Updated: Nov 12, 2019
How do you know if your are introverted? What does it even mean? And can knowing the difference between extroverts and introverts help you navigate the wider world?
For some of you, brandishing yourself with the term "introverted" may be a familiar descriptor, a label you hold for yourself..... For many this may be something you haven't considered and it's only now reading this blog that you find a sense of familiarity in what I describe..... It's estimated that 1/3-1/2 of the worlds population are introverted, yet predominantly our services, our schools, our work place and even our culture is tailored to an extrovert preference.
Being introverted isn't a problem and it's certainly not a finite definition of what and who you are.....we are after all so much more than a singular way of thinking and being. Often we find our self sliding up and down a scale when it comes to traits, preferences and the way in which we function in the world. Truly we are made of many pieces of a jigsaw... yet gaining some perspective on each piece helps complete the bigger picture for us.
Men tell me that being introverted can feel hard in the extrovert dominated world. And while introverts are making headway in the face of equality I hear men saying they feel in competition with the stereotypical extrovert/Alpha.... who they depict as strong, confident, vocal... the man who flows through social groups igniting energy in everything he touches, drawing in peoples attention. The introverts who tell me this, might be comparing themselves to their extrovert friends and colleagues... but lets me honest... this kind of lifestyle would work long term for an introvert..... where introvert clients need help thriving in the extroverted world, we spend time getting to grips with their introverted preferences and comforts and look as where we can develop techniques for excellence in the wider world.
There is a misconception that you have to be an extrovert to get anywhere in life. For an extrovert, it's easy to be outgoing, social, boisterous and create presence in a room or group. Extroverts after all by definition tend to enjoy and thrive in social situations, group tasks at work and commonly out-sparkle introverts into leadership roles. Extroverts need other peoples energy to fuel there own ideas and enjoyment. Equally though, extroverts can burn out with too much fuel and will revert to introverted traits to get themselves back to their norm.... Neither is a better way of being, these are just different and knowing that, as an introvert might be the greatest party of your life!
An introvert is typically someone who is less keen in embarking on busy and social situations, preferring to get your stimulation from internal sources rather than externally.
As someone who draws their power from their inner solar panels .... lively and exuberant activities from others can be tiresome and draining. Having to expend that energy in an outward facing direction with others can zap the life out of an introvert and this is why so commonly you will find yourself spending longer in the loo, or scoping off to a corner of the garden at a party... or even spending your lunch break out for a walk.... to recharge your internal state.
Introversion can often be misunderstood as "shyness" or socially "anxious"... particularly to the extroverted mind looking in. "Shyness" and "anxiety" are separate things that can be experienced by both introverts and extroverts, they are add on's - experiential to something we have learned or a situation that has resulted in cause & effect.
I once heard someone say "introvert is Your way, anxiety get's in the way" and I think this is good phrase for defining the two in experience... anxiety causes a problem, introversion is a way of being.
There is a weird perception by many that extroverts have an upper hand over an introverted character and indeed the men I have explored this with have a level of frustration regarding that perception....Just because you talk the loudest doesn't mean your idea is anyway more impressive than the patient and perceptive ideas of an introvert. Yes, extroverts give out high energy (something we associate with motivation) and yes extroverts love group interaction.... However, notice that introvert on the side line.... they can easily step in and up to the mark when the extroverts have bounced their way to over-enthused exhaustion.
You don't really hear people talking about an alpha- introvert.... yet just because you are introverted doesn't mean you can't be confident and lead others or be successful in life and love.. You maybe just need more process to digest and reflect on applying the motions. ...
If I were stuck in a maze and needed someone to help me out.... I would definitely be calling on the introvert with their patience and strategic-thinking to lead me calmly to the exit..... for fear that the extrovert would have be bouldering and bashing my way through the walls or we would be so busy getting excited about the possibility of our escape that night had already fallen!
Many the male introvert has felt a struggle when it comes to adolescence or adult arenas... not because they don't feel good enough, after all we know that introverts are deep internal thinkers who's best met company is themselves..... Yet because peer groups and work environments are haphazardly designed to an extrovert preference.... Team Sports, Parties, Dating, Festivals, Group Activities, Team-work......having a "social life" ..... And most of all as extroverts are happy to be vocal of their opinions, even the kindest extro is worried that you (the intro) are "not ok" when they see you picking off the pineapple of the pizza on your own at Pete's Party.
When you took yourself off for a quiet moment and recharge to read a book at school Mrs Graham was freaking out that you had segregated yourself from the others and is ready to call social services for fear there is social-dysfunction.
At work you suddenly look up to find everyone staring perplex at your doodles (which provide a very good answer to the problem the team are trying to solve)... wondering why your no conversation.
This is not about saying that extroverts are bad and introverts should have an uprising... Both preferences create amazing people.... this is about ensuring that introverts are too heard.... and reassuring you you are not alone.
Considering your introversion:
In work - Introverts are less comfortable with high intensity of group work and activities that involve less autonomy.. this isn't because you can't do it but because social situations that require outward interactions can deplete your internal energy. Jobs that offer autonomy and physical space as part of team work will enable you to create the balance you need for ideas and high quality work....too many extroverts in one team is probably going to do your head in!
Managing an introvert - If you are manager of an introvert at work.... avoid running a victim perspective on a quieter more reserved communicator, or worrying if they are happy... Just enquire and an introvert will give you an asserted and confident answer of their inner state. Consider how to position an introvert in the team. Allow for physical and intellectual space.. Having still space is good for both extros and intro's when creating ideas, problem solving and being innovative... simply structure time apart with brief group huddles or open space discussions will enable an introvert to thrive.
Introverts in leadership - introverts make wonderful leaders, yet often get pipped to the post because they are quieter and more reserved then their extrovert colleagues who are skilled at giving the panel "a good feeling". If you are in the position of recruiting really consider what you need from a leader. Introverts are naturally focused strategically, they are thoughtful and dynamic when it comes to risk and often appraise scenarios with more detail then their extrovert counterparts who might dive heads first.
Introverts are known to have high quality levels of work -often airing on traits of perfectionism. Where the extrovert can be swept away by ideas and creativity oooh and shiny stuff the introverts is often much more of a complete finisher.
In relationships - Introverts are deep thinkers.... you may need time and space for yourself and extroverted partners may take a while to suss this out or respect it. A partner (introvert or extrovert) can be surprised at how reflective and open conversations can be if given space, time and the right curiosity to express this... Introverts are strategic and methodical and so can provide a create sense of consistency in living conditions, even if you are likely to be seen as a day-dreamer at times.
Introverts and well being..... you will absolutely thrive in outdoor and open space... if you haven't figured this out already then being in the wild, or in a quiet and peaceful space is perfect for recharging and allowing your internal mind to be creative and innovative. Likewise activities such as reading or sports like running or swimming are a really good way to align the mind and body connection that is the comfort zone of an introvert. Team sports work too, where your position or role is focused yet you may be less keen on the after-game social events.
Being a dad - So it's pretty common for a kid at some point to be exploring the parameters of extroversion.... kids love play and discovery and nursery and school puts them into rowdy and group orientated situations... As a parent you are suddenly thrown into the world of another where bouncing repetitively on your knee is going to be the greatest thing for your 2 year old " again again" .. where your internal thinker has to develop peripheral vision for your growing child... OK so your teenage daughter might get frustrated when you don't party like her mates dad does (extro) yet she will be blown away when you offer her a patient and understanding insight into "not fitting in" when she most needs it.
Socialising - it's not that as an introvert you can't socialise... like I said before anxiety and shyness don't have to come hand in hand with introversion. You may prefer a small trusting group of friends than big parties, events or networking at conferences. If you are going to these you will be the master at sourcing the quiet locations to replenish (this is something that Extroverts could really learn from introverts in terms of avoiding burn out and complete energy depletion). Sneaking off to the bathroom is a smart move when it's sole purpose it to regenerate yourself.
Being around extroverts - Extroverts can be really excited and curious about introverts. That air of calm and consideration can be perplexing for the uber-extrovert, and also fascinating. As we grow to adults extroverts tend to be less bothered about the introvert needing space. Yet super-extroverts may demand you to join the crowd and be confused if you don't.... extroverts with emotional intelligence can be great companions, if they can grasp the basic differences of how the two of you function this is an embracing dynamic.
The most fabulous recipes come with a combination of ingredients and helping an extrovert to learn introversion and vice versa can be beneficial in thriving at work and life. After all neither one is greater than the other, and the world is getting better at being more level in it's playing field.
For more perspectives on introverts watch Susan Cain's "The Power of Introverts" here
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