Why I Love Being an Introvert

{Note: I am now blogging at my brand-spanking-new site, SteveWoodruff.com. Just click here to subscribe to the new feedBonus – you can also sign up at the same time for my astonishingly brief  yet brilliant e-newsletter, Clarity Blend (see sample), and when you sign up, you’ll get a free download of my helpful new e-book, Make Yourself Clear: Six Steps to De-fogging Your Direction and Your Message.}

I didn’t always enjoy the fact that my wiring is definitely on the introvert side of the fence. Since our culture tends to value extrovert tendencies and behaviors, we who are quieter, who are more inclined to think before speaking, and who are energized more by alone time than by crowds can often feel marginalized or inferior.

Over time, I’ve shaken free of that perspective. I was born with this wiring, and though I’ve become much more outgoing and confident with people (some people now mistake me for an extrovert), I remain a thorough-going introvert.

OstrichvertAnd I love it. Yeah, I said it. I love being an introvert.

In a world filled with chatty and superficial crowds exchanging pleasantries and (often) little else of substance, I can sit down with people one-on-one or in intimate groups and really dive deep. To that place where minds and lives are changed. I love that.

While others desperately seek their inner fuel by surrounding themselves with others in social settings, I can enjoy alone time to think. In fact, I crave it – I’m energized by a combination of solitude and people time. And in those quieter times of reflection, insights arrive. I love that.

My inward-focused mind is always seeking to analyze and make sense of the world; and often, can be harnessed to help others make sense of their world. I love that.

I may not be the most glib person in a crowd – certainly not the life of the party – but I can write, and make presentations, and reach many more people that way, than pretending to be chatty Charlie. I love that, too.

In a world that often feels a compulsion to consume and consume and consume, introverts take time to digest. Life, for us, is not an endless carousel of coming-from-the-outside sensory stimulation. We regularly gain our strength from within – we’re more self-contained. And I love that.

No, the opposite of being extroverted is not being neurotic, as this poorly-conceived article implies. Extroverts have gifts and abilities and strengths. Introverts have gifts and abilities and strengths. And introverts have a lot to contribute to the world.

I love being an introvert. If you share that wiring, there’s no cause for shame or a sense of inferiority – we have our fit in this world, too; and it’s a rich place. Embrace who you are. Manage it. And make waves in your own way!

Daniel Pink and the “Ambivert Advantage”

DanielPinkI’ve been reading Daniel Pink‘s latest book, To Sell is Human (Amazon affiliate link), and I like a lot of what he has to say.

I found his thesis intriguing that extroverts don’t necessarily have an inherent advantage over introverts in sales success – you can see a summary of his thinking in this Washington Post article (if you don’t have the book).

But, a couple of things set off some alarms bells in my head.

First, I think his use of the terms “introvert” and “extrovert” are somewhat imprecise. Pink reinforces some of the more behavioral notions of the two orientations (sociable/lively/assertive vs. soft-spoken) – you know those stereotypes about the gregarious extrovert and the retiring introvert. In fact, the essence of introversion is finding one’s energy source from within, while extroverts generally find their energy from other people. While it is usually true that extroverts may tend to favor being more often in larger groups of people, and introverts typically need more (quiet) alone time, to look at stereotypical extremes and label only those as introverts or extroverts is to miss the point (in fact, there are many introverts who can quite effectively project outgoing behaviors). The ” ___vert” wiring has to do with replenishment of energy; behaviors are somewhat elastic across the spectrum. One of the best treatments of this topic is Susan Cain‘s excellent book Quiet.

My sense is that most people lean toward one orientation or the other – there are degrees of introversion and extroversion, but I am ambivalent about the notion of ambiversion as presented by Pink. He depicts “ambiverts” as the majority of people on a bell curve, with introverts and extroverts as extremes. I’d argue that there may be very few (if any) true ambiverts – people who draw energy equally from within and without. If you think of introversion/extroversion as a linear scale, I theorize that we all natively lean in one direction or the other (according to our internal wiring), even if we have learned and adopted behaviors that are more outgoing or contemplative. See this blog post for a fuller muse on this point.

The other point of contention I have with Pink’s methodology is his over-reliance on a single study (by Adam Grant) correlating sales effectiveness with self-reported measures of extroversion. In this study, people at (either) extreme end of the introvert-extrovert scale did not sell as successfully as those in the middle (whom Pink labels as the ambiverts). This result is used to argue against the prevailing notion that extroverted people are (of course!) the most productive sales people. Instead, people who could be somewhat chameleon-ish in the middle were the most successful.

It’s an intriguing and suggestive result, but there is a serious limitation to keep in mind – this is a single study (300 people), and it involved only call center representatives. Generalizing from that sample is tenuous – this is, after all, only one type of selling, and it is via phone, not in person. We can safely conclude that extremely extroverted and extremely introverted people were less effective in this particular type of non-face-to-face selling than people who were less introverted/extroverted – but that’s about it. I’m not convinced that the data and extrapolated conclusions are as convincing as they at first appear.

To then call a large swath of the population “ambiverts” and imply that they’re going to be just fine at whatever-kind-of-selling may be a bit of a stretch.

I’m an introvert, and I have done a lot of selling. I don’t schmooze as naturally as my extroverted brethren, but I practice many outgoing behaviors (that doesn’t make me an ambivert; I’m just an outgoing introvert!). And I’m actually in sympathy with a lot of Pink’s message in this book, especially the notion that, in one form or another, we’re just about all in sales (of some type). I just think that the evidence for some of the conclusions being drawn seems a bit thin on this point.

If you’ve been reading To Sell is Human – what’s your take?

Me-working or Team-working – Where Are You?

{Note: I am now blogging at my brand-spanking-new site, SteveWoodruff.com. Just click here to subscribe to the new feed. Bonus – you can also sign up at the same time for my astonishingly brief  yet brilliant e-newsletter, Clarity Blend (see sample), and when you sign up, you’ll get a free download of my helpful new e-book, Make Yourself Clear: Six Steps to De-fogging Your Direction and Your Message.}

During a deep discussion with a Clarity Therapy client this week, we touched on a theme that I’ve often thought about. His orientation, his preferred work-style is similar to mine, in that he prefers to work more independently.

Don’t try to manage me. Just give me the job to do and I’ll do it. And don’t make me dependent on the (non-) efforts of others.

On the other hand, there are many people who gravitate toward building, leading, or being part of a larger team.

Interestingly enough, the person I reference above is clearly an extrovert, and absolutely does his best work in and around people. But I’m thinking there is a work-style, a preference, that has to do with independence vs. interdependence.

We can picture it, perhaps, as a continuum (similar to what we were discussing with the Introversion/Extroversion scale):

MeTeamWorking

Now, obviously, to be effective in business most of us have to work, at various times, in more or less team/interdependent situations. But I strongly prefer to work more alone than as a dependent part of a team – and I’m wondering if the preference, the orientation, is DNA-level wiring. Put me somewhere in the Mostly Alone/Light Collaboration end of the scale.

Again, this isn’t a measure of introversion or extroversion, nor is it a function of whether we enjoy people and even work around them. A gregarious sales person can still prefer me-working, while a quieter introvert may feel the greatest comfort being part of a larger team.

What do you think – does this sort of scale make a valid distinction? Where would you place yourself?

Are You Wired?

I’ve been having a good bit of discussion on social networks (public and private) about this whole introvert/extrovert issue, and unfortunately, 140-character tweets and Facebook updates make it hard to paint a good picture.

So, here’s a rambling follow-up to my blog post of yesterday (Weigh Yourself on this Introvert/Extrovert Scale).

The question we keep bumping into, and that I’d like us all to think through together is this: what is innate wiring, vs. what is situational behavior?

Now, I believe that when it comes to Introversion/Extroversion, we have innate wiring that puts us somewhere along a continuum – and that the distinguishing feature is our personal source of psychic fuel (internal, within ourselves; or external, from other people).

Graphically:

 

IntroExtroOrientation6

 

IntroExtroOrientation6

(larger version – click thumbnail to biggify)

 

I would put myself squarely at the “In” place in the scale. You?

So, here, I’m theorizing an orientation – a default setting, an internal wiring, a preferred mode of interacting with people and the world. This wiring may change in small ways over time but will remain in one camp or the other – primarily introvert-ish or primarily extrovert-ish. Because this is DNA-level stuff (so I think, anyway).

On the other hand, there is (situational) behavior. An introvert can appear to be more extrovert-ish in some settings, and vice-versa, but for the moment, let’s not call this being an extroverted introvert – because if this is a DNA-level trait, then you cannot really be both. Let’s call it being an outgoing Introvert (at times), or a contemplative Extrovert (at times). That doesn’t really change your default wiring/identity/DNA, it’s just that certain situations bring out skills and behaviors that are more inward- or outward-facing. Your primary fuel source remains the same.

So – I’m an introvert. Always have been, always will be. It’s in my DNA. But I’m far more comfortable in social settings than I used to be (acquired behavior) – I can appear to be situationally Extrovert-ish (except in small, dark, crowded, noisy settings – those, I run from!). Nonetheless, though I can engage well in one-on-one social interactions, though I can present to crowds, though I can pro-actively network – my source of fuel is still inward.

And I’ll probably never enjoy mingling and making small talk in crowds. I guess I’m finally at peace with that!

I can also imagine that there are extroverts who can work alone as consultants, think and analyze contemplatively, and exhibit other introvert-ish behaviors – but, still, they MUST have more people time to re-energize. It’s in the DNA. They’re not introverted extroverts, they’re extroverts whose circumstances require more alone time.

OK –  your turn. Does this distinction make sense? Agree? Disagree? The comments are yours!

 

Weigh Yourself on this Introvert/Extrovert Scale

UPDATE: I’ve gotten some great feedback so far – here’s an updated graphic that perhaps simplifies further and is more accurate. Your thoughts?

I’ve been thinking a lot about introversion and extroversion. Specifically, are such dispositions better thought of as a continuum, rather than an either-or proposition?

If so (and I lean in this direction), how could we portray it in a way that is simple and reasonably accurate?

I crowdsourced a rough concept on Twitter and Facebook, and got some great help from a number of you, especially from Justin McCullough on the graphical design side. Here’s a version that emerged from numerous revisions (click to biggify the thumbnail below):

introvert Extrovert

What do you think? Does this make sense to you? And where would you place yourself? (I’m probably about second position from the left – a native introvert who has become outgoing).

IEScaleSteve

Some folks describe an ambivert – dead-center between the two. I tend to think most or all of us natively lean in one direction or the other (and, besides, a middle position on any scale is the easy cop-out!)

Are there better ways to portray the range of introvert-extrovert dispositions? Ideas?

Do Introverts Have a Pulse?

Being wired as an introvert is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it has tremendous advantages – we all, as a society, simply need to better understand how introverts (typically) operate with their built-in makeup (for background, see my post last week: How I Manage My Introversion).

We may be quieter, but yes, we do have a pulse, thank you very much!

There are several helpful ways to better understand how introverts handle the stimulation of human relationships (compared to their more extroverted companions). In fact, one way is to think about relational involvement in terms of pulses.

One pattern common to introverts is a need to withdraw for periods of quiet and solitude. While extroverts tend to feed off of a steady stream of human contact, introverts typically are wired with a more frequently-used On-Off switch. When “On” with other people, introverts can appear little different from extroverts – we can be engaging, outgoing, and glad to talk to people (though often tending to favor smaller groupings or one-on-one discussions rather than the milling crowd). But our cup of interaction fills up pretty rapidly – we may have a coffee mug’s worth of interaction capacity, while our extroverted friends have a super-sized Slurpee-cup-capacity to mingle and chat.

We introverts then need a break to process and re-charge. Introverts often prefer to handle stimulation in a pulsed fashion, with more On-Off control, while extroverts are typically energized by higher levels of human contact.

Not being an extrovert, I cannot speak with as much certainty, but I suspect the red bars would tend to be significantly higher and wider, while the blue bars might be a bit lower and narrower – and the green “quiet times” probably shorter and less frequent. What do you think?

(by the way – I fully realize that I’m generalizing in any post like this, and that there are always variations and individual exceptions. What we’re seeking to identify here are broad trends!)

Introverts aren’t being anti-social when they avoid some social settings (or feel the need to spend a shorter time in them). We’re just instinctively avoiding overload, and taking the time to think through what we’ve seen and heard. In my particular case, my mind is constantly analyzing, atomizing, systematizing, categorizing, figuring out alternatives – and I’m learning to give myself that space. It doesn’t stop me from in-depth interactions, pro-actively building an extensive network, selling my services, speaking publicly – but that all has to occur in pulses, or the boat becomes unbalanced and starts to totter.

If  you tend more toward extroversion, hopefully this will help you understand those of us who seem to need more quiet. If you’re an introvert – what are your strategies for keeping up a healthy pulse?

(Light switch image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net Ugly graph: I take full responsibility)

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Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> How I Manage My Introversion

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