What is an introvert? How can I know if I’m an introvert?
An introvert is someone who feels most alive when they are with smaller groups of people or alone. When an introvert looks to “recharge their batteries”, they will look to spend time by themselves or in small groups. An introvert doesn’t crave large amounts of social stimulation. Introverts feel most capable and effective when alone or in smaller groups. They gain energy from having some quiet time.
- Introverts prefer small intimate gatherings over large noisy parties
- Introverts prefer lower levels of social stimulations over higher levels of noise and bright lights
- Introverts enjoy their own company, and have a rich inner life
- Introverts do their best thinking when they can contemplate something on their own, or perhaps bounce ideas off a close friend after they’ve done some independent thinking
- When an introvert looks forward to the perfect Friday evening after a full week, s/he imagines a quiet evening alone or with his/her spouse
- An introvert will often enjoy activities that may be solitary (e.g. reading) or done in pairs (e.g. chess)
- Take a quiz to find out your place on the introversion/extroversion spectrum. Introversion, just like extraversion is not an absolute…It’s like a continuum from white through ever darkening shades of grey to black…most of us are some shade of grey. Some of us lighter grey, some darker grey. Extroverts might like a quiet evening at times, just like introverts can enjoy the larger Christmas party.
Being an introvert is different than being shy… a fear of social judgement. Introverts just prefer quiet.
How many of us are introverts?
Somewhere between a third to half of all of us. That’s a lot isn’t it?
Is it bad to be an introvert?
No, but you’d almost think so, wouldn’t you, given the pressure schools and work put on all of us to be a part of the group? And with television and media trying to have us believe that being the life of the party is the desired goal of everyone, introverts can wonder if there is something wrong with them.
Quiet people are sometimes confused as being synonomous with “shy/socially anxious” people…and so there can be a tendency for our culture to think we need to “fix” introverts to come out of their shells and engage with classmates/co-workers. Quiet is different than loud, but it is just different, not worse.
In times past, where people lived in the same community their entire lives, and people knew each other, we lived in a “culture of character” where knowing someone was thoughtful and reflective was valued…so, in a way, introversion had the edge.
Now, we live in a highly transient world where important business deals are made with folks that you’ve barely met. We are asked to work in groups in university classes effectively with people who were strangers before the class started. Neighbors come and go, cocktail parties are an opportunity to network with new people. In short, first impressions become very important. And so visibility of personality is highly emphasized and in this newish “culture of personality”, extroverts now look like the heroes of culture.
Introversion is neither better or worse than extraversion…it’s just different…but in a culture that tends to reward extraversion, there can be a negative bias that is just plain unfair.
Is it hard to be an introvert?
It can be, when people are trying to “fix you” or send you messages that your style isn’t the right style.
This world is often set up to fit extroverts…kids’ desks are set up in groups to work together in school, open offices have there be a constant level of noise, and university classes set their syllabi up to have great gobs of marks attributed to group work and group presentations. For the introvert who would prefer sit in rows, or have a quiet space in the corner to increase productivity, or shows his/her knowledge best through essays written after book research…it may be hard to live in this world and somehow feel that one just doesn’t “fit” somehow.
But no, it’s not hard to be an introvert…it’s just natural. For some strong extroverts, that may be hard to understand, but for many of us it is not torture to have to read a book, or go on a walk in the woods…it’s a genuine pleasure.
What tips do you have to any extroverts who are married/friends with introverts?
Celebrate the uniqueness of the introvert in your life. An introvert will likely be most creative when in a quiet space, with time to contemplate. When an introvert resists going to a large party or asks to spend some time alone, it is not rejection of you or the gathering..it may simply be a reflection of the level of energy…how much gas in the tank they have.
Extroverts: know that you, too, can benefit from solitude. Most folks that are extroverted aren’t “hard core” and also enjoy curling up with a book, or quietly watching a campfire. Quiet space is a space for random thought which can lead to creativity…many major discoveries in this world have been made by scientists and engineers quietly working through complex problems in isolation.
Extroverts and introverts, if they understand each other well, and work off the other’s strengths can be a mighty pair. One can encourage the other to be in a space not completely natural. At times, an introvert/extrovert couple can compensate for the other in important ways and be very complementary. The introvert may enjoy preparing the greeting cards for family, while the extrovert does the hosting at a family gathering in their home. This can be a special collaboration.
What tips do you have for introverts?
Celebrate your unique strengths. Avoid buying into cultural lines that only celebrates those that push their way into the limelight. Ground yourself in the truth of your own value.
You may not be the type of leader that is a cheerleader with a barrel of laughs in the corporate boardroom, and the center of attention at the local charity golf event, regaling everybody with witty and clever stories. But you may be able to listen very carefully to the great ideas of others and be a person who clears the way for those you lead to show their best stuff to the world.
Know that introverts can be great leaders and engage with others remarkably effectively. Ghandi was an introvert…a quiet man who believed in his ethics and lived out of them, somewhat uncomfortably in the spot light, but often taking time alone. Jesus spent time in the desert and often pulled away from public ministry to restore his soul in contemplative prayer and communion with God. That time alone, and the lack of need to have your voice be predominant can facilitate some remarkable movements to happen within organizations, as you collaborate with others effectively, and your quiet voice can carry an authority and respect when your words are so clearly carefully chosen.
There is zero correlation between the best/loudest talker in the room and the person with the best ideas. If they happen to be within the same person, it is mere coincidence. Be mindful that your thoughts are valuable, and your voice is important. Find ways of voicing those ideas you have carefully and thoughtfully developed. Your quiet presence may carry more weight than you realize.
Introverts value thoughtful discourse, and can make room for discordant thoughts with greater tolerance for discussion rather than feeling a need to rush to a forced consensus.
Introverts, after you have accepted yourself, please also accept the extroverts for whom loud parties are a blast, and who can’t get enough of hanging out with you. Know that is what fills their tank.
Susan Cain is the leading expert these days on introversion. An introvert herself, she is a lawyer who had to find her own way to best practice in her style of introversion. For more on introversion, listen to Susan Cain’s TED talk:
or read her book, Quiet