Friday, August 9, 2013

I Am An Introvert – Deal with It

Today is Friday, August 9, 2013.

Introverts get a very bad rap in this country, because our society is extremely extrovert-oriented,  The word "introvert" has taken on a negative connotation over time, and introversion is often mistaken for shyness,  rudeness, depression, aloofness, nerdiness, anti-social behavior, or anger.  Introverts are not  hermits, nor do they hate people in general.

What is an introvert, really?  It's a person who gets his or her information from the silence, from within, in contrast with extroverts, who get their energy from people.  When introverts are with a lot of people for a long time, they tend to run out of energy fast, simply because their battery is being run down.  Extroverts run out of energy when they are alone. It's really not about disliking the company of other people.  It's simply needing to recharge our internal batteries by getting some alone time.

The Meyers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator has one other description of introverts.  Not only do they get their energy from within, they also process information within.  Here are some examples:  In the classroom, if a teacher hands out papers, the introverts will quietly begin reading the paper (and tune out the teacher, who may be trying to give directions.)  Meanwhile, the extroverts will grab a paper, then turn to their neighbor to start talking (about the paper or about anything else, also tuning out the teacher.)  Once I realized this, I did an experiment. I handed out a worksheet and sure enough, the introverts had their eyes glued to the paper and the extroverts were talking up a storm.  Nobody was listening to me.  I then decided that it must be important to include "time to rustle the papers" for a bit before I gave directions.  It worked like a charm.

When you buy a new car, what do you feel like doing first?  If you drive right over to a friend's house or over to your neighbor's place to show them your new car and offer them a ride, you are an extrovert.  If you go for a long drive all by yourself to get used to the car, you are an introvert.   The point is that introverts process information internally, whereas extroverts process information externally, usually by talking to other people.

Introverts tend to enjoy their time alone and can easily entertain themselves.  They prefer deep relationships with a few friends, rather than shallower relationships with many friends.  They tend to feel drained after activities with other people, even if the activity was fun.  They are often very good listeners, and the tend to appear calm and self-contained.  They prefer focused conversations with one or two people in a quiet setting, rather than small talk with a crowd in a noisy place.  They tend to seem quiet, especially in front of strangers.  They are low-key, preferring not to draw attention to themselves. They tend to think before they talk, giving them the air of a deliberate person.  Although they are perfectly capable of speaking to a crowd, they don't seek out or revel in the limelight.

Author Susan Cain recently wrote about a book about introverts, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingIn the book, she explains how Western culture misunderstands and devalues introverted people.  She says introverts actually make up anywhere from 30 to 40% of the population of the U.S. (and possibly up to 50%), and that it may be that many introverts are mimicking extroverted behavior in simple self defense.  She notes that while introverts are able to mimic extroverts, the opposite is rarely true.  Considering the population of the United States, there are anywhere from 75 million to 120 million introverts.   Worldwide, if the total population is 7 billion, then there may be up to 2.8 billion or more introverts. 

There are many myths about introverts.  One of them is that introverts are shy.  Cain says that shyness has to do with "fear of negative judgment," but introversion is simply a preference for a less stimulating environment.  Introverts are not afraid of people.

Another myth is that introverts are rude, because they don't always observe the social pleasantries and have no taste for small talk.  Introverts who know that small talk helps extroverts in social settings will try to fit in, but they tend to find small talk very exhausting.

It's also a myth that introverts always want to be alone.  Given that being alone is how they recharge their internal batteries, it should come as no surprise that they need come cave time in every 24-hour period, but they don't stay home all the time.  When they go out in public, it's generally for a shorter period of time.   They don't like to have guests stay in their homes for very long, because of their need for alone time.  They will be glad to come to your party.  They just won't stay very long.

Some people think that introverts are tense and unable to relax. This is one of those damned if you do and damned if you don't things.  Obviously, there is no one around to see an introvert relax, because they need to be alone to do this.  When you see an introvert in a crowd, remember that their batteries are being drained by the crowd.  If they are waiting for a ride home from an extrovert friend, they are going to be tense, because the longer they stay, the more they are feeling the need to get away.  It's hard for extroverts to understand this.

Finally, introverts do indeed like people, contrary to popular belief.  They simply prefer to be in the company of one or two people, rather than a crowd, and they just can't be around others 24/7 the way extroverts can.  

What can you do to make your introverted friends feel more comfortable?  This graphic says it all.  Respecting their need for privacy and alone time is most important.  If they don't want to hang out, don't force them to or make them feel guilty for not wanting to be with you all the time.

In the workplace, especially, it's important to allow them to observe in unfamiliar situations, and to give them time to think before answering a question.  Once they start talking, don't interrupt them, or they will not finish what they wanted to say.  They appreciate advance notice of changes, and warnings that they need to finish what they are doing before going on to another activity with the group.

If you have to reprimand them, do it in private.  Let them learn new skills privately, as well, if possible.  Most importantly, don't try to make them behave like extroverts.  They may be able to alter their behavior for a while, but it will be very uncomfortable for them, and their productivity will suffer.  Introverts tend to prefer to work alone, rather than in groups.  When they do work in groups, they tend to do avoid leadership positions and are content to work in the background.

If you look at a list of successful people, you will see a high percentage of introverts, in fact, a higher percentage than in the general population.  Here are some famous introverts.

Actors Emma Watson, Steve Martin, Julia Roberts, Helen Hung, Tom Hanks, Keanu Reeves, Gwyneth Palotrow, Maryl Streep, Diane Keaton, Johnny Depp, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, and Michelle Pfeiffer are all introverts.

Author J.K. Rowling and filmmaker Stephen Spielberg are introverts.

TV personalities Barbara Walters, David Letterman, Diane Sawyer, and Matt Lauer are introverts.

Mathematician Albert Einstein and humanitarian Mother Teresa were introverts.

Sports personalities Michael Jordan and Joe DiMaggio are/were introverts.

Businessmen Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are introverts.

Believe it or not, politicians can also be introverts.  President Barack Obama is an introvert.  So are Hillary Clinton (unlike her husband Bill, who is an extrovert), Al Gore, Mitt Romney, and  Ron Paul.   I hesitate to classify Mohandas Gandhi as a politician, but he was an introvert, too. 

So, yeah, I'm an introvert.  I'm sitting here alone at home, typing, and having a wonderful time.  I am working in silence. I don't dislike you.  I just need to not talk for a while.  Let me type, instead.  :-)

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