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).






(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!


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.

18 Responses to Are You Wired?

  1. Ali Richards says:

    Really interesting stuff. I guess it is also about how much a situation drains you as to whether you are introvert or extrovert. As an extrovert working on my own more than I used to I need to get out and about in order to refresh myself and fill up my energy levels.

    In terms of MBTI there is also the interesting phenomena that in some things you can be extrovert and some introvert. So for example an ENFJ like me is extraverted feeling and introverted intuition. It means that for me when I have an idea or see connections it is part of my introversion and I am not much into brain storming for example or for that matter sharing ideas on the spot. On the other hand I am completely up front about my feeling side.

    This makes more sense to me in terms of how people get confused with introversion and extroversion because we have some of both in us.

    • Very interesting perspective, Alli. I have to chew on that further. Dang – if only people would be simple to figure out!!!! :>}

    • Vicki says:

      Ali – It’s more complicated than that. The MBTI doesn’t say that “in some things you can be extrovert and some introvert”. You’re mixing up adjectives and nouns – that’s easy to do!

      The adjectives “introverted” and “extraverted” (or extro, alt spelling) mean “inward facing or internal” vs “outward facing or external”. So “extaverted feeling” means that the “feeling” attribute is directed outward where people see it expressed. “Introverted intuition” means that the intuition attribute is directed inward where most people don’t see it. You use it, but they don’t see it.

      The noun forms describe how you get/expend your energy. Introverts gain energy from internal pursuits, directed inward – thinking, studying, reading, alone time, walking in the woods. Extraverts gain energy from external stimulation – people, work, Malls, parties.

      As an ENFJ, you’re an Extravert. Your intuition isn’t part of your “introversion”. But you handle that internally. As you say, you’re more “up front” with your feeling side.

      (If you want to get ore complex, an Introvert’s “dominant aspect” is the introverted one. duh. An extravert’s dominant aspect is their extraverted one. So extraverts are more obvious about their primary behaviour process. Lots of books on the subject if you want to learn more).

      I like to say that Extraverts are solar powered and Introverts need to have their batteries plugged into a socket to recharge. So, you can take your phone to a beach or a party (Introvert) but it will discharge while you’re tere and you need to go home and plug it in.

      If you take the “solar powered” extravert to a beach, he jist gets more “juice”. At home, alone, he loses charge.

      This past Tuesday was a great example. For a lot of Introverts, the thought of ging back to work to interact with all of those people was daunting. My Extraverted sister was thrilled because her “brain had turned to mush” being alone with her dog for a few days!

  2. I’ve said this before… My IN v EX is primarily contextual. If you put me in a room where I know a majority of the people in the room, you’d think i was the mayor of the city. I act EXCEPTIONALLY extroverted in that circumstance, because my primary driver is expanding on and deepening existing relationships. I find that energizing.

    Place me in a similar sized room with a bunch of strangers and I’ll be the biggest wall-flower in the room. Being extroverted in that context is draining to me.

    • Vicki says:

      Sean – You’re using the coloquial (incorrect) definitions. IN vs EX isn;t contextual. Introverts (many introverts!) like to talk when they know the subject or the people. Introverts _like_ “expanding on and deepening existing relationships”. It’s a very common Introvert trait. You need to give up the assumption that “Introverts don’t like to talk”.

      What you’ve described is classic Introvert behaviour, not someone who is “occasionally extraverted.”

    • What? You’re an introvert, too? 🙂

      I’m the same. If I know you and I’m interested in getting to know you better or have something to say about the topic being discussed, I can be extremely chatty. I warn people upfront.

  3. Fred McClimans says:

    Steve – interesting topic that has a strong relationship to the left/right brain discussion. However, while I believe we are born in a particular wired state, our brains are very adaptable and can be rewired over time (look at how certain behavioral traits, or addictions, become dominant/hard-wired). Of course, there are certain wired abilities, like predictive anticipation, that are constant (hopefully, or we would become non-functional).

    But I’m not sure that our natural-born state is as binary as many would like to believe, but more of a fuzzy distinction (introvert in some areas, extravert in others – that are totally independent of each other and can coexist – usually – without conflict). So yes, we are wired, but in multiple, concurrent ways. Rather than orientation, think orientations.

    Excellent question, btw.

    • Fred, you bring up great points about re-wiring. It’s a knotty question – how fungible are we, really? Are some innate traits hard-wired to stay? Do we change those traits, or do we add layers of learned behavior that seem counter to it?

      • Fred McClimans says:

        Steve – I’m not sure I’d say we are fungible, as much as we are fluid learning machines. We know that our brain can re-wire itself after serious accidents (strokes, brain injuries), and that we can rewire brain/body connections through both physical behavior (muscle-memory is a good example) emotional events (PTSD). But our core instincts are something with which we are born. Regardless of how much you believe we are trait-dominant in any particular way, you can’t overlook the idea that from the day of our birth, our behavior and thinking is shaped (and our brain re-wired) by our experiences. What I’m not sure of, however, is (barring physical injury) how much of the old brain pathways continue to exist (though unused) as we learn and re-wire. And I suspect that there are some things which simply cannot be overcome or re-wired. Does this make sense?

  4. Vicki says:

    I really appreciate your terms (outgoing Introvert and contemplative Extravert) because it really is based on internal “wiring”.
    Studies hav shown now that Introverts are neurochemically different from Introverts (just as the brains of left-handed people are _different_ from the brains of right handed people). No amount of “acting outgoing or “public speaking” or “learning to attend parties” will turn in INtrovert into an Extravert any more than learning (or being force) to write with the other hand will turn a lefty into a righty.

  5. Steve, there’s no doubt for me re: internal wiring when it comes to your scale. Room of strangers? Probably not for long.

    I struggle with the rich inner life that comes naturally to you and others; contemplation is a brave new world. Yet, I seem to be able to cross the chasm when required – but not for too long, or the self-awareness becomes my own manufactured kryptonite. Writing books and other inward-gazing activities are not impossible or difficult – but they are not my favorite things to do!

    I’m like the old joke from “Annie Hall”: “I wouldn’t want to belong to a country club that would have someone like me as a member”. Yet, you can bet that I still think it would be pretty interesting to meet the people who are already there. Actions (and interactions) trump thoughts and ideas in terms of what fuels me. However, I would like to say that on this continuum there is no wrong place; there isn’t a better neighborhood than the one anyone is in. The real question is: does your wiring keep you from being effective?

    I often find myself coaching folks who are more on the introverted side (Because that describes 98% of the population, from my POV). But if I can’t adjust the dial based on my audience, well, then i would be trapped in a pathology and people would find me a bombastic ___hole. That’s not a good place for a coach, right?! luckily, understanding others is easy for me …because I don’t find myself very interesting 😛

    For me, being in front of crowds, meeting people at book signings, connecting with total strangers – that’s what I really enjoy. True confessions, Steve! I’m a freak and I know it. Fortunately I’ve managed to put a tent on this circus. Working with groups plays to a mutual benefit. Strength or weakness, depends on the situation, the audience, and the goal, I guess.

    Emotional intelligence about our own wiring (and playing to our individual strengths via our careers, relationships, etc.) is the key, I think. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to shake some hands, ride some elevators and kiss some babies… before I get too depressed 😉

    thanks for welcoming me to the conversation – always enjoy your perspective and hope mine has made a contribution as well

    • Chris, you’re a classic E+ Extrovert, and you’re aware of it – which is half the battle (the emotional intelligence piece). You couldn’t be anywhere near as effective as you are at what you do without that orientation. I find it interesting that you, the extrovert, and I, the introvert, both find ourselves drawn to the perfecting of the “elevator speech” – approaching it from our different angles but ending up at just about the same place. Someday, we ought to co-teach on it – that would be a blast!

  6. The distinction makes sense to me. I’m an introvert; however, past jobs (sales, mostly) required more outgoing qualities – lessons that help me now as an entrepreneur.

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