She challenged what she calls a cultural bias towards extroverts, which favors those who are often the first to speak up. Overlooking introverts and assuming weakness, she noted, is a mistake.
According to Cain, the ability of many extroverts to engage in solitary study, self-reflect, and behave with a high degree of independence is a major asset. Being quiet, she argues, does not disqualify one from making significant contributions nor from having an active voice. An introvert simply does not talk for talk’s sake. When an introvert speaks, there is generally a good reason.
Cain’s research on introverts is a helpful context in which to examine the comfort level and role of these quieter individuals in business school programs. It is true (anecdotally) that many MBA students are outspoken, outgoing, sociable, expressive, and drawn to risk-taking. In many cases, a subset of business school students might even be described as aggressive. Business school is a social environment with a high degree of peer-to-peer interaction. There are frequent networking opportunities with lots of schmoozing going on. How does an introvert fit into this kind of socially active program, and work with the many dominant personalities they might encounter?
If you are entering an MBA program and concerned about getting along with others, the answer is simple: just stay true to yourself. For an introvert in a MBA program, this may mean retreating from some of the school’s social intensity. Or it may mean carving out some dedicated alone time. But in so doing, you should also recognize the value of your quieter personality, and the unique traits you bring to the business world as an introvert.
Why Introverts Are Needed in Business School
Any introvert concerned about fitting in at business school should take comfort in the knowledge that contributing to classroom discussion does not require verbosity — nor does it require an outgoing personality. In fact, introverts play a vital role in helping groups collaborate and find common ground. Many groups are lopsided towards extroverts. Problems can arise from this, because extroverts tend to do all the talking and can thwart creativity. Introverts are helpful in restoring that imbalance. Since study groups are foundational to how students learn in business school, introverts are essential to the team dynamic.
Here some other reasons that introverts are well-suited MBA settings:
There is power in being conservative with your words. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is renowned for speaking only when she considers it necessary. But when she speaks, it is always memorable; people hang on her every word.
Quiet leadership is just as powerful as loud leadership. In fact, in many cases, it may be more so.
Thinking before you speak is a sign of intelligence, restraint, and judgment. The complex problems undertaken by MBAs require careful consideration and analysis. Deep thought leads to good business decisions. Introverts may be advantaged here because of their contemplative nature.
Some tend to voice their opinions more frequently than others. This does not make their opinions more valid. When an introvert offers an opinion, it is usually thoughtfully considered and likely to add value.
Talkers are not smarter. They just talk more. Speaking out is not necessarily a sign of intelligence. It’s just a sign that the speaker likes to talk things out.
MBA students are most successful when they self-monitor and self-reflect. These activities come naturally to most introverts.
Introverts tend to be very creative and make excellent problem-solvers. Susan Cain’s work points out that many of the world’s most influential creative icons are actually introverts. In fact, being an introvert and being creative go hand-in-hand.
Students who use restraint leave space for and foster a community of many voices. In a classroom environment, it is not possible for every voice to be heard at once. In fact, the best learning occurs when those who are usually first to pipe up (read: extroverts) take a step back, and those who are slower to contribute step forward.
The Wrap-Up for an Introvert at Business School
Many world-famous business leaders, including Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, are established introverts. In fact, Mr. Buffet is known to be painfully shy. But neither of these men has been limited in any way by their quiet personalities. On the contrary, their introverted traits have helped them become highly successful.
There is no right or wrong personality for business school. While extroverts might seem like a more natural fit for this social environment, introverts play a vital role in group work and in many other areas. In MBA programs, many students are eager to be heard. You may find that the greatest power lies with those who are quiet and introspective.
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