Introverts – redressing the balance

Introverts – redressing the balance

Listen to a talk about social psychology to practise and improve your listening skills.

Do the preparation task first. Then listen to the audio and do the exercises.



If I asked you to describe a great leader, I'd be willing to bet certain traits come to mind … someone charismatic, dynamic, inspiring, a confident public speaker. You're probably imagining a man too, but that's a bias we'll save for another talk! We tend to think of great leaders as people who naturally take to the stage, who draw other people to them by their sheer presence, who are extroverts. But history has also been transformed by people who don't fit these descriptions. People like Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt and Gandhi. These people would have described themselves as shy, quietly spoken … as introverts.

Of course we're drawn to extroverts. They're usually charming and persuasive, fun to be around. They're not quietly in the corner somewhere reading a book where we might not notice them. Introverts are mostly happy to let the extroverts take the attention; they'd rather not be in the spotlight, they'd rather finish that book. If they become leaders, it's not because they want to be the centre of attention, it's because they feel compelled to act. They lead not because they enjoy giving orders but because circumstances have put them in a position to make change. If they're the boss, they allow space for the ideas of others to grow because they're not trying to make their mark. An introvert sounds like a pretty good boss, right? You won't need to worry about them stealing your ideas or talking over you in a meeting.

Some of our great creators are introverts too. People like the writer JK Rowling, the great thinker Darwin and the designer of the first Apple computer, Steve Wozniak. It turns out coming up with good ideas is easier when you're engaged in quiet, solo contemplation than when you're leading the cheerleading squad. Not that I'm saying there's anything wrong with cheerleaders! Extroverts are great – some of my favourite people are extroverts. But why is the world so set up for extroverts and so hard for introverts? Why are we always encouraging our kids to speak up, join in, work as a team?

Nowadays, most schools and most workplaces are set up with the extrovert in mind. Children no longer sit in rows in desks, they sit in groups of four or six, doing group projects. Even subjects like maths and creative writing are taught with an emphasis on group collaboration, even though most writers sit alone in front of their computer or typewriter, with nothing between them and the blank page. A kid who prefers to go off into a corner and work alone starts to look like a problem. What's wrong with Janie? Why isn't she joining in? Studies show teachers think extroverts make better students, even though introverts actually tend to get higher grades. We're telling our introverted kids something is wrong with them, that they need to be more sociable, more outgoing. We're giving them fewer opportunities for the quiet contemplation they need in order to produce the best work and be their best selves.

And then at work we do the same. Most offices today are open plan, everyone working and creating noise in one big room, attending team-building workshops or group brainstorming sessions; the introverts' worst nightmares. The introverts at school are judged negatively by their teachers and when they reach the workplace, they're passed over for promotion into leadership positions. But introverts typically take fewer risks and make more careful decisions, and don't we need those traits too?

I'm not saying let's get rid of extroverts and grab all those talkative, sociable performers at primary school and send them off to the library for four hours a day of solitude until they learn to tone it down. I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying we're doing something like the opposite of that to introverts and we need to stop. We need to allow them space to be themselves and then we'll end up getting the most out of our extroverts and our introverts. Let's teach all our kids how to work with others and how to work on their own. Let's create space in offices and at conferences for people to work on their own when they want to and give them the opportunity to come together to share ideas. Let's give staff 'away days', where they go off into the woods, walk up a mountain or wherever, to work on something alone, as well as the 'team-building day' where everyone learns to dance salsa together.

The future is complicated, with a lot of huge, complex problems to solve. Let's make sure we've got our best people working on those problems in the way that suits them best. And then we've got to make sure we listen to our extroverts and our introverts and everyone who sits somewhere in between on the scale. We're going to need all of them.


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Submitted by Jack Milgram on Thu, 18/02/2021 - 09:12

I'm mostly an introvert until it's the weekend. I just don't have enough time on weekdays to spend them with people because of work. Moreover, I don't really need it. But when Saturday and Sunday come, I'm turning into a hurricane (in a good way).

Submitted by Laetitia on Sun, 10/01/2021 - 14:32

I consider myself as both lol, just depends on the situation. As a creative person, I don't like to be in the spotlight but it's not complicated for me to give my opinion or give a speech.

Submitted by Ilenias on Sun, 03/01/2021 - 16:14

I am 100% introvert. I am more productive when working alone, but I like to confront and to share ideas with other people as well. As mentioned in the recording, today's workplaces are mainly made for extroverts. The same is true for the typical job candidates companies are looking for: they must possess good team skills. I mean, it is important to develop nice interpersonal skills especially at the workplace, but it is equally important to promote an introvert-mentality as well. Therefore, I totally agree with the speaker when she says towards the end of the recording that it is fundamental to encourage extroverts to work similarly to introverts and vice-versa.

Submitted by Maychin on Fri, 23/10/2020 - 16:57

I am more of an introvert.I have my reasons why I said this.When I had a problem to solve I got a solution thinking deeply alone.Most of the good ideas came out as I sat and thought in a quiet place.I love spending my time reading listening to music watching movies like Godfaher and Forrest Gump. But a few days ago I became confused about my personality traits because I am totally tired of staying at home.I just felt that is a disaster to do all the routine again and again.I cannot stand it anymore.It is absolutely boring to stay at home for a number of days.What should I do to spend my long last day? What will be the best ways to improve my English during this pademic period?Please give me advice.Thank you!

Hello Maychin,

People of all personality types can learn languages successfully, so don't worry about that side of things. I think the most important thing is to find motivation to work or study every day, so my suggestion is a simple one: do things that you enjoy, but do them in English. Read books that you like, but in English. Watch films that you like, in English. Keep a diary, if you enjoy that, in English.

If you've watched or read something in your own language and enjoyed it, now watch or read it in English. It will be easier to understand and it will be fun as well.


Most of all, keep going. Learning and studying is a great way to use the time we have now we're spending more time in our houses.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by flavie.A on Fri, 09/10/2020 - 00:05

In my humble opinion, I would say both extrover and introvert traits are useful to everyone depending on the circumstances in which we find ourselves in a given time. We need both traits to remain stable and deeply explore our inner selves in order to sought out the best in us and make good use our dominant part. Deep and serious meditation is needed when it comes to decision making. In this case ,it's very important we put ourself together and such moments call for a reasonable amount of introversity which will not require from us being shy or non associable . On the other hand , we might come to find ourselves in a midst of strangers and feel very comfortable and easy in fluent conversations and share very good times . This doesn't mean we put ourselves on a spotlight. The reason being that a human being is never really given to only one trait of character.

Submitted by Cami on Sat, 03/10/2020 - 11:33

I think that I am sometimes more introvert, instead of other times, during which i am more extrovert. I like studying alone, even if I surely would manage to study also with other people. Regarding to the characteristics of my personalities, however, i think that I am more extrovert than introvert because I love socialize with people, even if I also love having my spaces and stay alone with myself. I think that, sometimes, it is necessary to stay only with oneself.

Submitted by Armandito on Sat, 19/09/2020 - 21:47

I consider myself an introvert person. It is so true what she says. The way she describes both the labor and the educational system. I think there is still a lot to be changed. I hope someday we learn to respect one each other because as she said the future is complicating and we will need leaders who really know how to find solutions and for this to be achieved both introvert and extroverts are needed.

Submitted by Vixy on Thu, 17/09/2020 - 09:11

I think, the borders between introverts and extroverts are not so obvious. An introvert could be in the center of a party and an extrovert is able to create amazing thing alone as well. The main difference between them is their energy-gaining method. Extroverts need people around them, they charge themselves from impulses of their environment and relationships. In contrast, introverts can find the recreation in a creative activity such as writing, painting, analyzing something and so on. Nevertheless I agree with that our western culture is better for extroverts. For instance, team building activities in most companies are terrible for introverts and HR experts should be aware of that.
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Submitted by Hoàng Nhung on Mon, 01/06/2020 - 09:26

I am an introvert