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Changing the World as an Introvert | Interview with Susan Cain

A picture of Susan Cain.

An oldie-but-goodie for Throwback Thursday.

One of the most popular posts on Idealist Careers is job seeking as an introvert, with thousands of people reading and sharing this article. We wanted to dig a bit deeper into introversion as it applies to social change leadership, so we reached out to Susan Cain, author of QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.

In the interview below she talks to us about the different engagement styles of introverts and extroverts, how introverts can build relationships, and why some of our most famous social change leaders were introverts.

When it comes to getting involved in one’s community and connecting with others, how might introverts and extroverts differ in their engagement?

It’s really just a question of different styles; introverts are seen as anti-social, but they have a different way of being social. They prefer to connect one-on-one and around an issue they find important.

So while an extrovert might attend an event and end up chatting with everyone, an introvert might attend an event, and have a few one-on-one conversations. For example, when I go to an event, I never see it as my role to leave with a fistful of business cards, but instead to meet just one or two people. The relationships build from there.

Introverts can also be great at public speaking. Many of our great public speakers are introverts, because they prepare so deeply for their talks. So a great way for many introverts to get involved is to give a speech and have small conversations with people afterwards, when you have something meaningful to talk about. Introverts have to be strategic by connecting with people around substantive topics.

Zooming out a little bit, what do introverts bring as leaders to the social sector?

Well it’s funny you mention that, because in my book I profiled well-known activists who were introverts: Gandhi, Rosa Parks, and Eleanor Roosevelt. All were described as quiet people, yet everyone wanted to work with them.

This is because introverts rarely rise to leadership for the sake of being a leader. They get into those positions when they care about a cause and people start to trust them, not because they have the loudest voices or larger than life personalities. People respond to people who have a true, authentic commitment to something, and a deep expertise.

Ashoka is a modern example of this. It was founded by and is currently led by introverts.

What are some of the challenges you think introverts might face as they try to build their networks and get involved in their communities? How can they overcome them?

Usually it just means having to put yourself out of your comfort zone. For example, some introverts aren’t comfortable with public speaking, so they have to keep practicing until they become comfortable. There’s a perception that you have to be a showman when you speak. But you can speak more powerfully when you’re in tune with who you are.

Additionally, introverts are less inclined to be out and about meeting new people. So one way to get more involved without being overwhelmed is to give yourself a quota system in terms of time or people. Tell yourself that every month you’ll go to a certain number of community gatherings or events, say one per week. Make a deal with yourself that you’ll attend this set number of event. The rest of the time, you’ll work on what feels right for you — which might include writing, sharing updates on social media, etc. You have to identify your strengths, your center or core, then focus on those, and only push yourself out of your comfort zone when you need to.

Learn more about Susan, the book, and her upcoming public speaking course for introverts at The Power of Introverts.

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by Allison Jones

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