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Making a case for introverts: BSU student presents during annual achievement day

Samuel Birkholz, a fourth-year Bemidji State University student, discusses the benefits of introverts during his Wednesday presentation, “The Heard and the Hiding,” given during BSU’s 14th Annual Student Scholarship and Creative Achievement Conference. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – Of the top 10 skills most sought in prospective employees, the lower eight are usually found in introverts.

But the top two – verbal communication and confidence – are more closely associated with extraverts.

“Businesses looking to hire new associates are looking for those two traits in every individual that they interview,” Samuel Birkholz, a fourth-year Bemidji State University student, said Wednesday during an on-campus presentation. “But if you look at the rest of the top 10, the skills rounded out are skills typically related to introvert-type personalities, skills such as time management, organization, analytical skills and written communication.”

Birkholz gave his presentation, “The Heard and the Hiding,” during BSU’s 14th Annual Student Scholarship and Creative Achievement Conference. His presentation was based on a literature review of empirical research following Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”

“It iterates some key points about introverts and extraverts, especially with introverts being overlooked in American society due to the want for extravert-like traits,” said Birkholz about the book.

Birkholz – an “extreme introvert” himself – argued introverts possess many of the key skills and attributes necessary for professional success.

“Introverts, I believe, are a valuable resource not only in literature, business, the arts or advancing technology, but also in social networking,” he said, “and most people who have introvert-type personalities are forced to hide behind (a) false face due to this preference for the extravert-type personality.”

Outlining some of the “cons” of extraverts, Birkholz said their ability to offer quick responses can lead to impulsiveness and result in sloppy performance, incorrect answers.

For example, he referenced a study in which introverts were pitted against extraverts. They were presented with a two-letter combination involving the letters U and W. If they were the same letter, participants were asked to press a yes key; if they were different, they would hit no; and if an X was presented, they were asked to pass.

“Indeed, extraverts tended to respond more quickly but incorrectly … and introverts were slower to respond but more accurate,” Birkholz said.

Introverts, he said, also are able to adapt extravert skills more easily than extraverts can adapt introverted skills.

Birkholz referenced another study in which introverts were asked to utilize more typical extravert-type skills while extraverts were asked to utilize more introvert-type skills. First, they performed the test normally and then performed it again while using skills more closely in line with the other’s personality.

“The times for extraverts actually increased and the time for introverts stayed the same or actually decreased within the task,” Birkholz said. “The conclusion could be drawn that when extraverts try to force more introverted thinking, to process things more slowly before they jump into conversations, they suffer more mental fatigue compared to their introverted counterparts who can take on the extravert-type roles and not suffer as much fatigue.”

Carla Norris-Raynbird, professor of environmental, earth and space studies, served as the facilitator for the session. She wondered, following his 15-minute presentation, about the “cultural bias” for extraverts and the notion of stress, that they have a harder time being more introverted.

“There’s lot of extraverted role models, in our top performers and companies; there’s a lot of that modeling going on,” she said. “So introverts are constantly coming into contact with this … and in various situations are compelled to rise to such situations – getting up to speak during student scholarship and achievement day is one example – and so they have more practice rising to the occasion than say an extravert who is in a comfort role most of the time.”

Greg Oja, an audience member, said he could see how companies could value both types of employees, noting, for instance, that extraverts likely would make better pharmaceutical representatives who are constantly turned down or away from hospitals and doctors offices where they wish to visit and make sales.

“But a lot of your tech entrepreneurs are introverts,” he said, noting Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. “A lot of people who were able to contribute great things, being able to take a task and just work it down where the extravert may be too flighty to do that.”