World Introvert Day – Tips to Change your Life!

In Western culture, extraversion as a personality characteristic is generally valued more highly than introversion.  In the Big 5 personality model[1], Introversion is regarded simply as an absence of Extraversion, rather than as something that has positive elements in its own right.  In popular culture, we may associate Extraversion with positive descriptors such as being outgoing and fun, while Introversion is sometimes associated with negative descriptors such as being reserved and a loner; however, Extraversion could also imply arrogant and domineering while Introversion could imply thoughtful and considerate. 

In reality, most of us show a mixture of both Introverting behaviours (focus on own thoughts and feelings) and Extraverting behaviours (focus on external world), though the balance between them might vary.  Nobody could be totally either one or the other – if you were, you would be either a hermit or a perpetual party-goer.  Neither is in itself good or bad – the important thing is to know yourself, so you can manage your energy, how much interaction you have with others, and how you behave towards them.  Susan Cain[2] makes a convincing case for valuing the Introversion preference and gives plenty of examples of people with this preference who have made significant contributions in their fields. 

In the general population, preferences for Introversion and Extraversion are probably split roughly 50-50[3] .  This means that we all know, work and live with people who are different from ourselves on this preference.  It is the preference that we most easily identify in other people and is probably the preference on which we are most likely to decide whether we like them or not.  It is often easier to build rapport and understanding with people who are like us.  However, the effort put in to build relationships at work with people who are different from us is often repaid by the benefits of more effective team-working and better decision-making at work, and more variety in relationships at home. 

Case Study in Teaching

Problems can arise when people are different – they see the negative sides of the other behaviour and don’t feel appreciated for their own positive attributes.  The following descriptions, from workshop discussions amongst groups of teachers, are their perceptions of Extraverting and Introverting behaviours.  They illustrate how we may perceive our opposites negatively and also what we want our opposites to appreciate about us.

How people with the Introverting preference see people with the Extraverting preference

  • Confident, loud, lively, controlling, better
  • Able to deal with confrontation
  • Exhausting, noisy, pushy, nosey
  • Full of energy and beans!
  • Lack inhibition, they don’t worry about what people think, fearless
  • Big personality, “in the zone”

How people with the Extraverting preference see people with the Introverting preference

  • Quiet, slow, considered, contained
  • Self-sufficient – we need you but you don’t appear to need us
  • Good listeners, reflective, thoughtful
  • Difficult to get to know in a group, reserved, not easy to talk to
  • Calm exterior
  • Communicating when there is a purpose

What those with the Introverting preference want others to appreciate about them

  • We don’t like being the centre of attention
  • We are happy with our own space and do not need constant interaction
  • We may appear standoffish, but we are friendly and approachable
  • We may be quiet but we do have opinions and ideas
  • If we choose to say something it is really important to us and we have thought about it
  • Sometimes when we are quiet, we are just thinking, we are not anxious or upset

What those with the Extraverting preference want others to appreciate about them

  • We need responses and feedback
  • We look for opportunities to connect with people
  • We have drive and energy
  • We speak without thinking, we need to talk things through
  • We are social animals, we enjoy company and take pleasure in conversation
  • Silence is uncomfortable and unsettling – what are you thinking?!

What is striking about the statements from the two groups of teachers is how much the teachers with the Extraverting preference need interaction with other people, while teachers with the Introverting preference need time alone.  By sharing their perceptions of each other, they were able to appreciate the needs of their opposites and adapt their behaviour.  People with the Introverting preference were given more time to think about a topic in advance and were listened to when they had something to say – their colleagues learned that talking over them or interrupting caused them to stop communicating. 

As well as communicating better with colleagues, being aware of the difference between Introverting and Extraverting helped this group of teachers to use a variety of different learning strategies to appeal to pupils with both preferences, for example, by allowing some individual work as well as group work, and building in some quiet time as well as discussion time during lessons. 

At Home

In our personal lives, an understanding of this difference enables us to manage our expectations of others. For example, in a couple, someone with the Extraverting preference might want to spend more time socialising than a partner with the Introverting preference. 

While there is potential for difficulties between opposite preferences, problems can also arise when people are the same on this preference: two people with the Extraverting preference may not listen to each other, while people with the Introverting preference may not communicate.

If you are hoping to meet new people and make new friends, you may need to “tune up” if you have the Introverting preference, by making an effort to initiate conversation and contribute to discussions, so that people can get to know you. If you are in the same situation with the Extraverting preference, you may need to “tune down” your contributions to discussion, by asking questions and listening, so that people feel you are interested in them.

At Work

Preferences for Introversion and Extraversion are especially relevant for how meetings are managed and how effective they are.  If your team members mainly have Extraverting preferences, then there will be a lot of talk and discussion during the meeting; if they mainly have Introverting preferences, then you may find it difficult to get people to speak up and articulate their thoughts; if one or two people are in the minority, they are likely to find the meetings unproductive – a minority of Extraverting people will feel frustrated by the lack of discussion, a minority of Introverting people will feel frustrated by too much discussion.  It’s worth thinking about what you can do, either before, after or during the meeting, to ensure that everyone has an appropriate opportunity to contribute. 

It is also helpful to know which in general is the more productive environment for you, and to do what you can to influence it.  If you have the Introversion preference and work in a busy, noisy office, then you may be able to get some time to yourself during breaks; conversely, if you have the Extraversion preference and work in a library, then you may want to find people to interact with at break times.

When the working environment does not completely fit your preference, then you might need to ensure balance by compensating in your home life.  Someone with the Introverting preference who works in a busy office with lots of interaction with others might need to have more time alone to recover and renew their energy when at home, before they are ready to chat to their partner, while someone with the Extraverting preference who works in a job where there is little interaction with others might need to compensate by being involved in many activities with other people outside work.

[1] Costa P and McCrae R (1985) The NEO Personality Inventory Manual

[2] Cain, S (2012) Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking

[3] Kendall, E. (1998) Myers Briggs Type Indicator: European English Edition.