Close your eyes and think of the word “passion.” What comes to mind? Think of it in a non-sexual way, of someone who has an intense affinity or interest in a subject or activity. Picture that person.
You might use fiery words to describe this imaginary character: a burning desire to know, sparkling or blazing eyes. You might envision someone who feels so strongly about their passion that they become intensely animated, speaking loudly, quickly, talking with their hands to tell the world about the subject of their fascination.
Introverts have no less passion for the subjects that fascinate them than do extroverts. Quite the opposite, introverts often have an intense passion for a topic, digging deeply into it, focusing on it to the exclusion of all else, at times.
However, extroverts express their passions in a way that’s more in line with what you probably visualized: vocal, animated. Telling the world about their passions, talking them up, gesticulating, not sitting quietly, focusing on something to the exclusion of all else.
Extroverts Receive More Rewards for Expressions of Passion than Do Introverts, Study Suggests
“Quiet Fires Fail to Impress,” a study by Grace Cormier and Jon Jachimowicz of Harvard Business School,1 which draws on psychological research, suggests that extroverts get more acknowledgment and social and career rewards for their expressions of passion than do introverts.
Most introverts, I think, would respond to this statement with something like, “I already knew that!” Many introverts have had to sit through hearing extroverts receiving admiration for their “strong personality,” or “inner light,” without the acknowledgment that, often, quiet has its own kind of strength, its own type of light.
However, now we have a (preliminary) study that gives credence to what our intuition and experience have (possibly) already indicated.
What the Study Indicated
Cormier and Jachimowicz’s study shows that:
- A correlation exists between personality type and the expression of passion. That is, extroverts express passion in a more extroverted way (i.e., energetic gestures, animated body movement). In contrast, introverts show it more inwardly (i.e., turning inward, becoming still and absorbed in the task at hand.)
- Extroverted expressions of passion get more support from others than do introverted ones. Additionally, “employees described as expressing passion extravertedly were rated as more promotable than employees described as expressing passion more introvertedly.”
During their study, the authors ruled out the idea that, perhaps, introverted expressions of passion did not gain reward or acknowledgment simply because their more quiet expressions weren’t recognized. Their study suggests that — at least to some degree — others are, in fact, able to see introverted expressions of passion; they just don’t give them the same acknowledgment and value.
The Emotional Cost to Introverts of “Acting” Extroverted
The paper briefly acknowledges the pressure that this preference toward extroverted expressions of passion can place on introverts in an organization. There is an emotional cost to introverts from having to be “on” all the time, taxing of the “emotional batteries.” But the pressure exists to do just that because of how the workplace values extroverted behavior. Besides, people can often sense inauthenticity. In pushing introverts to act in ways contrary to their personality type,2 the workplace can create a situation in which the introvert’s attempts at an extroverted expression of passion are negatively perceived and, thus, not rewarded anyway.
The authors based their study mostly on information provided by various self-report type scales. The questionnaires included two surveys about how the individual expresses passion: one a self-report scale and the other a similar scale rating co-workers expressions of passion. The third was a questionnaire that asked various questions about how much help or support the survey taker was likely to offer a specific co-worker. The authors do look at the limitations of their research in the course of the paper.
The paper points out the vicious cycle that may occur because of this norming and valuing of extroverted expressions of passion. Extroverts express themselves in a way that gains more acknowledgement and they get promoted. Management, then, becomes comprised of extroverts. The corporate culture’s norms of valuing extroversion are strengthened. Introverts, then, are less likely to receive promotions, and the company may miss out on some important insights that these individuals could bring to the table.
In the course of their paper, the authors explore how future research could look at ways in which companies could alter their structures and cultures to empower introverts. It doesn’t, however, look at what the passionate introvert, herself, can do.
So, what can we do?
I couldn’t interview the authors of the study for their thoughts on the matter, but I’ll share my own thoughts:
Introversion and assertiveness are not mutually exclusive. And introversion doesn’t equal shyness or passivity While it can be exhausting for introverts to feel like we need to put on an act to gain acceptance by others in our day to day lives, we can readily speak up for our needs. and we can point out not only the contributions we bring to the table but that of other introverts.
If you see a talented but introverted co-worker, dare to speak up. Offer her your acknowledgment. Sometimes we introverts forget to do this! Perhaps let management know if that quiet guy did something you valued. Stick suggestions in the suggestion box. If you see a pattern of promotion you feel is unfair and want to make a change (and take a potential risk,) consider arranging a one to one if that suits your style better than a round-the-table meeting.
And if you see a pattern that isn’t working for you? See what you might be able to do to make a change. I’m not too fond of large round-the-table meetings. Currently, I’m not in a workplace, but when I was, if I needed to go into detail with management about an issue — or express my enthusiasm about something — I often found it easier to schedule a 1:1 to discuss it in detail.
Download the Paper
The paper has a creative commons 4.0 — by attribution — license. Therefore, I’m attaching the document in its current state in case you’d like to read the actual study.
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- Cormier, G., & Jachimowicz, J. (2020, August 26). Quiet Fires Fail to Impress: Introverted Expressions of Passion Receive Less Social Worth. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/3zg4c
- and I’m not referring to being assertive here — you can be introverted and plenty bold