Opinion

The communications industry’s introverts truly are the ultimate Survivors

The finale of Australian Survivor was a win for introverts everywhere and delivered an important lesson to the industry, says Brooke Hemphill.

Last night’s Australian Survivor win for Kristie Bennett is a testament to the power of introverts everywhere.

The show’s finale, which drew a metro audience of more than a million, saw Bennett beat the odds to take out the title of sole Survivor in the Ten series, a shocking win for introverts across Australia who thought it impossible for one of our own to triumph in a game seemingly ruled by extroverts.

Given Bennett quit her job as an account exec at Sydney communications agency, Bang to chase her dream of being on Survivor, the win sends a message to the industry to not to write off these quiet achievers.

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I thought about beginning this piece with the confession that I’m an introvert but then realised that was unnecessary. Anyone who’s ever worked with me knows I’m a card carrying introvert of the highest order.

And I’m not alone. Researchers estimate somewhere between 50 to 74% of the population are extroverts which means there are an awful lot of us introverts out there. You could be sitting next to one right now.

For those unsure or unfamiliar with the distinction between extroversion and introversion, extroverts draw their energy from others while introverts need solitude to recharge their batteries.

While our extroverted colleagues are in their element surrounded by people, after a while, we introverts tend to hit a wall. We’re sensitive souls, overly alert and responsive to our surrounds. It’s why we’re told we shouldn’t drink coffee before big meetings and why too much social interaction can actually lead to a non-alcohol induced hangover.

When you think about it, having someone on your team who is highly in tune with their surrounds, who thinks before they speak and adopts a measured approach based on quiet reflection is a massive asset. Who wouldn’t want that?

But more often than not introverts get written off as being “awkward” and, like Bennett, are grossly underestimated. The reason for this is we live, and work, in a culture that celebrates extroverts.

In her 2012 book, ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking‘, author Susan Cain argued that the world is biased against introverts, that instead of celebrating our quiet and reflective approach, we’re pushed to be more like our extroverted colleagues and friends. As Cain told Forbes, this leads to a “colossal waste of talent, energy and happiness.”

The deck is so often stacked against introverts as they are forced to navigate work environments designed by and for extroverts. Endless meetings, enforced teamwork and social functions populated by chatty extroverts literally suck the life out of us.

Yet by flying under the radar, or fostering the impression others are in control, as Bennett seemingly mastered during her Survivor stint, introverts can come out of nowhere and beat the extroverts at just about any game.

It was enthralling to watch the Survivor jury of extroverts challenge and berate Bennett for not playing the game how they believed it should be played, a strategy that inevitably put them on the jury instead of in the winner’s seat.

The most cutting comment came from Brooke Jowett, who said: “You let your daddy, Lee, control your every move,” to which Bennett deftly replied: “Part of my game play was to let everyone feel like they had control of me.”

As Bennett noted to extrovert pin-up girl Felicity ‘Flick’ Egginton: “Playing the game can be done in so many ways”. That’s as true for Survivor as it is for this industry we work in which is so often characterised by a laddish, loud culture.

There’s a lot of talk about fixing the diversity problem in our industry and I would argue this needs to extend beyond gender and ethnicity to include, and celebrate, introverts.

“I don’t know how you’ve done this but it’s inspiring and it’s proof anything is possible,” Survivor contestant and ‘mentalist’ Matt Tarrant told Bennett during the jury cross examination.

And you know what, there’s a whole lot of things that happen in this industry that wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for introverts. But we’re not really the type to blow our own trumpets, and even when we do, it’s hard to hear us over the din of all the extroverts.

From the quiet guy on your team who doesn’t say much in client meetings, to the woman who nods her way through the mandatory networking event or your colleague who doesn’t come out from behind his computer for the office morning tea, if these people look awkward to you extroverts, it’s because that’s exactly how they feel when they’re expected to participate in an extrovert culture.

But don’t discount them, because as Bennett showed us last night, you discount an introvert at your peril.

brooke-hemphill

Brooke Hemphill is a freelance writer, author and marketing communications consultant.

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