workplaces so that we recognise and benefit from the different types of people, and so that people are encouraged to be the best they can be without having to all work towards some kind of idyllic extrovert type?
I am an Introvert
Even for someone who is confident and happy to be an introvert I still sense the connotations surrounding this word leaving some thinking that I am perhaps shy and awkward and unsocial. Whereas an extrovert may be seen to be loud, confident, successful. We are even getting it wrong right at the very start. For the record, an extrovert is someone who thrives on social situations and strong stimulation whereas an introvert requires time alone to recharge and avoid feeling drained.
According to the excellent book “Quiet” by Susan Cain, other attributes of Introverts may include:
- A preference for one on one conversations rather than group activities
- An enjoyment of work that allows time to dive in with few interruptions
- A dislike of discussing or showing work to others until it’s finished
- Good listening skills and an ability to think before they speak
- A preference for lectures rather than seminars
- Ability to easily concentrate and an aversion to taking big risks
In life, and in business these are not attributes to be frowned upon, rather recognised and understood. As a good manager, you will not be working to give all of your team the same skills and personality. Instead you will be listening and working with the team members to understand how best they like to work and forming your team outputs around the skills and personalities of the people you have. As I have discussed in previous blogs, being a good manager is not easy!
And if we are to get it right at management level to ensure our individuals and teams are thriving then we need to go right back to the classroom and start getting it right with our kids too. Enhance the traits they have. Offer a blend of stimulation and quiet time to engage all types of children, and ensure that while behaviour and educational skills are things to be shaped and taught, no child is left feeling that their natural personality type leaves them needing to “be fixed”.