The Pendulum Swings Back

Back in 2015, in two articles titled An Introvert’s Nightmare (part one, part two), I had tried to summarise a few thoughts on the struggle we introverts are facing in today’s loud world.

I generally consider it bad style to quote oneself, and I usually avoid it, but grant me this exception in an attempt to frame my points, without you needing to re-read the original posts.

Regarding our struggle, I wrote:

In meetings, bold, loud ideas and contributions often win, they are perceived as more convincing. It’s well known that most people are being influenced and convinced via emotions, not reason. Plus groupthink. It’s extrovert territory.

For us introverts, it’s a nightmare. The stark focus on interactions is exhausting. Often, we’re not bold and loud, pressing our position, as we like to put things into perspective first, prefer to deeply understand the subject matter by weighing our and others’ arguments and proposals, and then suggest solutions or actions. Alas, by then, we’ve been overrun by the extroverts. I want to underline again that this is not an introvert vs. extrovert fight, we are what we are and live our personalities, but it’s how these dynamics play out in today’s business world.

[…]

Unfortunately, the active, relentless lifestyle is usually seen as the successful one these days, not only in engineering. Being “social” and outgoing is prized above all else. Market yourself! Networking! Twitter! Facebook! A noisy culture that never shuts the fuck up. […]

Or look at the multitude of seminars and self-help books, all promoting the extrovert approach, and by implication, doing down and discounting a more introvert life as non desirable, as less valuable, even shameful. Or a pathology.

Consequently, I think we introverts are often cornered, having to defend ourselves, and we’re working at sub-optimal productivity and motivation levels. But being alone is not being lonely. I love being alone at times and have room and time for my inner world, being able to focus on a specific problem, or thought. But I also love a discussion with friends about an interesting topic, over a dinner and a glass of wine. Both are energising. But chit-chatting in a bar, fighting against music and the noise level in general, simply sucks all energy out of my soul. And I use the term “bar” here both literally as well as a metaphor for daily life.

As of today, many parts of the globe are in various degrees, or stages, of lockdown and confinement, depending on the measures taken and prescribed by our corresponding governments, and also depending on how seriously said measures are taken and followed by the population.

Consequently, many people stay at home, alone or with their families, and need to cope with the situation. If you go through the headlines of on-line publications, you’ll find quite a few with reports of related problems, as well as guidelines and advice how to cope.

I am going out on a limb here, also based on my own experience, and posit that we introverts are way better at this. We are always living our lives in finding a continuous balance of keeping ourselves company, and communicating with friends in a meaningful fashion.1 I had considered an alternative title for this post: “The Revenge of the Introverts”, but, while catchy, would have cast a wrong twist on this post.

So you will forgive me to have faint hopes that the current situation might result in work and living conditions that are better suited to our needs, after we return to “normalcy”, for lack of a better term – through sheer economic2 needs.

I recently listened to this podcast, featuring an interview with Matt Mullenweg, founding developer of WordPress, the Open Source software used by over one third of of the websites. In 2005, he had founded Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, as well as many other products. Automattic is a company distributed across the globe.

Matt described – for clarity, this is independent of the coronavirus pandemic, it is their basic MO – how the ability to write is a major criterion for their hires. That’s writing text, not program code. Because they are distributed over many timezones, meetings are not the main tool for management and communication. Writing is. He also mentioned specifically that they take important decisions by working on documents, over time – several days –, to allow everyone involved to think about the issues deeply, read the counter-arguments, then think some more, not least to include introverts in a manner more suited to their work style. And to avoid all the pitfalls of meetings, such as loud ideas and contributions, groupthink, and decisions driven by emotions. You know, to let reason prevail.

Sounds like a winning workplace set-up to me – I had concluded:

30% to 50% of the population are more on the introvert side of the scale. No wonder many of us feel overwhelmed. Our society, businesses, and educational institutions would profit by finding a better mix of set-ups that cater for all of us. Maybe modelled after the old-fashioned way of engineering, where thorough solitary thinking was the prerequisite for, and in balance with, meetings and social interactions.


  1. I focus on the problems of boredom or missing social contacts here. I am aware that there are other potential issues, such as domestic violence. ↩︎

  2. And pandemic, in the mid-term. ↩︎