What is an Introvert?
The terms "Introvert" and "Extrovert" were developed by Carl G. Jung in the early 20th Century. We often think that people are either one or the other, but Jung's idea was that they are two extremes of one spectrum, meaning that most people float somewhere between the two.
This doesn't stop people from claiming "I'm such an introvert" on a daily basis. But what does it mean to be an introvert? How do you know if you are an introvert? Below are nine signs that you might be an introvert. As with all of these things, you may only experience some of these and not others (probably meaning that you float more toward the middle of the introversion-extroversion spectrum).
You enjoy having time to yourself. Quiet time is important to your sense of wellbeing.
Your best thinking occurs when you're by yourself. You often need time to reflect quietly over any problems, allowing you the maximum chance of engaging in original thought. Ever thought that you do your best thinking in the shower or while you are on the treadmill listening to music?
You lead best when others are self-starters. It is often thought that introverts don't make good leaders, but this is far from the case. Actually, introverts can make brilliant leaders provided that their team are self-motivated.
You're the last to raise your hand when someone asks for something in a group. It's not that introverts know less than extroverts, it's that they just don't feel the need to be in the limelight. Have you ever known the answer to a question but quietly written it down rather than shouting it out to the class?
Other people are constantly asking your opinion. Introverts are much less likely to offer an opinion or their advice, and so they quite often find that others come to them and ask them directly.
You often wear headphones when in a public situation. This is an additional layer of protection against any unnecessary contact with strangers - even if there is no music playing.
You prefer not to engage with people who are angry or upset. Research by University College London showed that introverts fail to show the "gaze-cueing effect". Gaze-cueing is when you look at someone's eyes, realise they are looking at something else, and so you follow their gaze to see what they are looking at. When having their eyes tracked, extroverts tended to do this automatically, but when the person showed an angry face, introverts tended to lose track of the gaze, meaning that they avoided making eye contact with people who seem to be angry.
You receive more calls, texts, and emails than you make - unless you have no choice. People high in introversion don't tend to reach out to others, and if they have to they are more likely to do so via text rather than making a phone call. Introverts don't tend to generate correspondence but react to communications instead.
You don't initiate small talk with someone who is a casual contact. People don't tend to know how you are truly feeling or what you are thinking unless you feel close enough to them to share these private reflections.
There are advantages to being more introverted; for example, you are less likely to make a social faux-pas, because introverts tend to think more before they speak or act. You are also less likely to get bored when alone. The downsides of being more introverted are that other people might think you are aloof or that you think yourself superior to others.
Theories of Introversion
Whether someone is introverted or extroverted has less to do with whether they are shy or outgoing and more to do with where they get their energy from. Introverts tend to feel more energised and recharged when they spend some time alone and tend to lose energy when spending long periods of time socialising, especially with large groups, or people they don't know well. On the other hand, extroverts tend to feel recharged after socialising with others and lose energy after spending time alone.
Another researcher, in the '60s, called Eysenck believed that extroversion was more to do with arousal levels. He believed that extroverts had a lower base level of arousal than introverts. This means that introverts are easily overstimulated, whereas extroverts need to constantly seek out new experiences, adventure, and the company of others in order to be equally as stimulated. Introverts do much better with alone time, 1-1 conversations, and predictable situations.
How to Thrive as an Introvert
There is nothing wrong with being an introvert, but we live in a world that seems to cater more to extroverts. Here are some tips for introverts, and those interacting with introverts;
Respect their need for privacy
Don't embarrass them in public
Let them observe new situations before needing to participate
Give them time to think, rather than demanding immediate answers
Don't interrupt them - it often takes more thought, effort, and energy to speak up in group situations, and each time they are interrupted, they will be less likely to make the effort in the future
Give them advance notice of expected changes in their life
Give them advanced warnings to finish whatever they are working on
Reprimand them privately (I once finished my first day in a new job - in door-to-door sales - where the manager proceeded to ask me, in front of everyone, why I hadn't been successful in selling that day. He asked me over and over until I was nearly in tears. I left that day and never returned to that job.)
Teach them new skills privately (and allow them to practice these skills in private)
Enable them to find one or two best friends who have similar interests and abilities - they don't have the same need for masses of acquaintances as extroverts
Don't push them to make lots of friends
Respect their introversion - don't try to remake them into extroverts.
Now speaking to the introverts directly, it can be helpful to have some phrases on hand for when you are working in an environment designed for extroverts;
"That's really interesting, let me have a think and I'll get back to you tomorrow/soon"
"Thank you for letting me know, I'll consider it and get back to you"
"Let's meet up one-on-one to discuss this once I've had a chance to look over your proposal"
... and so on!
What is an Ambivert?
Most of us tend to identify as either an introvert or an extrovert, but as we saw earlier, these are just two extremes of the same spectrum. Carl Jung himself stated that "there is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in a lunatic asylum."
Most of us will be ambiverts; that is, most of us have traits of both extroversion and introversion to a greater or lesser degree. Ambiverts generally enjoy being around other people, but after a while, this will start to drain them of energy. Ambiverts are also okay with being alone, but again after a certain point, they will seek out friends and family to energise them.
There are advantages to being ambiverted. For example, most of us would believe that extroverts are the best salespeople, but it is actually ambiverts who outsell both introverts and extroverts by 24% (in a study by Adam Grant - author of 'Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success').
The best way to be, in a world where we all find ourself positioned at different points along this spectrum, is to be observant and communicative of our needs. Observe the small behaviours in others to see where they are more introverted or extroverted, and see how you can accommodate their needs differently.
Similarly, find ways to communicate your own needs to others. I know that I am much more toward the introverted end of the spectrum, and my close friends (with whom I rarely shut up) know that I am always quiet when I first meet new people, and they are able to compensate by being more talkative!
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