By Stuart Hunt
Without trying to sound esoteric or highfalutin, in all of my endeavors, everything, I pause to discern the philosophy guiding me in the short and long term. In German the phrase is Woher / wohin? Where are we coming from, where are we going to? Through that lens, I can proceed with purpose and direction. It saves time, and there are fewer mistakes.
Allow me to introduce to you Susan Cain, and to her passion to help us all understand introversion, as well as her detailed and well-written treatise Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking (2012). As those who deal mostly with groups of singers (also in private voice settings), let us consider how we and other singers interact in our learning / rehearsal gatherings, and the philosophy behind that.
First, some simple definitions:
Extrovert– a gregarious, somewhat unreserved personality. Enjoys and recharges by being with others.
Introvert – prefers minimally stimulating environments, and needs time alone to recharge.
Ambivert – displaying characteristics of both introversion and extraversion.
Omnivert– someone who can be either at different times.
As a choral conductor now in my fiftieth year conducting, I am passionate about learning and learning styles as they impact group and collective excellence. Interestingly, according to Barry Smith (Professor emeritus and director of the Laboratories of Human Psychophysiology at the University of Maryland), “Ambiverts make up 68 percent of the population.” But, back to introversion.
In my research, I have found there appear to be four shades of introversion:
Many introverts are a mix of all four types.
Cain offers four personality types:
- Calm extroverts
- Anxious extroverts
- Calm introverts
- Anxious introverts
You could be a shy extrovert, like Barbra Streisand, who has a larger-than-life personality and paralyzing stage fright; or a non-shy introvert, like Bill Gates, who by all accounts keeps to himself but is unfazed by the opinions of others. A great deal of what Ms. Cain discusses has to do with anxiety and stimulation and overstimulation, which can both energize and paralyze; encourage creativity or shut it down.
Shy versus Introverted
We should delineate the difference between shy and introverted. Cain states, “Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not” (p. 12). We have them in our choirs, don’t we?
Learning from the Biz World
In the 1920s, in America, as businesses began to grow, employees and especially sales reps were encouraged to be “charismatic.” Earlier employee “manuals” encouraged such qualities as:
- golden deeds
Then newer guides celebrated qualities that were trickier to acquire, and either you embodied these characteristics or you didn’t:
- energetic (etc.)
This led to the celebration of extroversion as an “ideal” and, if you reflect on the world around us, somewhat continues today. However, for introverts, becoming comfortable with what they know to be true about themselves instead of trying to adopt an extroverted personality is the healthier option.
In another section of Quiet I found myself considering the following: “One highly successful venture capitalist who is regularly pitched by young entrepreneurs told me how frustrated he is by his colleagues’ failure to distinguish between good presentation skills and true leadership ability. He said ‘I worry that there are people who are put in positions of authority because they’re good talkers, but they don’t have good ideas. It’s so easy to confuse schmoozing ability with talent. Someone seems like a good presenter, easy to get along with, and those traits are rewarded. Well, why is that? They’re valuable traits but we put too much of a premium on presenting and not enough on substance and critical thinking’” (p. 52).
In the world of business, unassuming, shy, mild-mannered Darwin Smith, former head of Kimberly-Clark, and other introverts, tend to be described with phrases like: quiet, humble, modest, reserved, gracious, mild-mannered, self-effacing, and understated. Author Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great (2011), states, “We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies. We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they run.” Might this then also apply, as a conductor, to how we perceive and interact with our choristers?
Wharton and University of Michigan management professor Adam Grant studied leaders and wondered what introverted leaders do differently from – and sometimes better than – extroverts. One conclusion was that they were more interested in listening and gathering information than in asserting their own opinion or dominating a conversation. Grant states that introverts are uniquely good at leading initiative-takers . . . because of “their inclination to listen to others and lack of interest in dominating social situations. . . . Introverted leaders create a virtuous circle of proactivity” (quoted in Cain, p. 57). And what do choirs need? Quiet, positive, supportive, behind-the-scenes leadership . . . balancing introverts and extroverts.
Thoughts to Consider
In Quiet, Cain addresses the “dangers” of group conformity. For us, that can be a conundrum: We must have agreement and uniformity of sound and collective thought but, think about the difference between uniformity of purpose and group conformity. We recognize that properly formed, guided, and developed, every group needs positive leadership. It is critical when challenges, large and small, beset choirs we conduct.
Caution advised, but, here are some bullet points from Quiet and Cain’s extensive research:
- Introverts are not smarter than extroverts. According to IQ scores, the two types are equally intelligent.
- While introverts are a minority group in society, they form the majority of gifted people. Moreover, it appears that introversion increases with intelligence so that more than 75 percent of people with an IQ above 160 are introverted (Sword, 2002).
- Introverts seem to think more carefully than extroverts.
- Extroverts tend to jump in and “get going” – introverts tend to “think before they act,” digest information, stay on task longer, give up less easily, and work more accurately.
- University of Wisconsin psychologist John Newman remarks that introverts “scan for problems. As soon as they get excited they’ll put the brakes on and think about peripheral issues that may be more important. Introverts seem to be specifically wired or trained so when they catch themselves getting excited and focused on a goal, their vigilance increases” (Patterson & Newman, 1993).
- John Brebner and Chris Cooper concluded that “extroverts think less and act faster on such tasks; introverts are ‘geared to inspect’ and extroverts ‘geared to respond’” (1978).
- Extroverts are more likely to focus on what is happening around them. Introverts “wonder” about things, imagine outcomes, and make plans for the future.
- Extroverts may see “what is” while their introverted peers are asking “what if.”
- “It’s not that I’m so smart,” said Einstein, who was a consummate introvert. “It’s that I stay with problems longer.”
Here are Susan Cain’s tips for educators (conductors are educators!) that she also elucidates in the Extra Libris section at the end of Quiet:
- Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured.
- Re-examine classroom “group-work.”
- Don’t seat shy or introverted kids in “high-interaction” areas of the classroom.
- Balance teaching methods to serve all the kids in your classroom.
- Try “pair sharing” techniques.
- Wait five seconds after asking questions in class (the reason makes such sense).
- Use online teaching methods.
- If you’re going to grade on class participation, award separate grades for content knowledge versus just participation.
I strongly commend Susan Cain’s Quiet for your reading and choral consideration. Immerse yourself in a world you know first-hand, but, through her glasses, might find handles to describe what you see and experience. She writes well from a first-hand life . . . as an introvert.
Brebner, John, & Cooper, Chris. (1978, September). Journal of Research in Personality. 12 (3), 306-311.
Cain, Susan. (2012). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Crown Publishing Group.
Collins, Jim. (2011). Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t. New York: Harper Business.
Patterson, C.M., & Newman, Joseph (1993). Reflectivity and learning from aversive events: Toward a psychological mechanism for the syndromes of disinhibition. Psychological Review, 100, 716-736.
Sword, Lesley. (2002). The gifted introvert. In High Ability. Retrieved from http://highability.org/the-gifted-introvert/.