At the end of the day, I’m inclined to be happy to curl up with a book and not talk to a soul. In fact, much of the time, my first instinct isn’t social. Quite the contrary, I have to consciously decide to socialize. I’m an introvert, and sometimes find myself irritated that I have to explain that away. So is there really anything wrong with just saying I don’t want to go to a party or social event? Don’t get me wrong – I like people, find them fascinating and curious, which drives my interest in the work that I do. And, I like to be with friends and family, just need to balance that with solitude.
I’ve been seeing a lot of references to introversion lately, and the more it’s on my mind, the more I see. So here are my thoughts, abbreviated and simplified to blog style. Introversion is a temperament, a personality style that seems to be innate, that is you’re probably born with it. It’s neither good nor bad, but it gets some bad press, I think because it’s not well understood.
An introvert is inclined to do much of his/her thinking internally, collecting thoughts for examination and using reflection time to develop those thoughts. The internalization of thought is, for an introvert, both wanted and necessary to rebuild a sense of who they are, what has meaning and where they want to put their energy. How energy is created and used is a significant difference between introverts and extroverts. While an extrovert is generally energized in interaction with others and can feel depleted when alone, an introvert uses energy in interaction with others and can feel depleted when overexposed. Solitude is both cherished and comfortable.
Introverts make up about 50% of the population, but somehow we feel like a minority, and more than that, a deficient minority. We are called shy (and some of us are that too) and encouraged to be more social. Sometimes we’re called stand-offish, or disinterested. If we have partners or friends who are extroverted, they may feel neglected or hurt when we don’t jump into social interaction with them.
There are many ways to spot us – we’re more often the listeners, not the talkers, and when it’s our turn to talk, we may have to scramble a bit to express what has been going on in our thoughts in response to the topic at hand. When we’ve made the time to introspect and be quiet, we can have lots of energy for socializing in situations that are comfortable – that is not too much noise and distraction, the opportunity for meaningful one on one interaction, a focus on a project or activity where we’re side by side with others, and not too much requirement for chatter. We can look confident and speak easily, more often when we can get into a topic that interests us or a role that we’re familiar with.
If you’re an extrovert, you will notice sometimes that an introvert may seem to lose focus or “go blank”, while you’re talking with them. Before you assume it’s disinterest, consider that it may be that I am still working through my thoughts on something you’ve said, while you’re moving around a topic, throwing out ideas and thoughts, exploring them out loud. Give me some time for my responses. If you’re connected to an introvert, they can’t be a sole source of your interactive needs. You need, want and deserve a rich variety of stimulation. Do you worry that you don’t know what goes on in their internal world? Well, truth is you probably don’t and won’t – it’s not secret, so much as it is an internal process. You are comfortable thinking as you talk, developing ideas on the go. We’re not.
If you’re an introvert, don’t limit your extrovert others to your preferences. Support and appreciate that they do need more interaction than you do. If they seem sometimes overwhelming to you, respectfully let them know that you’d like some time to reflect on what they’re saying, and do come back to them with your thoughts. Try, if you can, to ease up on your expectation that you must have fully developed an idea or response before you speak. You are likely to be your harshest critic interpersonally. Learn to suggest social activities that are more to your comfort, perhaps a game, a physical activity or project, something where you’re with others but the focus is more than talk.
Introverts and extroverts can and do develop strong relationships, at work, at play, and in life. The key is to be able to appreciate and support the differences of each other, not to get caught up in why they’re not the same.