How I Manage My Introversion

I’m happy to be an introvert. Maybe I wasn’t always so sanguine about this aspect of my internal wiring – in fact, most of my life, I guess I felt somewhat inferior to my more extroverted earth-dwellers – but not any more!

(What is, and isn’t, introversion? Read this excellent summary post by Lisa Petrilli – also, Lisa’s e-book on the subject is extremely helpful: The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership).

A tendency toward introversion is quite common – anywhere from a third to a half of the population tends toward the “Quiet Side.” While extroverts tend to gain energy from being around other people, introverts recharge through being alone with their thoughts. The introvert is usually not the life of the party, but the person having an earnest one-on-one conversation in the corner (and secretly wishing to be away from the noise and chaos). Extroverts will tend to speak first, and organize their thoughts later; introverts often pause to carefully consider their words.

It’s not easy being an introvert in a world that tends to value extroversion (the theme of a superb book on introversion by Susan CainQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking).

So, how have I worked with and worked around this tendency over the years? A few thoughts:

  1. Above all else, the primary step is to embrace it. We can’t change our fundamental wiring, and why should we? A tendency to walk on the quiet side often leads to fountains of creativity, richness of perspective, and relational depth. In Lisa’s book referenced above, she tells the story of how our friendship and professional collaboration blossomed on the foundation of shared introversion. I can remember way back to my high school days feeling an aversion to loud groups and superficial chatter, and wondering what my problem was. Actually, there was no problem. My style is different – and goes deep instead of wide. AND THAT’S A GOOD THING!
  2. Also, I’ve learned to have realistic expectations. I can only take so much people-time before I have to back away, and I now give myself permission to retreat. I have learned to become outgoing and pro-active, but I’ll never feel at home in a loud, crowded schmooze-setting. I’ll always look for the quiet corner and try to find an individual or small group.
  3. I use social media extensively as my relationship-building bridge. I have “pre-met” so many wonderful people using on-line networking, which removes the awkward stage when we finally meet face-to-face. Nowadays, first-time in-real-life meetings are like reunions, because on-line networking has allowed me to get through the first layer of introduction. Lately, I’ve been doing more and more video Skype calls to move past introduction and start getting in-depth with people in ways that could never happen randomly at a party or a conference. I think digital social networking was created for introverts!
  4. I ask a lot of questions. Introverts tend to be better at this. By focusing on the other person and trying to understand, you often can bring a surprisingly amount of value and kindred-ness to a person who drowns in the sea of surrounding superficiality. Sometimes, by playing this very natural role, you can bring surprising levels of comfort and healing and wisdom, even in a brand-new relationship.
  5. I’ve disciplined myself to be outgoing. Not extroverted – outgoing. Introverts can seem (or be) anti-social at times, and I’ve made a lifelong commitment to be pro-active to the point that, now, it’s pretty natural. I still have a hard time making small talk with seatmates on airplane flights, however. My default setting there is to retreat into my own reading and my own thoughts. That’s a tough one!

As with any other tendency, there can be a dark side to introversion. Tendencies to insecurity, analysis-paralysis, or depression. All of these things need to be seen clearly and managed, sometimes with the help of both introverted and extroverted friends. But my main point in all this is to state unequivocally: Introversion is not a curse. It is not a problem. It is not a weakness. Introverts can lead, and can speak effectively in public. It’s actually pretty wonderful to be introvert-ish, noisy parties notwithstanding. And if you see me in a crowded social setting, looking around a bit awkwardly, then pull me off to a corner and let’s talk about it…!

For further reading (and aren’t these a couple of beautiful introvert-authors?):

(affiliate links to these books on Amazon: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking | The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership).

___________

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About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

27 Responses to How I Manage My Introversion

  1. Joe Cascio says:

    Yes, embrace it! Something I finally learned to do, just about the time I retired. :) I like your term “pre-meet”. As you know, I have that same appreciation for social media allowing me to get to know someone without the sometimes overwhelming (for us introverts) rituals of in-person introductions and small talk.

  2. Sue says:

    Great post, Steve. 100% agree about social media. As an introvert who has to be outgoing in my daily job, it is great to connect with others in quiet.

  3. Pingback: How I Manage My Introversion | Introverts Life and Business Guide | Scoop.it

  4. It seems to me that what you are able to do, very effectively for yourself and your clients, is to tailor a process that fits a particular skill set. You take personality into consideration as your first step towards results, and that can be a powerful tool in the “clarity” conversation. You obviously take your own medicine, and I always enjoy the clarity that you bring to the discussion online. The introvert chromosome is missing from my DNA, but not from my client list, and these sorts of insights are vital for me.

    Your ideas help me to understand how to keep my [extroverted] personality from being a liability – great perspective

    • Chris, I really enjoy the company of extroverts – it actually draws me out more. But I also have to adjust my expectations accordingly – not everyone looks at the world the way I do…

  5. Luc Puis says:

    Hi Steve,

    I’m an introvert myself and I agree with 99% of what you state in this blog. Just one remark: I believe extroverts ask as many questions as introverts, and probably even more. I don’t ask too many questions myself, as in 9 out of 10 times, you can probably guess what the answer will be (=smalltalk, keeping conversation going).

    Introverts are in my experience not better at asking questions, but are much better at listening to the answers.

    Great post,

    Luc

  6. Ellie says:

    I am puzzled by the view that social media is great for introverts. I have the opposite feeling. Facebook feels overwhelming to me – can’t do it – all that traffic of people. And connecting with complete strangers can’t make eye contact with or have any deeper relationship with feels fake.

    I guess I’m in the minority here.

    • Ellie, I know of others who have a similar perspective – they both tend to be more private themselves, and/or prefer real-life interactions to online ones. And this is just a hypothesis, but I think many introverts to prefer to bring online friendships into the real world at some point…and perhaps care about doing so more than the average extrovert (who may naturally have *more* in person friends to begin with).

      I think part of it is in how you manage your social networks. For a long time I kept my Facebook friend list to about 20 people. It’s upwards of 350 now, but that is still a small amount compared to many extrovert friends I know. You can use lists to organize your friends and make sure you’re paying the most attention to the posts of those by whom you are energized, learn most, etc.

      As far as connecting with complete strangers…that’s just it. I utilize my current connections to find new ones, and my network of mutual friends just keeps expanding. Often the people and resources I currently enjoy will lead me to others in a similar vein. I don’t just go into a chat room to meet people – I find strangers with common interests through forums or blog posts.

    • Vicki says:

      Ellie – I’m one of those Introverts for whom Social Media is the Perfect communication mode. I Loved email long before it became popular with people who weren;t “in the information business”.

      One thing you have to do is take control. Facebook isn;t “all that traffic of people” if you don;t let it be. You don;t have to read everything. You don;t need to accept “friend” connections from everyone. And you can hid posts or people.

      This is one of the reasons that Social Media is so great for Introverts. YOU are in control. No one else. Make it yours.

  7. Steve,

    Thanks for posting! Your article came across my Twitter feed via #usguys, and caught my eye, as I just recently started reading Susan Cain’s book, Quiet. I wanted to suggest another book I recently read and benefited from, entitled The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World by Dr. Marti Laney.

    I still haven’t fully determined where I fall on the introvert-extrovert continuum, but I think I lean more towards the former than not, and it’s been fascinating and intriguing to run into others with similar make-up, not only for how similar they are to how I function, think, and act, but for the insights they bring to the topic of personality, along with everything else.

    I really like all the links you included in your post (I did a fairly thorough skim of each), and will have to check out Petrilli’s e-book. I feel like I know you a little better through this post and your comments than I did before, and I’ll keep an eye out for your tweets. Enjoy your day!

  8. Steve,

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post! And I appreciate how you shared about what you’ve learned about being an introvert and embracing it.

    #4 really resonated with me. I’m the same way.

    And, yes, the stereotypes of what it means to be an introvert are exactly what made me, for a long time, a little hesitant to face the fact that I’m an introvert. How can I be an introvert? After all, I’ve given presentations before, I lead groups, I can mingle with strangers and be all right with it…. but I can’t do it for too long. I think that’s the realization that made me embrace my introversion. After a couple of hours, I am overstimulated. My brain has gathered up all the data it needed, and I then need to go somewhere alone and process it all.

    Thanks so much for those book recommendations. I’m going to check them out.

    • Veronica – you hit it right. We introverts need retreat-and-process time. Just accepting that that’s OK and not feeling defective (or inferior) because of it is a huge step forward.

  9. Great post which I am sharing with my introvert peeps, and because maybe you’ll say, “another beautiful introvert author!” Just some silliness on that latter. I’ve been a business coach for introverts for 6 years now. Mostly introverts tasked with sales and marketing. A couple of things you’ve said here are invaluable – if people get it.

    First, this: “I use social media extensively as my relationship-building bridge.” Many people online, whether introvert or extrovert, are taking the view that social media is the sales ring. In fact, it’s more beneficial to all when viewed as the bridge TO the relationship that could lead in any direction to partners, collaborators, influencers, clients and friends. Using it any other way is practically, more noise.

    Then, this, “I’ve disciplined myself to be outgoing. Not extroverted – outgoing. ” That’s a fabulous distinction to understand which helps to minimize, if not as in my case eliminate, the stigma that introverts are anti-social. The fact is, that being outgoing can leverage some of our most innate qualities of which you mention – asking questions and then, listening. I think of being outgoing as being interested in other people and that happens, with good conversation.

    Thanks for an insightful post.

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