One of the byproducts of our locked-down, socially distanced, mask-wearing, remote-working world is that introverts are feeling more comfortable. They don’t need to pretend to be part of the gregarious, fist-bumping, loud-talking in-crowd of corporate extroverts, and that’s a big relief.
Before the pandemic, work life was all about open office plans, group projects, endless team building, and even purposefully chaotic co-working spaces. It was a world designed by and for extroverts. No wonder introverts couldn’t hear themselves think.
Now, however, in the relative calm and quiet of our re-ordered work life, introverts can do what they do best: Ask a lot of questions, listen carefully to the answers, and think deeply and creatively about the way forward.
Wait a minute. That sounds like due diligence, risk assessment, and operational planning. In other words, make way for the introverted compliance folks.
By the way, not all introverts are shy. Shyness is something different. It’s fear of social failure and embarrassment. Introverts — who make up between a third and a half of everyone on the planet — respond in a certain way to external stimulation. Whereas extroverts are energized by crowds, activity, and noise, introverts are exhausted by them.
There’s room in the world for both introverts and extroverts. They often make good teams. Think of Steve Wozniak (introvert) and Steve Jobs (extrovert). Eleanor Roosevelt (introvert) and her husband Franklin (extrovert). Mahatma Gandhi (introvert) and Jawaharlal Nehru (extrovert). Rosa Parks (introvert) and Martin Luther King Jr. (extrovert).
In the five decades before Covid-19, the corporate world tilted sharply toward extroverts. The ideas took hold that everyone in business should be the life of the party, and every decision should be made by committee. Introverts were often pushed aside. During the past year, though, there’s been a sharp tilt in the other direction. Despite endless zoom sessions, most people now spend most days working alone. Things have probably tilted a bit too far. Still, at least for now, it’s an ideal work environment for introverts.
Introverts have an innate advantage these days in another way. They tend to like technology and handle it well. That comes from their methodical approach. Now that most corporate jobs are earthbound, work itself is tied more closely to algorithms and code, so introverts have a leg up.
Others who have benefited from remote work are people with learning disabilities. I have a friend who suffers from a severe form of dyslexia. But, working from home instead of in an open-office fishbowl, he’s flourishing in his compliance job. He has more confidence in his professional ability than ever, and he’s cheerful instead of defeated. If remote work is the new normal, more people like him will have a chance to shine in corporate roles previously closed to them.
There’s not always a bright line separating extroverts from introverts. Sometimes people have traits of both. And sometimes introverts are so good at imitating extroverts that the lines get blurred. Extroversion and introversion are ranges of personality traits, not absolutes.
(If you’re curious about how you’d be classified, here’s a simple assessment that takes just a few minutes. To go further into the topic, read Susan Cain’s outstanding book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Her work is the inspiration behind a lot of this post.)
And please — I’m not saying the pandemic is a good thing. That’s ridiculous. I’m also not saying introverts are better people than anyone else, or more deserving, or somehow smarter. None of that is true. But sometimes quiet, reflective people are overlooked. That happened a lot in corporate life before the pandemic, when the tilt was sharply toward the extroverts.
It’s a different world now, and introverts — including introverted compliance officers — can (quietly) welcome this particular change.
I am a big fan of introverts. My husband is one and it is true, we are a great combination. It would be interesting to know, if we have more introverts than extroverts in compliance. Of course, the deep thinking and focus would be advantagious for the job. At the same time, we also need extrovert compliance people that can sell ethics & compliance. So again teamwork will save the day!
Yes yes yes! Thank you for this Richard. I’m a huge fan of Susan Cain’s writing, she is brilliant.
Thanks so much for this post. You speak from my heart. As an introvert who has learned to adapt to the corporate world of extroverts I do indeed appreciate this aspect of the current situation, working from home for a long time already.
Not all is great, but maybe we can find a balance?
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