Embracing Introversion

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There has been significant scientific and psychological debate in recent years about whether introverts are born, or made (the old nature vs. nurture argument). While scientific clarity is likely years away, I am positive I was born an introvert. I am an only child, but I was born into a large and in charge, loving, southern Baptist/AME family (my parents have 26 siblings between them). Our house was the site of many a family cookout, birthday party, repass, and even a couple of weddings. There were always visitors, whether planned or just dropping by. Still, I managed to find a quiet corner somewhere with my notebook and pens and write.

In observing my parents, the introvert and extrovert personalities were crystal clear: mom was talkative and animated, while dad was introspective and serious. They were complimentary: they had different interpretations and understandings of the world around them; and those differences gave me an unique perspective on how they interacted with each other and with me.

By third grade, I had been branded with the dreaded S word that makes so many introverts cringe and roll their eyes: shy. It was a concept my extroverted mother found perplexing, and one she tried to reprogram by signing me up for every activity that would fill an introverted adolescent with dread: debate team, cheerleading, band, and softball, to name a few. Some I fought (softball wasn’t happening), some I agreed to (debate team and band) and in the end I wondered why my desire to read, write, and think were so juxtaposed to “fitting in.”

Over the years I have met, befriended, and worked with many extroverts who initially thought I was shy, but came to understand that I was introverted and those were different things. It is unlikely you will find a coworker of mine, past or present, who would describe me as shy.

Today, we have a much better understanding of the difference between shyness and introversion and know that they are not interchangeable. Books like Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain have given rise to the “Quiet Revolution,” the concept that introverts have specific, unique talents have helped introverts celebrate their differences Quiet put who I was into a perspective I hadn’t thought about before, and given all I had heard about the book before I read it, I expected the outcome. But the outcome I didn’t expect was the understanding I gained of extroverts.

As with many either/or concepts, when people talk about introverts and extroverts it becomes a competition. Extroverts feel introverts are overly sensitive, too passive, too quiet, and too reserved. While introverts feel extroverts are loud, insensitive, bull-in-a-china-shop types, who don’t care about their feelings. The truth lies somewhere in between: extroverts are take-charge folks who move boldly forward, while introverts are quiet thinkers, comfortable with gaining more facts before making a decision. Neither of these views of the world are wrong: they are just different. When working with each other, introverts and extroverts need to keep the following in mind:

Introverts on extroverts:

  • Know they will take charge
  • Let them talk
  • Listen carefully
  • Wait until all the extroverts have made their contributions and then take a deep breath and jump into the conversation

Extroverts on introverts:

  • They will not be the first people to talk
  • Just because they aren’t talking, doesn’t mean they aren’t listening
  • Look for their non-verbal cues that they want to join the conversation (pen clicking or tapping, looking at the speaker and then staring down at their notepad or table, )
  • Make a conscious effort to include them, which may mean asking three or four times if people have questions, comments or input

Both introverts and extroverts have to make the effort to understand each other and make their partnership work, as my parents did. A couple of years ago, my mother and I were reminiscing about my childhood and she said “I know I pushed you to do things you didn’t want to do, but you have to understand my perspective: I thought the world was going to eat you alive if you didn’t get out of your shell. But I see the woman you’ve become and how you’ve forged your own path. You’re quiet, but no one walks over you: you’re very clear about your boundaries and I’m glad I lived to see it.” For an introvert, that’s the ah-ha moment with our extrovert counterpart we all someday hope to have.

Kim Martin-Haynes is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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15 Comments

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Lori

What an amazing comment from your mom!
I love Susan Cain’s book and have shared it with many. Nice post. Thank you, Kim.

Joyce

Thanks for your input. As an extrovert I try very hard to understand and get along with introverts, but very seldom do I get the same response. So I pull into a shell and try to be an introvert. Doesn’t work for me!!

Jacqueline

Very insightful. I’ve gained a better understanding of the characteristics of introverts and extroverts. Looking forward to your next post!

Profile Photo Eric Cipriano

Very good analysis and nicely said – striving for balance and mutual respect should be our goals in most workplaces. So many people know their MBTI, but they really don’t take the time to understand, adapt, and evolve with their personality structures. Thanks for taking a “deep dive” into introversion. It is not “shallow” waters either!

Judy Graham

I am so glad that this was explained. Thinking I could go both ways. But, I’m an introvert and comment about the mom is me someone lived my life with my daughter. I was that mom.

Patricia Derr

As an introvert, I really appreciated these comments and need to read Quiet! finally! However, I find myself very much an extrovert in some situations but then have to go home and sleep to regain my energy.

My only disagreement that registered when I read your article is that extroverts should not always be in charge!! Just because people are bossy doesn’t give them the right to be the boss!!

Mark

I think I am a hybrid. In some respects, I guess I am extroverted: I love to talk (sometimes), I may start a conversation by making a comment or something. I guess I can be loud, I like debating especially when someone is WRONG, at least as far as I am concerned. Being a retired Navy Corpsman and presently working at a V.A. CBOC, I can’t be too introverted and have to sometimes have to be somewhat aggressive. However, I am also introverted. I tend to rather work alone, I don’t generally go out, rather stay home and watch videos, read, and other things that I do for amusement that I can do solo. I am an only child and had a hard time with the other kids ins school. I would often rather play in the woods or go to the local community dump and find old TVs or other things that I could take apart to satisfy my curiosity about what makes things tick. Even though I do begin conversations and seem extroverted in conversations, if truth be known, I’d often rather not have to talk with anybody.. As for relationships, zero. I feel that the problems I had relating to people when I was a kid carried over to adulthood. I am interpersonally challenged. There have been many times I’ve seen a girl that I would love to be with, but I don’t have the ability to go beyond my desire. I usually feel that the girl would not be interested in me and I am not good in the romantic conversation communication and I am lousy at picking up signals. Therefore, I am a 60 year old single grumpy old man! Not a life I would highly recommend. I think of the two types, being extroverted has many more advantages that being introverted.

Jen

Being introverted does not necessarily translate into difficulties in relating to people. People sometimes confuse introversion with people not being friendly. It really just has to do with how you process information and get your energy. The challenges you experience with relating to others may just be social anxiety, and it’s possible that others do not see you in the same light that you see yourself. It would be worth getting out of your own head and experimenting with some other behaviors that would get you what you want. I read an article through GovLoop some month ago in regard to networking. It said to quit worrying about what other people think of you because chances are, they are thinking of themselves.

Brian

Jen, you’re spot on! As a (more) introverted person myself, I’ve lived through the “quiet” and “shy” mis-labels for many of my 52 years. As a federal government employee, I have no issue speaking in public events (my max is about 120 people), inserting myself into policy roundtables, and climbing my way up the GS scale. My (more) extroverted boss (GS-15) has taken me with her as her Deputy for two consecutive assignments, because she values my tactfulness, honesty, intelligence, research accumen, insightfulness, and genuine low key personality. I credit my inate ability as a good listener, and observational skills honed by years of “introversion” for my general success in life. At this point, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Introverts Rule!…Quietly. (lol)

Profile Photo Sharmane Baynard

Bravo and thank you!! #IntrovertsUnite

Introverts are some of the world’s best leaders, innovators and creatives. Personality type should not be a limit to one’s success, we all have gifts to share.

Profile Photo Tim Nolan

I’m an extroverted manager of an IT team. Which means, I work with many introverts. This post has given me some tools to communicate with my coworkers a little bit better.

Jen

Great article! I loved the book Quiet as well and learned a lot from it. I thought it was very interesting that it’s very much western culture that values extroversion, and that other cultures see the value and strength in introversion. I recognize that we need both types of people, but it does get frustrating when some people see introversion as a challenge or as a less desirable quality/tendency. I see many extroverts as being self important and politician types who always want to call the shots, but recognize that there are many extroverts that are warm, friendly, and engaging as well. Some introverts also like to take charge or provide input, but sometimes it is difficult to get a word in edgewise with an extrovert! And introverts take charge using a different approach than extroverts, tending to listen more and direct less.

Devorah Adler, Office of Systems, Systems Analyst/Life Coach

Good insights.
A different view of introverts and extroverts, based on the work of Dr. Miriam Adahan, is that introverts recharge their batteries by being in a quiet setting and extroverts recharge theirs by being with people. Because of that, there can be shy extroverts (don’t open up easily, but when feeling down MUST be will people to restore their wellbeing). And there can be gregarious introverts (can work the room and introduce everyone to each other, but need peace and quiet to restore their wellbeing.

Ellen Welch

Bingo, Devorah! That re-charge is so important for both Introverts and Extroverts. Introversion does not necessarily mean that an introverted person hates presenting information in front of a large crowd. I’m a well-documented Introvert; I’ve taken the MBTI over 7 times. I always test as an Introvert, but that doesn’t mean I can’t teach, speak up at a meeting, yell my lungs out at a game, or take up the fight when I spot an injustice. I can also be a leader, which I am as a manager of a large group. However, I look forward to my quiet times of rest and reflection. Without them, I’m no longer on even keel. I’m tired and not very creative. Re-charging is so important.