Being Quiet:
The Politics Of Personality
by Michael A. Maynard
February 17, 2015

Psychological studies show that most people associate being an extrovert with being successful. Thankfully, that’s not always true, especially in politics.

All personality traits have their good side and their bad side. But for a long time, we’ve seen introversion only through its negative side and extroversion mostly through its positive side. Susan Cain

I am an introvert. It’s not that I don’t like people, I do. It’s just that I like my alone time to write, read and listen to music and the radio. I’m good with people one on one or in small groups. I am the one in the corner having a deep conversation with another introvert at a party.

I was able to read at 2 years old. My kindergarten and 1st grade teachers had me read the film strips at assembly. I didn’t think anything of this. A few years later, one of my classmates, whom I went to school with since kindergarten, pointed her finger at me in front a group of our fellow 7th grade students and said angrily, “Maynard, you think you’re so smart!”

I was devastated. No, I was just being me. Obviously, it hurt because I can still see her face and the faces of the other kids and hear her voice. I was just quiet and socially awkward. Despite being a good student and athlete, or perhaps because I was a good student and athlete and introverted, I had a very hard time fitting in. Making it worse for me were the expectations of others that I would be outgoing and gregarious.

Recently, my unrequited love, Dr. Rachel Maddow, said, while appearing on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show, that she was shy and because of this, she didn’t know many of the people who worked at NBC’s headquarters at 80 Rockefeller Plaza . Here is one of the most admired and respected of news broadcasters, who has a large national and international television audience, admitting that she was an introvert. I can empathize with Dr. Maddow and understand how someone who is extremely bright and does a great job doing one on one interviews would feel out of place in social settings.

Look at how awkward she is when being interviewed by Charlie Rose. She has a hard time talking about herself. Her focus is on others, which introverts do.

I have been reading Susan Cain’s (quoted above) best selling book, “Quiet”. In the book, she discusses her own introverted nature and, despite her success and frequent speaking engagements, has trouble getting herself together to do any public functions. You learn to cope with being introverted as you age, but being social does not get any easier.

Some introverts are perfectly comfortable with public speaking; I’m not one of them. Susan Cain

Ms. Cain postulates that in the United States, being an extrovert is valued and being an introvert is not.

A widely held, but rarely articulated, belief in our society is that the ideal self is bold, alpha, gregarious. Introversion is viewed somewhere between disappointment and pathology

Just like there are biological differences in the brain functions between liberals and conservatives, research indicates that there are also differences in the brains of introverts and extroverts. The introvert’s brain requires less stimulation than the extrovert’s brain.

In the 1960s, a psychologist named Hans Eysenck theorized that extroverts had a lower level of something called “arousal.” Eysenck believed that extroverts required more stimulation from the world in order to feel alert and awake, while introverts were easily over-stimulated. This helped to explain extroverts’ sense of risk-taking, challenges, and constant social company to keep them stimulated, while introverts often had to seek out alone time in order to lower their over-stimulation — thriving best at home, in library corners, or in peaceful parks.

We introverts do have more gray matter in our brains, of course.

A 2012 study completed by Randy Buckner of Harvard University discovered that introverts tended to have larger, thicker gray matter in their prefrontal cortex — a region of the brain that is linked to abstract thought and decision-making — while extroverts had less gray matter. Buckner concluded that this might be accountable for introverts’ tendencies to sit in a corner and ponder things thoroughly before making a decision, and extroverts’ ability to live in the moment and take risks without fully thinking everything through (which has its cons and benefits, of course).

But introverts are in the minority. Only 1 out of every 3 people is an introvert.

Facts About Introverts

Facts About Introverts

In our society, the ideal self is bold, gregarious, and comfortable in the spotlight. We like to think that we value individuality, but mostly we admire the type of individual who’s comfortable ‘putting himself out there. Susan Cain

We expect our politicians to be extroverts. A recent study of New Zealand’s politicians showed that politicians are more extroverted than the general public. This was the first study of its kind.

A survey of all current MPs and 30 former MPs found that 31% of respondents were strongly extroverted while just 12% were strongly introverted. 57% were ‘amibiverts’ – people with varying levels of the traits.

That compares with studies that show that among the general population, extreme introversion or extroversion is found in 25% of the public respectively.

The split between introverts and extroverts in the general population is 49.5 / 50.5% respectively. The split among New Zealand MPs is 41% / 59% respectively.

The survey also found that 77% of politicians claimed to have more close friends than the average person.

The common perception of the politician is someone who thrives on having an audience to listen to them and loves to be out shaking hands and kissing babies. This would be a misperception. Some of the best politicians and political figures were introverts, such as President Abraham Lincoln and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. President Barack Obama is an introvert.

Being commander-in-chief seems like an introvert’s worst nightmare. But even though President Obama has caught criticism for his aloof personality, he’s leveraged introvert’s natural capacity for thoughtful communication.

Even though it’s a different style than many on Capitol Hill, introspection and introversion has its advantages that extroversion can’t compete with. As columnist David Brooks puts it, “Being led by Barack Obama is like being trumpeted into battle by Miles Davis. He makes you want to sit down and discern.”

“I don’t think he doesn’t like people. I know he doesn’t like people. He’s not an extrovert; he’s an introvert,” said political journalist John Heilemann. “I’ve known the guy since 1988. He’s not someone who has a wide circle of friends. He’s not a backslapper and he’s not an arm-twister. He’s a more or less solitary figure who has extraordinary communicative capacities.”

Remember President Obama’s famous Washington Press Club joke?

Well, there may be more to that than just the President being an introvert. Few people would want to have a drink with Addison McConnell.

But this could also explain some of President Obama’s troubles with Congress, especially with Speaker of the House John Boehner, leaving the political differences and racism out of their relationship for the moment. Boehner seems to be an extroverted type who likes to go out and have a good time. He and Obama just don’t understand one another.

Secretary of State and assumed 2016 Democratic presidential candidate. Hillary Rodham Clinton, is an introvert.

“People assume that everything she does has some core meaning that has implications for her potential presidency or her character,” writes Michael Melcher. “But sometimes Hillary is just being an introvert, and that’s that.”

Like President Obama, Clinton’s private nature helps her deal with media and political storms carefully, instead of impulsively. From the New York Times:

Invoking a mantra attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, Mrs. Clinton likes to say that women in politics “need to develop skin as tough as a rhinoceros hide… I joke that I have the scars to show from my experiences,” she said in an interview. “But you know, our scars are part of us, and they are a reminder of the experiences we’ve gone through, and our history. I am constantly making sure that the rhinoceros skin still breathes. And that’s a challenge that all of us face. But again, not all of us have to live it out in public.”


But there was the introverted political leader whose inability to connect with the general public probably cost him the Presidency and changed the course of history. Despite being much more qualified for the office and capable, Vice President Albert Gore lost to Governor George W. Bush in the 2000 Presidential Elections If Vice President Gore could have just connected with a few more voters in Florida, so many things in the world today would likely have been different. There would have been action to combat climate change. There would have been no falsely justified Iraq War. There would not have been the Great Recession. Elections do have consequences. Al Gore had a hard time “putting himself out there”.

This presidential debate between Gore and George W. Bush demonstrates the huge personality and ability to connect with voters. Gore had the facts, but seemed stiff and uncomfortable. Bush had the language and extroverted personality.

Susan Cain writes “A famously introverted politician of our time is Al Gore. When Gore was first exposed to theoretical models of climate change as a Harvard undergraduate, he was deeply moved—and terrified. When he arrived in Congress in the 1970s, he approached his fellow congressmen with the climate change information that had left such a strong impression on him. His colleagues, however, were unimpressed. As with most politicians, they were primarily extroverts, and pie charts and line graphs about temperature change based on complex statistical models weren’t exciting enough to get the point across. It would take the synthesis of Gore’s message with dramatic, cinematic techniques featured in his breakaway documentary hit “An Inconvenient Truth” before his colleagues and the general public would experience the threat of climate change the way Gore had as a college sophomore.”

Like nearly all personality traits, there are degrees of introversion and extroversion. If you are in between being an introvert and extrovert, you are an ambivert.

So are you an introvert, extrovert or ambivert? Take this video quiz to find out.

Yes, I am an introvert, but that never has stopped me from expressing my opinions. Then you have a hard time shutting me up. It’s been that way since I could first talk, too.

I have been asked to run for various state and local political offices and have always refused. I just could not handle having to have people around me all the time. I may have the political acumen, but not the personality.

But this is not a good thing. We need more introverts, more thoughtful and considerate politicians, not more extroverted, bellicose ones. We need more listeners and less talkers. We need more independent thinkers and less followers. And we need more women and fewer male yahoos. We needed an Al Gore and not an ever-spouting Shrub. We need fewer Boehners and more Warrens and Clintons.

Copyright © February 2015, Michael A. Maynard, Stow, Massachusetts.

Please feel free to leave comments below. Also, if you’ve found this article interesting and informative, please pass it along to others. For more of my articles, please visit my WordPress site:

UPDATED: April 23, 2015 From The Washington Post

When Facebook finishes construction next spring on its massive new campus in Menlo Park, Calif., a single one of its rooms will be big enough to hold 10,000 employees. That’s not what Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” would call a productive space.

Cain, whose book on introverts fast became a bestseller in 2012, has spent the past year sharing her research with design company Steelcase to come up with a workplace alternative to the now nearly ubiquitous open-office plan. The result is a line of room designs, called “Quiet Spaces,” that will debut on June 9 at NeoCon, the largest interior design conference in North America.

According to Cain, introverts make up somewhere between one-third and half of the American population (she among them). These are people whose best ideas tend to come when they work on their own rather than in teams, and who can feel sapped or distracted by the bustle of a room full of chatty employees. In fact, Cain says, research shows that — for introverts and extroverts alike — every interruption doubles the time it takes to complete a task.

Yet roughly 70 percent of U.S. workplaces are designed in the open-plan format, in which employees occupy a sea of cubicles and desks with very few private offices.

SteeleCase/Susan Cain Office Spece For Introverts

SteeleCase/Susan Cain Office Spece For Introverts


Columnist/Journalist/Writer/Book Editor Co-Founder/CEO of Azimuth Partners, high tech consulting firm for 30+ years. Former columnist for the Washington Post/Newsweek syndicate.Development and Copy Editor for 4 commercially published books.

One Comment on “Being Quiet: The Politics Of Personality – Updated

  1. Pingback: The Happy Union Of States: The Wisdom And Prescience Of James Madison | MICHAEL A. MAYNARD

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