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!

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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Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> How I Manage My Introversion

>> In Six Words, Some of the Best Business Advice Ever

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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Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Following Your Passion: A Story

>> In Six Words, Some of the Best Business Advice Ever

The Ultimate Competitive Advantage

You can have boundless energy, a really hot product, great pricing, solid staff, and a top-of-the-line Lexus in the CEO parking space, and still go down in flames.

If you want to succeed (long-term) as a leader, as a business, as a consultant – really, as a person – then there’s one thing you absolutely need to have. One huge advantage. And it’s something that we can ALL acquire. Clear vision.

It can be a process getting to 20/20 clarity – sometimes, a lot of “doing” is what gets you to better “seeing” – but when you know who you are, what you want, what your core competencies are, what your differentiator(s) are, and how to express all that – you’re way ahead of the game.

I have pathetic uncorrected vision – my glasses have always been pretty thick (yes, I still have Lasik envy – maybe someday…). Without clear sight I won’t recognize obstacles, or see opportunities; I’ll just bump into stuff. Have you seen a lot of businesses that behave like that? I have. They’re not on a well-defined course because the destination isn’t clear, nor is the pathway to get there.

Success starts with clear vision at the top – leaders who know what rabbit trails to avoid because they can see the destination, and they have a reasonably clear roadmap.

For quite some time, Kodak had a well-defined place in the market, and a successful business model. But when digital began to upend the need for film, it soon became evident that this company did not have a clear vision of how to re-make itself, how to navigate in a rapidly-evolving world that was doing a complete market makeover. Or, as discussed in last week’s chat, there’s Yahoo. What’s their vision? Does anyone know?

On the other end of the size scale, I see someone newly-laid-off from a client company who has hung out his/her shingle as a consultant, without a single differentiating anything in the company message. “We just do the usual stuff, so hire us” might as well be the company motto.

Will Work For Food may get you a little cash flow for a while. But a far clearer understanding of what you will work for – and why – is the ultimate competitive advantage.

Join us tonight (May 22nd) at 8 pm ET as we discuss Clarity in Leadership during #LeadershipChat on Twitter. Be sure you give a good read to the prep post written by my talented co-host, Lisa Petrilli, Every Leader’s Achilles Heel (great image on the blog post, btw!). We look forward to an enlightening conversation during The Fastest Hour on the Internet.

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Seeing 20/20 in 3-D

>> LeadershipChat: Transitions (yes, we are winding down LeadershipChat after this month!)

LeadershipChat: Transitions

Markets change. Companies change. Circumstances change. And leaders transition in and out of their roles.

How is this handled? What are the upsides, the downsides, and the pitfalls of leadership transitions? That will be our topic of discussion for LeadershipChat this week.

In and of themselves, transitions are neither inherently good nor evil. They’re simply a fact of life. The reasons for them, and the way they are handled, make the difference between a positive and negative experience. Sudden transitions due to scandal or sub-par performance can rock the boat temporarily, but may lead to a better future in time. A well-planned and orchestrated succession of power is always the ideal, but even that doesn’t guarantee success. Let’s talk about the successes and failures we’ve seen, and the lessons learned.

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This topic of Transitions is timely for another reason. Lisa Petrilli and I launched LeadershipChat in October 2010, as a collaborative venture to build community, create discussion around leadership issues, and see how we could use the (then emerging) Twitter chat format to expand our networks. It has been a labor of love, and, by all accounts, a great success; the relationships spawned between members of the LeadershipChat community have been a source of wonder and joy.

However, in recent months, it has become clear to both of us that our professional lives are evolving in ways that make it impossible to continue hosting a weekly chat. Therefore, at the end of this month (May 2012), we’re going to wind down LeadershipChat. Lisa and I both began to wonder this year if LC had served its purpose. Over dinner in Chicago recently, we talked about how our decision to start up LC was conscious and purpose-full, and that at some point between, say, the next 8 minutes and 80 years, we were going to need to make a conscious decision about its continuance. Within 8 minutes of further discussion, we smiled knowingly at each other. It was time to retire LeadershipChat and move on to other endeavors.

So, after this week, there will be 2 more Tuesday night editions of LeadershipChat. The finale, on May 29th, we’ll call Graduation Day. We’ve chatted a lot, but as we all know, there’s a lot of “doing” ahead of us! We are grateful for the many who have supported this endeavor and participated so enthusiastically in LeadershipChat over the months. And I, in particular, am grateful for Lisa Petrilli, and the strong friendship we’ve established through this joint venture. A large amount of work behind the scenes has gone into orchestrating LeadershipChat, and I can’t imagine a more wonderful partner than Lisa (even though we’ve only seen each other IRL a total of 3 times!)

See you Tuesday night, May 15th at 8 pm ET, for The Fastest Hour on the Internet – LeadershipChat!

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Chicago-style Leadership

>> I Went to SOBCon 2012 And All I Got Was…

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