Why I Love Being an Introvert

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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?

The Network Growth that Truly Matters

We who are active on social network like to measure our growth by followers, subscribers, page views, and other numerical metrics.

These things have their place, of course. But ultimately, they’re quite self-referential. I’d like to encourage us to notice some other, more important growth.

Let’s pay attention to the people we’re connected to as THEY grow <<–(click to tweet this) in stature, in skills, and in new endeavors.

ID-10024306

Mack Collier was once (just) a blogger. Now he is a budding author, a more in-demand speaker, a Twitter chat host, and someone who has made slow and steady progress for years. Have you noticed? Isn’t this great?

Over the past year, I’ve seen Tim McDonald grow in stature as he finds a new niche in community management (now working with HuffPost Live). He’s hustling. He’s making the most of his opportunity (and I think he’s on his honeymoon right now, in fact – congrats, Tim!).

Tom Martin was known by a limited (but appreciative) audience as a smart New Orleans-based blogger who did creative digital stuff. Now he’s finding his voice as a thought leader in digital marketing. 2013 will see his star rising even further.

Who hasn’t been thrilled to see the growing influence of Angela Maiers in the educational space? She’s paid her dues and influenced many. Speaking of midwest beauties, when I first encountered Carol Roth a few years ago, she had a great track record in business but little exposure in a broad sense. Now she’s grown into a published author, commentator, and rising star on TV news broadcasts. She even has her own action figure (long story…).

Jessica Northey, Chris Westfall, Lou Imbriano, Susan Cain, Michael Hyatt – all conquering new ground, growing their influence by doing good work and providing value (not by buying Twitter followers – the network growth that means nothing).

When our friends grow, that’s what really matters. Take a few minutes away from your subscriber numbers and pat some folks on the back who deserve it.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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).

___________

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

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