The Secrets of Introverts

We live in a world of extroverts.

For better or worse, some three-quarters of the population are what is commonly classified as extroverts, which means every introvert is inherently living in a world built by and defined by extroverts.

What is an extrovert?

An extrovert is a person who is energized by being around other people. This is the opposite of an introvert who is energized by being alone.  Being an introvert doesn’t mean you don’t like people, but it does mean you will quietly go completely insane if you are forced to interact with other people – especially unfamiliar people – for extended periods of time with no option for respite.

There are some great tracts on the web about introversion in a game attempt to explain introverts to what is a majority population of extroverts, but in most of the various essays there have been some points that I often felt were missing.

Introversion is a not a disease
Being an introvert is not a psychological condition that needs to be fixed.  It is not a disease, nor is it a personality deficiency. Introversion is, as well, not in fact purely social.  In the same way that introverts prefer a small group of close friends to a large network of acquaintances, introverts tend to specialize rather than generalize and prefer depth over breadth.

Note that this is not the same thing as being shy; shyness is a characteristic of social anxiety which in extreme cases is in fact a social disorder in that it prevents the individual from effective social functioning.  Most introverts are not, in fact, shy, and are perfectly capable of interacting at a social level, they simply do not seek it out as their primary focus.

In other words, trying to “help” an introvert by “breaking them out of their shell” or “conquering their solitude” is – perhaps inadvertently – condescending in that it implies there is something wrong with not being gregarious.

Texting is a mark of respect
Mainstream society grants considerable privilege to bold, aggressive communication, and in fact, in certain areas such as sales – whether as a matter of commerce or simply interpersonal communication – this can be very effective.

Direct, aggressive communication has its strengths, but it also has weaknesses that are not as commonly acknowledged.  It can be invasive, pushy, rude, and inadvertently strong arm people into actions and verbal agreements they might come to regret.  In other words, it is good for the quick sale, but bad for the long game.

Where an extrovert will prize face to face or at least voice to voice communication, often because it is easier to force a response or action faster, and sometimes simply because talking is how many extroverts work through their own thinking, introverts will often value indirect communication.  In days past this meant snailmail, then email and instant messaging, and most recently texting.

I have heard it all; texting is a mark of casualness, of informality.  Texting is lazy.  I have even heard texting compared to cowardice.

For introverts, texting allows the recipient to respond when it is convenient for the recipient, not the sender.  It allows the recipient time to collect their thoughts and consider the best response.  It is, in other words, a mark of respect that values the substance of the communication over the speed of the communication, and respects the recipient’s time.

None of this is to say there is not a time and place for face to face communication, for phone calls and in-person talking.  Obviously, there is, and to state otherwise would be silly.  For matters that require discussion or debate, or communication between intimates, nothing else will substitute, but these are rarer situations than is sometimes imagined, and for everything else there is an array of options broader than is often assumed.

Voluntary social interaction is significant
For an extrovert, social interaction is like breathing; it is the medium through which relationships, likes and dislikes, status measurement and innumerable other social measures are gauged.  An extrovert may gush happily with an arch-enemy, or make enthusiastic promises of future interaction which they actually have little likelihood of genuinely following through on.  The extrovert isn’t lying – they just assume that everyone is using the same dictionary.

For an introvert, social interaction is is like an embrace; it is a significant action with particular meaning.  An introvert is more likely to avoid interacting with someone they dislike, and far less likely to pretend amiability.  Where an extrovert may simply be flirting for fun, an introvert will tend to flirt with deliberate intention, even if the manner is playful.

In other words, if an introvert makes the specific, voluntary, non-task oriented action to talk to someone, invite someone to something, or join a social activity, it most often implies a significant level of intent.  The intent may simply be an extension of friendship, or an attempt to deliberately network, or to pay off a perceived social debt, but it is rarely happenstance.  It is a signal, and if the signal is ignored, many introverts will simply shrug and walk away, assuming their offer to have been rebuffed.

Introverts are not insensitive
In fact, it is just the opposite.  Some interesting scientific studies have demonstrated that introverts feel more intensely on average than extroverts.  Their introversion and distancing is, in other words, a mechanism for controlling an intensity of sensory and emotional input that might otherwise become overwhelming.

On the flip side, this sensitivity means that introverts often pick up subtleties that may be missed.  As well, introverts tend to be more cautious and aware of the risk side of any equation, whereas extroverts tend to respond more readily to the reward side of the equation.  Fortune can in fact favor the bold, but it also tends to kill them off a lot faster as well.

Creativity does not arise from teamwork
Recent research has overwhelmingly demonstrated that despite claims that open office environments encourage teamwork and the free exchange of ideas, the truth is their true value lies in these environments being cheaper.  Training and creativity have been repeatedly and rigorously tied to solitary practice and individual effort.

Again, this does not mean that teamwork, brainstorming and the exchange of ideas do not have a place; they absolutely do.  What it means, however, is that these things are most effective when they are segregated to particular points along the creative process and not saturated throughout the process…like soaking french fries with mayonnaise.

18 thoughts on “The Secrets of Introverts

  1. I wish every extrovert could be forced to read this. It took me a long time to figure out that it’s okay to be an introvert.

  2. Me, as well. It is a difficult world out there that tends to barrage we introverts with messages that there’s something sick about not wanting to go to a crowded bar or party where we know almost nobody.

    I suspect there are a lot of strategies introverts use to deal with living in a extrovert’s world.

    For myself, I do actually put on parties, hikes, zombie movie marathons, etc. – when confronted on it, I explained that if I put it on, it meant I controlled the invite list and also could always retreat to my room when the population density got too loud. By this time, most of my friends are very familiar with the irony of the host vanishing for periods of time.

    • I am very comfortable being an introvert and so is my very extroverted wife (now). I have also had to learn that leaving a meeting that is controlled, usually, by extroverts without making my observations and preferences known is my own choice: Being introverted is not permission for others to ignore me. I have discovered I can ACT like an extrovert… I simply prefer introversion.

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  5. As an omnivert, I have found that I’m not in a constant state of middle ground, but more a state of back and forth. Some days I’m introverted, some days extroverted and many days somewhere between the 2. I’m betting it’s the same for everyone, but less noticeable, since the change is still within the normal perimeters of the particular personality type.

    • ‘Parameters.’ I’m the same, but it also depends on the environment, the sort of people. Some people can make me withdrawn. It depends what their values are and how they view me. I remember becoming extraverted at the age of 14 when I went to a festival for the first time where i felt really at home. Everyone I was with was shocked at the sudden change. My family had tended to make me a withdrawn person because they didn’t relate to me or I to them really. I’d just hide away with my books mostly. Not all people are energising even for extraverts and sometimes you want to be on your own. I spend a lot of time on my own anyway as i work from home and am single so it’s nice to see people other than my cats.

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  7. I am both an introvert and shy. Much of what you say here resonates with me. The texting part, I am always telling people that if they really want to get hold of me, text me. I am more likely to respond to a text than to return a call.

    While I can and have worked as part of a team, I do function better working alone. When it is problem solving, I need to do it my way, go watch TV or some other mindless task while my brain processes. Trying to muscle through in a group tossing out ideas just doesn’t work for me.

    My shyness is a problem, at times. Sometimes it is moderate, sometimes it is so severe that it is indistinguishable from avoidant personality disorder. But it is always something other than my introversion.

  8. ‘ I very much resent t he statement ‘An extrovert may gush happily with an arch-enemy, or make enthusiastic promises of future interaction which they actually have little likelihood of genuinely following through on. ‘ That may be true of some extraverts, but it comes across as you saying that all extraverts are happy to be fake. I’m an extravert for whom authenticity is the highest value and I’m more likely to glare at my enemy than gush. Your dichotomising is far too simplistic as it fails to take into account other axes of behaviour. Also there are many different definitions of Introvert and extrovert, some of which conclude that the balance is more like 50:50, even in the US where for historical reasons, one might expect extraversion to be higher than in the rest of the world. Many extraverts prefer to talk to one or two close friends than a group and many also go into things in depth. How else would there be extravert university lecturers – w hich there are – or extravert historians?

    • I don’t think there is a need to feel resentful about that statement; the word “may” was very specifically chosen.

      Would all extroverts do this? No, of course not. But, I have witnessed more who would – or would present themselves in such a fashion for courtesy’s sake – then would not. Similarly, would all introverts do everything or agree with everything, in this article? Again, no. Human behavior is a study of tendencies, patterns, and percentages, and I maintain that what was written falls into those contraints, with all their attendant failings.

      I think, perhaps, part of the concern lies with a sense of condemnation, when absolutely none was implied nor intended. This article was intended merely to present a set of observations of common patterns exhibiting different social dictionaries that in turn frequently leads to unfortunate misunderstandings.

  9. So true! I tell people all the time. It’s no that I don’t like them but I get revitalized by solitary confinement. I may not appear to be having fun at a party but I am. I just don’t have to show it!

    • But, Heretic, you presented it as a definiing characteristic. Or if you weren’t, what was the point in using it to explain what an extrovert is?

      ‘Jung [who invented the terms] gave several, somewhat contradictory definitions of extraversion and introversion. However, when he considered this dichotomy on the examples of specific types (in Psychological Types), it was easy to notice that extraversion meant “energy-spending”, introversion “energy-saving” in regard to the specific dominant function.’ ~ http://www.socioniko.net/en/articles/lytovs-intro1.html

      Socionics is a variant on Myers-Briggs(MBTI), which does tend to use your own definition. Hans Eyesenk’s use gave rise to the popular understanding of Extraverts as more social and outgoing, while Dorothy Rowe’s definition is of Extraverts being people for whom the outer world was a greater reality than the inner and vice versa for Introverts. According to Socionics, Extraverts do not outweigh introverts by 3:1. Also you seem to be ignoring all those cultures that are far less extravert than the American one.

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