September 1, 2012 27 Comments
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 Cain – Quiet: 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:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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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