“You are too quiet.” “We don’t feel like we get to know you.” “Why do you go to your car for lunch?” For most of my working career, I have heard statement like these. While I think I am doing what I am supposed to do by coming to work, doing my job to the best of my ability, for some who work with me, it was not enough. They did not like that I was not talkative or didn’t like team lunches. The problem was not that I didn’t like my co-workers. It was not that I had a problem. What they did not know was I am an introvert. I am an introvert who has extrovert responsibilities.
What is an Introvert?
The term introvert became popular when psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung in 1920 began identifying personality types. The four personality types were extroversion/introversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving. According to WebMD, an introvert is “a person with qualities of a personality type known as introversion, which means that they feel more comfortable focusing on their inner thoughts and ideas, rather than what is happening externally”. According to Very Well Mind, introversion is a personality type characterized by focusing on internal feelings rather than external sources of stimulation. Introverts make up approximately one-third to one-half of the population. One in three people is an introvert.
Introversion is a personality type characterized by focusing on internal feelings rather than external sources of stimulation.
Characteristics of an Introvert
Though one may need to take a Myers-Briggs Personality assessment to see where they score on the scale of introversion, there are some traits which are characteristic of introverts. Introverts:
- Become drained when they around lots of people.
- Enjoy solitude.
- Have a small group of close friends.
- Are very self-aware.
- Like to learn by watching others.
- Are distracted by too much stimulation.
- Are drawn to jobs that involve independence.
Due to the fact introverts are energized by their alone time and focusing internally, others tend to consider them hard to get to know.
Cause of Introversion
Research is still being done to understand the cause of introversion. However, current research states introverts have a higher blood flow to the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is the part of the brain that helps a person remember things, solve problems, and plan ahead. The brain of an introvert reacts differently to dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that the nervous system uses to send messages between nerve cells. Dopamine plays a role in how we feel pleasure.
Types of Introverts
Not all introverts are the same. There are four types of introverts:
- Social: Considered to be the classic type. Social introverts like small groups and quiet settings over crowds.
- Thinking: Considered to be daydreamers. Thinking introverts enjoy spending time in their thoughts. They have creative imaginations.
- Anxious: Anxious introverts feel awkward and shy around people.
- Restrained/Inhibited: This introvert type spends a considerable amount of time thinking before they act. It takes them longer to make a decision or take action because they have to think through all the possibilities.
Myths about Introverts
While one third to one half of the population may be introverts, many people do not understand the nature of introverts. When people do not understand something, it is easy to have misconceptions about people. Some of the common myths and misconceptions about introverts are:
- Introverts are shy.
- Introverts are unfriendly.
- Introverts can’t be leaders.
- Introverts are hard to get to know.
According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet, when discussing her research about introverts, she says “So many introverts who I interviewed told me about a secret sense of shame they had about who they were and how they prefer to spend their time.” Considering this statement, it begs the question why has introversion prompted people to shame introverts? Cain states in a TedTalk she did on introversion “The US culture has always focused on ‘man of action’ versus ‘man of contemplation’”. Extroverts outnumber introverts 3 to 1 in the US. According to an article on Psyche.com, “Society’s praise and acceptance of extroversion as the norm has led many introverts, along with many ambiverts, to suppress difficult aspects of their personality, or to see them as flawed. This state of affairs is bad not only for introverts, but for society as a whole”. As we continue to believe the assumption there is something wrong with people with an introvert personality type, we will continue to miss out on what introverts bring to the table.
“Society’s praise and acceptance of extroversion as the norm has led many introverts, along with many ambiverts, to suppress difficult aspects of their personality, or to see them as flawed. This state of affairs is bad not only for introverts, but for society as a whole.”
Debunking the Myth
One of the myths about introverts that is especially harmful to the future of work and education is introverts cannot be good leaders. When we look at history we have seen introverts or those with introvert traits do amazing things. For example, we would all classify Jesus as being a great leader. Though Jesus was known for teaching in the synagogues and preaching before the masses, we see the predominance of his time was spent with a small group known as the disciples. We often see him engaging in one-on-one times of conversation that led to transformations (i.e. the woman at the well, speaking with Zaccheus in the tree, the conversation with Nicodemus, and the list goes on). Jesus also took the time to pull away from groups to recharge. He stressed the importance of doing likewise with the disciples.
“Immediately he made the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.” Matthew 14:22-23 NRSV
Introverts can make great leaders. There are many famous introverts such as Rosa Parks who though considered a quiet woman took a big stand for civil rights. President Obama is considered an introvert. It is told how he cherished his quiet time in the evenings. He spent time reading and working alone.
Other characteristics of introverts that make them great leaders are:
- Introverts think more. They are willing to listen to others at the table and consider the options for the best choice.
- Introverts can focus longer.
- Introverts do the right thing. They are less likely to fall prey to peer pressure.
How Do We Reframe Our Interactions with Introverts
During my career, I have encountered many situations where people assumed because I was quiet, I was unfriendly or did not want to engage with the team. People have also assumed I was unable to lead because I did not talk a lot or did not talk often in team meetings. As an introvert, I appreciate having time to think about what I have observed and heard. I enjoy thinking through the problem or challenge to see what the best possible option is.
Whether in school or at work, we first must learn to appreciate the diversity of those on our teams. “More importantly, we must remember that introversion is not something to be fixed – but a blessed source of human diversity that comes with many strengths”. Instead of marginalizing those who are introverts, we must learn how to work with them in a way that benefits the team.
Cain suggests we “stop the madness of groupwork”. Everything does not need to be a group assignment. There must be times when we offer “more privacy, work solo and allow deep thought”. Introverts thrive when they are allowed to think and focus on their work. As they are able to think and work, they are able to come up with innovative and creative options which may yield great benefits for the team.
Other ways we can be more supportive of introverts in schools and workplaces is:
- Respect boundaries.
- Allow introverts to brainstorm alone.
- Shorten meetings.
- Don’t force certain types of communication.
As believers we are called to love everyone. While we may not be alike and we may not understand how everyone is built, we can trust one thing – they are the beloved creation of God. They are just wired a little bit differently from others. Understanding this, we must all learn how to interact with one another in a way that honors the other. If a quieter, smaller environment or process is what honors the other, may we do so.
Are you an introvert who has faced issues living in an extraverted world? Share your experience.