When you think back to your school days, you probably remember a lot of kids being given some sort of label. As a youngster, I rarely put my hand up in class and the idea of presenting in front of people terrified me, but I still did well. I became the ‘quiet achiever’.
Such labels are usually well-meaning, yet they can quickly start to define us. Quiet is not often synonymous with power or leadership. Nor does it carry connotations of strength or independence. In fact, being quiet is often positioned as something that can be ‘overcome’. Especially if you want to be seen and heard in the communications industry.
The question is, what makes volume so desirable? Is a ‘dynamic’ extrovert more capable or valuable than a ‘measured’ introvert? Or is it just semantics? Another casualty of the 'that's just the way it is' mindset.
Communication is not simply about talking the talk. It’s also about listening, responding, writing, understanding, showing empathy, the list goes on. Someone will always have a louder voice than you in the office or boardroom, but it won’t earn respect if they’re not saying something meaningful. People won't engage if they feel they're not being heard and, right now, we need to listen to each other more than ever.
Many extroverts have their own challenges too and by no means is this a ‘them versus us’ rhetoric. I’m lucky enough to work in a wonderfully eclectic team of introverts and extroverts. Some are loud, charismatic and thrive on being the centre of attention. Others are structured, analytical and realistic. No one is more valuable than the other. As a team, we thrive because of our diversity. We’ve taken the time to understand each other’s communication preferences and respect our differences.
Across the world, our industry is becoming more accountable and inclusive. Taking strides to tackle worrying mental health statistics and improve employee wellbeing. This needs to extend to the labels we put on people and how we use them to make decisions about their abilities.
Some people won’t be right for certain roles and opportunities, but never underestimate or overlook an introvert simple because they carry a ‘quiet’ label. We’ve all got an inner warrior when we need it. Just ask Obama.
Caroline Addy is managing director at Milk & Honey PR
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