Introverts: The Misunderstood Personality
I like to talk. My parents and my older sister can vouch for this; I was constantly on their nerves talking about any and everything that sparked my interest.
My interest in others and my naturally inquisitive nature has helped me to become a pretty great conversationalist (if I do say so myself). While this hasn’t always been true, I’ve learned to be able to talk to and spark conversation with anybody I want to; whether it’s at a networking event or just out living my life. But I’ve been finding more and more often that when I’m making great connections and I do mention being an introvert I’m usually faced with this type of reaction:
“You’re an introvert? Are you sure? You don’t act like one at all.”
It brought me to question what exactly people think introverts are? Sure, I might not want to go to parties and when I attend I’m very likely to leave first. But does that mean I’m not supposed to be able to hold nice conversation? The more I looked into it, the more I kept seeing people mention how “oh, she’s really nice for an introvert”, “he talks a lot for an introvert”, “she thinks she’s an introvert but she shouldn’t talk that way about herself” etc.
So apparently introverts are reclusive, shy, quiet creatures who disdain the idea of talking to people? Society couldn’t be more wrong. I want to take some time to emphasize what Introverts are (and what we are not)!
Introverted Does Not Equal Shy or Awkward
Are there shy introverts? Of course! But ‘shy’ and ‘introverted’ are not synonymous to each other. When someone is shy, they are expressing feelings of general nervousness or timidity with other people. When someone is introverted, however, it’s more about how the person is reacting to social stimulation. While a shy person will be reluctant to interact with anyone at a social gathering, an introvert might find a small circle of people to engage in conversation or thrive more within a one-on-one conversation. It’s completely possible to be both an introvert and outgoing! An introverted person might not be able to express that outgoing nature at the very first moment they meet someone (like an extrovert), but they can definitely engage in great conversation once you give them some time to feel you out.
Speaking for myself, I know that conversation is a lot easier when it is a meaningful or emotional topic. Introverts tend to thrive in meaningful discussion and may even become annoyed with run-of-the-mill small talk. And if you can get us talking about something that’s really important to us, your next challenge will be trying to move on to another topic!
Introverts Don’t Have to Be ‘Boring’ or Unsociable
I remember the days where I would describe my interests to people and then they would immediately follow with the question: ‘Okay but what do you do over the weekend? What do you do for fun?’
For whatever reason, I always found this question to be a test of character. Somehow when this question came up I would go into an internal panic because I didn’t want a random stranger thinking I’m ‘boring’. There are a lot of things people can forgive in another person…but boring? You can’t get past that! But what I didn’t realize at the time is that this person’s perception of ‘fun’ and my perception of ‘fun’ were just different. Also, how much were we really going to learn about each other in a two minute conversation? Most of the time the deep and interesting conversations I’ve had are with other introverts. We’re essentially built to be creative, in-depth thinkers; we’re a hub of cool ideas and hobbies that we do want to share with people that appreciate them.
Perhaps this person was an extrovert, or on the side of Sanguine personality. The life of the party, and gains energy from being around plenty of people. Do introverts like parties? Yes, but for the most part it’s in a very different way. I’m all for attending parties and being sociable, but for people like me there is definitely a time limit to these things.
It might not be as drastic as how Sarah Anderson depicts it above, but that’s basically how it works. Being an introvert doesn’t mean that you dread social activity or that you automatically hate people. What it means is that your idea of a social good time is a lot different than an extrovert’s. We love talking to people, but for most introverts it’s usually on our own terms. While an extrovert tends to veer towards a bustling environment, and even gains energy from it, an introvert’s energy depletes in such settings. Whereas an extrovert can just walk into a party with no hesitation, an introvert might have to mentally prepare themselves for such intensive and drawn out interaction. And by the end of it (or what we deem to be the end of it) we are tired. We’re ready to call it a night. So if you have a friend who insists on driving alone to events, by all means let them! It’s just a common courtesy to our friends. We get to excuse ourselves from the festivities when we’ve had enough without inconveniencing people who rode with us (or nagging the person we came with).
Introversion isn’t a Weakness, It’s an Untapped Strength!
When people converse with me and say things like “You’re an introvert?!” or “You don’t act like that at all” I do understand what they mean. I understand that it is meant to be a compliment, but it is a compliment rooted in the idea of introversion being a problem that needs to be fixed. These are usually the same people who will walk up to an extrovert that’s not “acting like an extrovert” in that moment and ask them: “What’s wrong? You’re not acting like yourself!”. The reality of the matter is that it’s in our nature to want to categorize; it’s how we make sense of things. However, people are not meant to be categorized, we are not one-dimensional beings. If someone is an introvert, they’re not always going to be quiet or reserved. If someone is an extrovert, they’re not always going to be loud or excitable. There isn’t anything wrong with an introvert being sociable (and there’s nothing saying that we can’t be, either) just like there’s nothing wrong with an extrovert that just wants to be mellow for a moment. These are not problems that need to be fixed! Even in a personality evaluation I filled out in which one has to check off the words that apply them, I was surprised to see the phrase “Introverted” listed as one of the weaknesses. But introversion is not a weakness, there’s plenty of power in someone who has more of an introverted nature.
Susan Cain’s TED Talk centers around the power of being an introvert. She highlights society’s misconceptions about what it means to be an introvert, and touches on how we simultaneously glorify extrovert personality traits. Her book Quiet, based on seven years of research and interviews, goes even deeper into the topic of the undervalued strengths and capabilities often associated with introverted personalities. Introverts are often described as great active listeners, attentive observers, and in-depth thinkers. With these qualities we tend to be very choosy with whom we associate, which allows us to pick quality friends or romantic partners.
People don’t typically put the words “introvert” and “leader” together, but Introverts actually tend to be very thoughtful and passionate leaders. The Introverted Leader doesn’t feel the need to be in the limelight (and, honestly, probably doesn’t want it). They’re not afraid to publicly give credit to their teams and associates. In addition, because introverts are such in-depth thinkers, they can be very deliberate and confident in their decision making. An Introverted Leader may also place emphasis on having more focused conversations with their teams. Some of my favorite managers or coaches weren’t people that I felt the need to hide my interests from; they were people with whom I wanted to share those interests! My favorite managers were people who knew how much I love writing and were well aware of my future goals (and not just the ones oriented with the company). A leader who knows how to build rapport with their team is a leader that is valued and respected by their team.
Some more notable Introverts include activists like Rosa Parks and Mahatma Ghandi or successful businessmen like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. With the former three listed, most people can see that, but oftentimes they may be surprised to realize that ‘someone like’ Warren Buffet identifies himself as an introvert as well! When asked about his early years, Buffett states that he “had a mind for business, but not the persona”. This wasn’t about him changing his personality, but learning how to build to his strengths in order to minimize his weaknesses. He understood that being an introvert didn’t have to tie in with not being sociable. This article speaks more on Warren Buffet and how he was able to utilize his introvert nature as a strength, rather than an excuse not to succeed.
What more people are beginning to understand is that the positive traits we find in an introvert are integral for our society to function and thrive. But what’s more important is this: A person’s personality is not a problem to be fixed. Every personality type has its own strengths and weaknesses, and it is our job to continue to grow ourselves to highlight our strengths. I hope that we can all understand that Introverts are not ‘lesser’ than Extroverts (or vice versa), but rather there needs to be more of a balance between the two when it comes to the way we think, the way we view each other, and the way we collaborate.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Awkward Penguin,