Extroverts have easier lives, it would seem, than those of us who place more value on peace and quiet. Popular culture appears to be in love with noise and speed, with high-energy, fast-paced TV shows, parties and even workplaces. But don’t despair if that’s just not for you. With some planning, it’s possible for introverts to succeed and find contentment in an extrovert’s world.
The extroversion-introversion axis is a way of thinking about differences in personality. Traditionally, a contrast is made between the assertive, self-expressive, and generally dominant personality, and the withdrawing, secretive, and more yielding personality.
An extrovert “is one whose mental images, thoughts, and problems find ready expression in overt behavior,” according to the psychologists Allport and Allport in 1921, whereas an introvert “dwells largely in a realm of imagination.” Introverts, given sufficient ability, may become visionary poets or artists, they suggest.
The distinction was originally made by Freud and has since been widely used as a concept to help us understand one another. Tests to measure introversion and extroversion have been devised, but the rich internal life which defines an introvert is difficult to detect and measure.
Are You An Introvert?
As a rough guide, you are an introvert if:
- You prefer spending time alone or with one or two close friends, especially when tired.
- You concentrate best when alone, and often give the impression of being quiet, calm and even mysterious.
- You feel that you gain energy and strength from being alone.
Make It Work for You
There are tools you can use to overcome the barriers that introversion can present. How about learning a trick or two from extroverts? Developing slightly more outgoing traits can help you cope “amid the noise and haste” and stand your ground in busy crowds of people. Here are some ways to boost your confidence:
- Notice and copy social skills of outgoing people you admire. In time it will come naturally.
- Speak out. The more you make your voice heard, the more positive feedback you’ll receive, and the easier it will become.
- At parties, try playing the role of the host. Introduce people to each other. Let them begin a conversation that isn’t about you, so you can relax. Ask open-ended rather than closed-ended, yes or no questions.
- Develop your networking skills. Use your memory for details to put people at ease and develop friendships.
- Don’t put yourself down or make excuses for your shyness. Others usually can relate to feelings of awkwardness, so it’s OK to talk about it.
- Above all, don’t let yourself retreat from the world and avoid situations you think you might enjoy. Stay positive and remember you can always leave if it’s becoming a trial.
Your Natural Strengths
As an introvert you may find you have a greater appreciation of subtlety and understatement — talents that, when harnessed, can become great strengths. Taking longer to answer questions is not a personality flaw, but means that you’re making more mental connections and your answers are likely to contain more substance. Extroverts would have to make an effort to think as deeply as you do naturally.
Your self-sufficiency also can be an advantage, as you don’t habitually judge yourself in terms of how others rate you. On the contrary, you are able to focus clearly on your day’s achievements.
Without the pressing need to be sociable or gain attention and approval, you can spend time on relationships and close friendships, which are often more profound than those shared by extroverts.
In the Workplace
Here your more restrained nature can really pay off. Many employers value classic introvert approaches — a calm, measured and thoughtful attitude both toward work projects and interactions with colleagues. Without strong impulsive tendencies, you consider your actions and others’ opinions rather than acting first and thinking later. You listen carefully then develop your ideas independently, with reflection. Be proud!
Perhaps in the modern world extroversion is overestimated. While it’s true that extroverts get their energy from relating to other people, that doesn’t necessarily make them good company. Nor are they always the best people at delivering messages — although viewed as natural communicators, if they are always on “send,” others can struggle to “receive” the message and get a word in.
So be proud of your introversion and work with your skills. You never know — you may inspire others to have more consideration and perseverance, or even become a “visionary” poet or artist!
References and further reading
Allport F. H., & Allport G. W. (1921). Personality traits: Their classification and measurement. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Vol. 16, pp. 6-40.
Jung Typology Test (based on the Myers-Briggs personality test)