In business, politics and classroom discussions, it can often feel like we live in a world built around the idea of the extrovert. We are told to 'put yourself out there', 'be confident', 'take no prisoners'. When it comes to expressing your opinion in debates, this can feel like a huge task for introverts. There is a reason the floor of the House of Representatives is called the 'bear pit' of politics and it can seem like the natural home for the more garrulous extrovert to the exclusion of all others.
But here at Curious Citizens we realise that introverts have a lot to offer and there is a way to use your natural personality to find a place for your contribution. Groups benefit when they value and encourage the contributions of everyone and introverts themselves benefit from contributing more in discussions and sharing their unique talents and opinions with the group.
Studies suggest that introverts handle stimulus differently. Whereas extroverts are often irritated in situations where they are under stimulated, introverts are the opposite. They are often more sensitive and find it harder to focus in group situations. Very few introverts are anti-social, but rather prefer one-on-one or small group interactions to large groups, and prefer deep conversations to 'small-talk'. This means where some extroverts may be excited and energised by group work, introverts find it draining. The trick is often in finding the right mix of large and small group interaction and individual work that fits the group best and allows the group to take on the unique contributions of all its members.
Neither personality style has the monopoly on good leadership, and their are benefits to both. Studies show that if a group is dominated by introverts, the most effective leaders can be extroverts who encourage proactivity and motivate the quieter and more reserved members of their groups to be more outgoing in the pursuit of the group's goals. But it is also true that a group dominated by extroverts are often better led when the group is fronted by a natural introvert - a leader who talks less and listens more, who can create a collegial, more empathetic and sometimes more cautious and methodical leadership style.
But even if you don't feel comfortable as a leader, there is still a place for your introversion.
Extroverts are usually seen to be more talented at public speaking and performing in group contexts, although this is not always the case (many actors, public speakers and performers are famous introverts), at Curious Citizens we like t emphasise other forms of communication and group contribution that appeal to varied skillsets.
Although you may feel uncomfortable delivering a speech to a class, you may find yourself more skilled at small-group interactions and negotiations, in individual research which you then share with a group, or even if you aren't drawn to playing a leading role in conversation you may find that your listening and empathy skills are very valuable in group discussions.
It is always important not to equate the volume or frequency of talking with someone's contribution to a group. Active and empathetic listening is a skill generally associated with introverts, and the ability to know when to speak up and when to listen out for others is a very important skill. Listening to a wide range of views and being able to synthesise them into an innovative compromise is just as much a skill of democratic deliberation as the clash of ideas. When listening, empathy and deep thinking are combined, the whole group benefits.
This doesn't mean that the extroverted personality traits aren't also valued equally. They can help bring people together, take the initiative, motivate, excite and forge a path ahead for a group. And that also doesn't mean introverts shouldn't also at times try to push themselves out of their comfort zone and speak up to make their thoughts known. Every successful group needs a healthy mix of both these qualities to succeed and both should be allowed to shine equally to achieve the best results for the whole.
This is truer than ever when it comes to our democracy. A healthy deliberative democracy (where we openly discuss issues and arrive at collective decisions together) requires us to look at how to set up a collaborative environment that gets the best out of our society as a whole and makes each individual feel valued and equipped to contribute.
Our political institutions are no different. The instruments of government just wouldn't work as well without the different skill sets these two temperaments offer, and each are attracted to different kinds of important work within those institutions. Although well-televised media performances and heated debates in the chamber are the most public aspect of politics and our Parliament, we often overlook the vast amount of work done behind the scenes. Often there is a lot of discussion and negotiation 'across the aisle' between political 'enemies', or through the committee process in the Senate. In our recent history, as hung parliaments, minority government and a balance of power in the Senate being made up of an increasing number of minor parties and independents, the skills of negotiation, deal-brokering and consensus-building have become even more important political skills, and we are seeing a new style of leadership and discussion emerging.
At Curious Citizens we always encourage students to push themselves a little further to become confident and articulate speakers and effective group members. And when the 'put yourself out there' mantra reaches its limits, find a way to restructure your approach and interactions with your classmates to find a way to be effective that suits your temperament, seek out roles that interest you, and find ways to build small groups and interactions that best use the skills that come naturally to you. Experiment with as many different experiences as you can to help you find it. Everyone has a contribution to make and an effective style through which to make it. Find what yours is, and share it. You, your friends, classmates, communities, and our democracy will be better for it.