I read Susan Cain’s book Quiet a couple of months ago and have been pondering it since. The premise of the book is that about half the population are introverts and for too long those who are naturally quiet, serious or sensitive have been overlooked; whilst the loudest have taken over. Her aim is to get the world to listen and harness the power of introverts.
As someone who fits in the introvert camp it has been a fascinating read. Here are a couple of things I’ve taken from it.
1. Group work is not such a great idea. It tends to produce group think where everyone agrees with each other. Often it is the extroverts who speak and introverts don’t get to contribute properly. (Open plan offices and brainstorming sessions are both strategies biased towards extroverts)
2. Being an introvert doesn’t mean being unsocial, rather it tends to a preference for deeper conversations in small groups rather than liking small talk, large groups or meeting & greeting lots of people.
3. Introverts do stuff because of conviction. This can be harnessed to help you work in a more extrovert friendly way because convictions give you the energy to do things which otherwise might be energy sapping, like interacting with lots of people.
4. Introverts generally prefer to take heed not take risks; liking to do considered, deliberate things. This focused approach, which can make for good analysis or creative work, helps sharpen skills and develop talent.
Since then I’ve been wondering what it might have to say about church life, particularly in charismatic / evangelical churches. Two things occur to me. First is that worship which connects with beauty and with depth of doctrine are likely to be well received (and more enriching than ‘talk to your neighbour’ moments). Second, worship where people can choose the level of obvious participation is preferable. In other liturgical traditions it can be done by simply quietly joining in the liturgy; in more charismatic environments it maybe in opportunities to experience the emotion and get ‘lost in worship’ without having to say or do anything. [Which makes me wonder if this is a factor in people preferring large scale worship gatherings where others are not aware of what they are doing].
Thinking more widely about Baptist life in the UK I think we generally seek to value a range of gifts and personalities, avoiding just those with loudest mouths. However, we have not always been good at listening to those quieter voices who haven’t found themselves in the centre.
Lastly, what do I take away for how I exercise leadership?
1. I need to find ways of validating introversion, owning those traits in myself in public and encouraging them in others.
2. I need to work more from convictions and frame what I do around them. Leading by influence not by trying to be loud.
3. I need to structure what I do so that I can give myself to more extraverted activities whilst still having time to re-charge energy levels, creating space and reflective periods alongside the more outgoing, active ones.
Cain’s book is a bit more nuanced than this, particular around the introvert / extravert themes and the role of nurture and genetics. Her recent TED talk is below.